This is especially true during training camps
and other times of increased training loads.
Steinacker defines this as overreaching.
difficult to diagnose overtraining as there is
no one consistent pattern or outcome that is
observable. As it is often unexpected, athletes
and coaches are invariably unprepared.
of overtraining hanging over her. “My body still
isn’t completely back to normal. Hopefully I will
suffer no longterm health issues.” Both bone
density and fertility can be impacted.
Problems for an athlete occur when fatigue from
overreaching persists for more than three days
or a week. This constant fatigue then turns into
overtraining when performance declines. This can
persist for more than two weeks and sometimes
“The coach is often puzzled by an athlete
who has always been good at performing and
training,” says Steinacker. Thus diagnosis does
not happen quickly and usually occurs after every
other possibility has been excluded. Also each
individual’s symptoms are so different.
Overtraining happens when the training
programme is not correct for the athlete’s
capacity and circumstances. It is a combination
of not enough rest, recovery and nutrition.
Steinacker confirms Rachel’s situation as often
overtraining occurs when there is additional
stress outside of training. Steinacker also thinks
there may be some genetic determination, but he
notes that data on this is not currently available.
There is also the possibility of a wrong diagnosis.
Research has shown that unresolved infections
have been diagnosed as overtraining and,
according to Steinacker, the lack of diagnostic
parameters means it is difficult to define what
The overtraining concept is a relatively
modern occurrence. The first description of
the overtraining syndrome showed up around
the 1950s. In the 1970s research by Lehmann
et al. first demonstrated that it was endurance
training, rather than high intensity training, that
spawned overtraining. Thus, in rowing the chance
of overtraining is highly possible.
Personally for Rachel the hardest part was realising
that her overtraining was essentially self-inflicted.
“It was due to my own determination to succeed
overriding my common sense and the advice of
those around me who were trying to help.”
Rachel Gamble-Flint of
Great Britain racing in the
junior women’s single sculls
at the 2009 World Rowing
Junior Championships in
Apart from decreased performance, says
Steinacker, an overtrained athlete will show
changes in their mood state which can be seen
in signs of depression, disturbed sleep and a
decrease in well-being. In hindsight Rachel saw
all of these symptoms.
Fortunately for Rachel, the team doctor knew
exactly what to do – back off completely and
replenish the body. Rachel also found that she
picked up every illness going around which would
put her back to square one.
The training programme, says Nilsen, has to be
designed to fit the individual athlete. “I’ve seen
two crews follow the same training programme
and both crews utilised it very differently.” The
programme worked for one crew but not the other.
Recovery is not simple and may take weeks,
months or even years for complete recovery.
For Rachel it was a four-month process of very
careful rehabilitation to a stage where she wasn’t
coming down with every cough and cold that was
What makes matters worse from a medical
perspective, says Steinacker, it is that it is very
Coming out the other side Rachel says that within
a few weeks of normal training she was back to her
previous strength and fitness. Rachel admits,
however, that she still has the memory