Functional Overtraining: Stage I
By Dr. Phil Maffetone
Second in a Series
The first stage of the overtraining syndrome is referred to as "Functional Overtraining" because it is not accompanied by classical symptoms but rather by very subtle, or subclinical problems.
Oddly enough, this stage of overtraining also is sometimes accompanied by a sudden and dramatic improvement in competitive performance that may convince you that training is progressing well.
During this stage, the MAF Test, as discussed in Training for Endurance, may be the first indicator of overtraining by demonstrating an abnormal plateau or regression, as compared to the normal plateau and progress.
Another problem associated with functional overtraining is an imbalance between aerobic and anaerobic function. While this may be determined by a professional through a proper history, exam or other tests, anyone can compare his or her maximum aerobic function and maximum anaerobic function. Since aerobic function can be measured with the MAF Test and anaerobic function by competitive performance or time trial, an imbalance is evident, for example, if you can compete at high levels but achieve proportionately slow scores on the MAF Test.
Functional overtraining probably is synonymous with overreaching, which has been shown in studies to boost performance but often turns into overtraining. Decreased performance levels are not evident until middle and later stages of overtraining, for example, during more obvious imbalance.
Functional overtraining may also be associated with adrenal-gland dysfunction in its earliest stage, typically paralleling aerobic deficiency. An understanding of adrenal dysfunction and aerobic deficiency, and the recognition of functional symptoms, can be a significant deterrent against overtraining.
In addition to the above symptoms of overtraining, other problems begin in the functional overtraining period and continue through the second and third stage of overtraining. These may include fatigue, sleeping irregularities and hunger. It may also include the inability to lose extra body fat, and occasionally an increase in body fat. Athletes may have difficulty getting out of bed, get sleepy after meals, and have an uncanny craving for sweets or caffeine. Other complaints common in those who are in the first stage of overtraining include:
Increasing vulnerability to back, knee, ankle, and foot injuries.
Adrenal gland dysfunction - typically a higher than normal cortisol, and lower testosterone and DHEA levels.
Premenstrual syndrome and menopausal symptoms may be secondary complaints for women, but amenorrhea is the most common hormonal problem in overtrained women.
Sexual dysfunction may be a problem for both sexes, typically producing reduced sexual desire and sometimes infertility.
Mental and emotional stress, including mild or clinical depression and anxiety is not uncommon.
If you think you might be in this first stage of functional overtraining, you are fortunate, as you may be able to turn it around before the problem progresses to the next stages, which are much more difficult to remedy. The specific training and dietary guidelines are discussed in my books.
In future MAF Sports reports we will explore the details of the second and third levels of overtraining and what a person may do to reverse the condition. For those who wish to "stay ahead of the class," this information is also presented in my books Training for Endurance and Complementary Sports Medicine.