Symmetry Blog

Over training in Children

Symmetry Physio - Wednesday, September 13, 2017

A blog series on overtraining in junior athletes.

How much is too much?


Part 1: Risks of overtraining in junior athletes

All children and teenagers should be encouraged to participate in a variety of sports and activities. The benefits of sports participation are boundless, as discussed in our previous blog: Physical activity in children.

Sports training not only improves physical fitness, strength, and motor skill acquisition but also provides young athletes with opportunities to make friends, learn something new and develop life-long skills in resilience, mental grit, and leadership.

A mix of training methods is optimal for youth athlete development as the child grows and matures. Youth athletes should undertake strength training, conditioning and neuromuscular training appropriate to their age and sport to minimize the risk of injury and overtraining1.

Too much for too long

Typically, overtraining happens when mistakes are made in the design and progression of the training program which may include sport-specific or strength and conditioning programs. We must keep in mind that developmentally, the physical, physiological and psychological traits and training responses of youths are markedly different from adults.  A child’s body is not the same as a mature professional athlete’s – so why would we treat a child’s training program the same? Speak to your physiotherapist about designing an appropriate training load today.

What is “overtraining”?

By definition, overtraining is a deleterious condition which occurs after repeated strenuous training sessions without rest time for proper recovery. This can include athletes who compete for multiple sports or teams year-round without much time for recovery between sports seasons. Hence, they may be doing too much, for too long or sticking to one sport too soon (called “early specialization” – to be discussed in the next blog).

Some research reports up to 20-30% of youth athletes are overtraining which puts them at a higher risk of burnout and injury2.

Burnout

Overtraining may develop over months and signs may not be clear until a point where the child reaches burnout. Burnout or ‘overtraining syndrome’ results from overtraining, and can typically present as:

  • A decrease in performance
  • Chronic muscle or joint pain
  • Lack of enthusiasm, motivation or ability to focus
  • Personality changes (decreased self-confidence, short temper, irritability, sadness, elevated levels of stress)1

Is my child at risk of overtraining/burnout?

There is minimal quality research that identifies risk factors for burnout. However, some experts state that young athletes who develop burnout may typically share certain traits and experiences including:

  • Early sports specialization – focusing on one sport from a young age
  • Playing one sport but on multiple teams in-season
  • No ‘off-season’
  • Overlapping seasons without rest period
  • “Type A” personality (ambitious, driven, intense)
  • High anxiety and low self-esteem
  • Parent/coaching pressure to train and compete at a higher level

Overuse injuries

In children, overuse injuries can include growth-related disorders (e.g. Osgood-Schlatter, Severs’ disease) and those resulting from repetitive ‘microtrauma’ or excessive loading of tissues (e.g. stress fractures). See our blogs on overuse injuries.

Up to 50% of overuse injuries in physically active children and adolescents may be preventable3.

So what can we do to prevent overtraining?

We can reduce the chance of burnout by starting with these strategies:

  • Change it up: “periodization” – dividing the training year (or week) into phases which emphasize specific training regimes and goals.
  • Break it up: cross-training by varying workouts (i.e. conditioning, strength, flexibility)
  • Slow progression and avoid rapid increases in workload or intensity
  • Proper injury prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation (don’t wait until its too late, see your physiotherapist today: today)

How much exercise is too much?

Each athlete is unique and different, and what works for one child may not be right for another. Consult your physio or coach to see what program works the best for them. Generally, working within these parameters may help to reduce overtraining:

  • Maximum play: 5 days of scheduled sporting activity
  • Minimum rest: 1 day a week
  • Seasonal rest: 2-3 months’ relative rest (or 1 every 3 months)
  • Max training progression: 10% increase per week
  • Play for 1 team per season
  • Keep up good nutrition, hydration, and sleep
  • Regular ‘check ins’: Ask, “is it still fun”?

 

Tune in for the second blog in this two part series on overtraining: Early specialization? Debunking the myths of Success in Sport

Cherleen De Jesus (DPT, BSci)
Physiotherapist
Symmetry Physiotherapy


1 Henderson, B., Cook, J., Kidgell, D. J., & Gastin, P. B. (2015). Game and training load differences in elite junior Australian football. Journal of sports science & medicine14(3), 494.

2 Matos, N., & Winsley, R. J. (2007). Trainability of young athletes and overtraining. Journal of sports science & medicine6(3), 353.

3 Valovich McLeod, T. C., Decoster, L. C., Loud, K. J., Micheli, L. J., Parker, J. T., Sandrey, M. A., & White, C. (2011). National Athletic Trainers' Association position statement: prevention of pediatric overuse injuries. Journal of athletic training46(2), 206-220.

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