HRV and overtraining

Overtraining is a syndrome. 

Sunset g7d67082fe 1280Symptoms are decreased heart rate variability [1]Detailed heart rate variability analysis in athletes, an elevated resting heart rate, and an inability to reach maximum pulse rate in anaerobic training. It is also associated with fatigue, in the context of continuous high intensity exercise. It can be serious and can have long terms effects when diagnosis is delayed.

Budgett defined the overtraining syndrome as a condition of fatigue and underperformance[2]Fatigue and underperformance in athletes: the overtraining syndrome, often associated with frequent infections and depression that occur after hard training and competition. 

All athletes must train hard to excel. Initial hard training causes underperformance but if recovery is allowed, there is supercompensation and improvement
in performance[3]Modeling training and overtraining. In some athletes there is underrecovery as the result of excessively prolonged and/or intense exercise, stressful competition, or other stresses. This leads to progressive fatigue and underperformance. The reaction to this under-performance is often an increase in training
rather than rest[4]The ‘worn-out athlete’: a clinical approach to chronic fatigue in athletes.

Intensive interval training, in which one to six minutes of hard exercise is repeated several times with a short rest, is most likely to precipitate the overtraining syndrome.

The main complaint is of underperformance. Athletes will often ignore fatigue, heavy muscles, and depression until performance is chronically affected. Sleep disturbance occurs in over 90% of cases with difficulty in getting to sleep, nightmares, waking in the night, and waking unrefreshed. There may also be loss of appetite, weight loss, loss of competitive drive and libido, and increased emotional ability, anxiety, and irritability. The athlete may report a raised resting pulse rate and excessive sweating. Upper respiratory tract infections or other minor infections frequently recur every time an athlete tries to return to training when they have not fully recovered. This gives an apparent cycle of recurrent infection every few weeks[5]Fatigue and underperformance in athletes: the overtraining syndrome.

In practice it is very diffcult to distinguish between overreaching and the overtraining syndrome. 

This is where HRV and RHR are critical indicators for the athlete. They will be able to identify the symptoms and their HRV and RHR figures will allow them to distinguish whether they are suffering from overreaching or overtraining. Athletes should take a reading immediately following a high intensity workout, and then again one hour after completion of the workout. Usually the RMSSD for the immediate reading will be in single figures. Recovery figures of the RMSSD will be specific to the individual, and they will be able to determine from a history of readings whether the recovery figure is within expected norms. The reading the following morning will indicate the degree of sleep recovery. 

Prevention strategies for overtraining are a good diet, full hydration, rest between training sessions and good sleep. 

RHR and recovery RMSSD patterns will indicate whether there is cause for concern, and whether more detailed diagnosis is necessary.

Call on the HRV Health team if you need any further guidance.


HRV Health has introduced a new feature for users, providing them with advisories on their recovery status with suggestions that will help users to optimise their training.