If overtraining is like heroin; is your coach your pusher??

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After reading the mirrors article titled:

‘Addicted to cheese? It contains su bstances similar to HEROIN’.


I can say, YES, I am an addict.

With cheese, my mum is my pusher: “we’ll just sprinkle a little parmesan on top/we’ll just put a little mozzarella inside”…  And do you know what, I let her!

And with a slight addictive personality realised, I thought further of my vices: not chocolate, not crisps, not booze, definitely not smoking or drugs, but the gym?? Maybe? Can I go for a couple of days without my sweaty, endorphin-filled, ego-boosting fix? NO!

But am I overtraining? I don’t think so? I train to my own body, for my own mini goals, with nothing riding on my successes apart from my own mental triumphs!


What of an athlete though? Overtraining is a huge and significant problem, sometimes hard to diagnose, with devastating effects on short-term well-being and long term achievements.

An athlete wants to train hard and succeed for themselves AND for their coach, but are they overtraining to reach their goals? Is it becoming an addiction? And if the coach is nurturing this training addiction, could they be classed as a pusher??

Question Time:

If overtraining is like heroin: is your coach, your pusher?

Several hypotheses and interpretations (sometimes with vast contradictions especially to the length of symptoms and on to length of recovery) of OTS from literature have been put forward (Halson & Jeukendrup, 2004; Kreher & Schwartz, 2012; Richardson, Anderson & Morris, 2008).

The OTS definition via the accepted European College of Sport Science is consistent with extreme non-functional overreaching (OR) with a performance decrement over a period of months (not days {as with functional OR criteria} or weeks {as with non-functional OR criteria} where there is a more bleak prognosis with the capacity for career end due to the severity (Meeusen, et. al., 2013).

This is extreme, and not a diagnosis it seems, to bandy about without serious consideration.

A brief review by Kreher and Schwartz (2012) showed several hypotheses and theories as to the aetiology of the syndrome ranging within the physiological, chemical and neural systems of the body; with a general summary that each system is over stretched creating the symptoms to which the diagnostic criteria holds.

The authors of the above review discussed the variety of diagnostic tools used on athletes to ascertain differentiation in pathology, OR and OTS.

These are where the coaches need to be keeping up to date.

As a coach it is important to understand there is strong evidence of significant short and long term physiological and biological risks associated with a diagnosed OTS (Delimaris, 2014) therefore absolutely imperative to be ensuring the athlete does not reach these limits.

In Richardson, Anderson and Morris’ (2008) book, Overtraining Athlete, risk factors were identified for OTS based on athletes’ perceptions. Coaches pushing too hard, coaches not accounting for individual differences and conflict within coaching staff have been put forward, along with others as significant perceptions into the reasoning behind an athlete’s OTS diagnosis; with autocratic coaches, unexperienced coaches and coaches with excess pressure being placed on them, shown to be the most prevalent coaches to push their athletes too far.

Is it just the coach’s job to identify OTS however?

Is only the coach’s responsibility?

During the last few decades more addictions, other than substance-use, have been widely accepted in the literature, including OTS (Bar & Markser, 2013; Marazziti, Presta, Baroni, Silvestri & Dell’Osso, 2014) with exercise addiction (Landolfi, 2013)(different to overtraining even though lots of the same symptoms as OTS and OR) classified as OTS however with clinically significant distress in their social, occupational and other areas of functioning, as well as their physical (Veale, 1995).

So maybe, like other addictions, we are hard wired, predisposed to addiction, and exercise is another, which leads to the physiological distress and long term effects of OTS. Something which a coach, much like a parent with a drug addicted child, at points, has little to no control over?

What about the athlete themselves? Do they listen! Are they compliant?

As an athlete, there has to be a trust, a mutual respect, which allows training compliance to allow safe training. If those factors are not in play; if there is no compliance to an effective, safe, training programme, the risk of OTS increases (Rylander, 2015).

As a coach though, how can we reduce or eliminate this risk?

How can we not be ‘the pusher’?

As a coach we can engage in preventative action and behaviours, based off of, ever evolving and strengthening research by monitoring training and performance, not only physically but also mentally, by their sense of enjoyment and well-being; by improving education and awareness, not only for the athlete, but their peers, their support network, also for yourself! Learning and accepting your own limitations as a coach; also by improving communication; a key factor in all foundations of your coaching (Kreher & Schwartz, 2012; Richardson, Anderson & Morris, 2008).

And as an athlete?

How can we not be ‘the addict’/’the overtrained’?

Eat, drink and sleep right.

Listen to your coach, but also listen to your body and your mind.


Bar, K. J. & Markser, V. Z. (2013). Sport specificity of mental disorders: the issue of sports psychiatry. European archives of psychiatry and clinical neuroscience, 263(2), pp. 205-210.

Delimaris, I. (2014). Potential adverse biological effects of excessive exercise and overtraining among healthy individuals. Acta Medica Martinana, 14(3), pp. 5-12.

Halson, S. & Jeukendrup, A. (2004). Does overtraining exist? An analysis of overreachingand overtraining research. Sports Medicine, 34, pp. 967-981.

Kreher, J. B. & Schwartz, J. B. (2012). Overtraining syndrome: a practical guide. Sports Health, 4(2), pp. 128-138.

Landolfi, E. (2013). Exercise addiction. Sports Medicine, 43, pp. 111-119.

Marazziti, D., Presta, S., Baroni, S., Silvestri, S. & Dell’Osso, L. (2014). Behvioural addicitions: a novel challenge for psychopharmacology. CNS Spectrum, 19, pp. 486-495.

Meeusen, R., Duclos, M., Foster, C., Fry, A., Gleeson, M., Nieman, D., Raglin, J., Rietjens, G., Steinacker, J. & Urhausen, A. (2013). Prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of the overtraining syndrome: joint consensus statement of the European College of Sport Science and the American College of Sports Medicine. Medicine of Science and Sports Exercise, 45(1), pp. 186-205.

Richardson, R. S., Anderson, M. B. & Morris, T. (2008). Overtraining athletes. Human Kinetics:

Champaign, IL. pp. 40-153.

Rylander, P. (2015). Coaches’ Bases of Power: Developing Some Initial Knowledge of Athletes’ Compliance With Coaches in Team Sports. Journal of Applied Physiology, 27(1), pp. 110-121.

Veale, D. M. W. (1995). Does primary exercise dependence really exist? In: J. Annet, B. Cripps & H. Steinberg (Eds). Exercise addiction: motivation for participation in sport and exercise (pp. 1–5). Leicester: The British Psychological Society.


Written by Kristina

I own 2 FITWORXS clinics (est'd '06), am Head Sports Rehabilitator down at Grasshoppers RFC, am a Pilates Instructor who now also teaches for the Physiotherapy and Pilates Institute (APPI), Netball Lover & Happy Woman! "Forever Pushing for a Fitworxs Future!"

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