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Sunday, June 1, 2014

Some Thoughts on Overtraining

If you were watching the ShopRite LPGA Classic on Saturday, you may have caught parts of a discussion about overtraining. I think it was spawned by all the therapy tape Michelle Wie was wearing on one leg -- she was wearing some during Friday's round, but Saturday it looked like a one-legged leotard -- and by Suzann Pettersen's back problems earlier this year.

Of course, injuries to Tiger Woods and other players were brought up as well.

There are some serious questions being raised about the amount of exercise a golfer really needs for peak performance. The issues aren't new; I read that former NFL coach and TV commentator John Madden once claimed that weight work was responsible for an increase in injuries among football players. I believe that was back in the 1970s, so this is a long-running debate.

With the number of fitness centers around the world, as well as the number of mail order workout programs and equipment you can order, it's worth understanding what all the fuss is about. You don't want to end up injuring yourself and ending your golf season early!

The debate isn't just about the intensity or number of workouts -- clearly, you can overdo anything and create overuse injuries -- but about the nature of the workouts. Madden singled out weight work because it isolates specific muscle groups, particularly when done with machines rather than free weights. What's the difference?

You can strap someone into a weight machine (Nautilus machines are one example) and that will enable them to work a specific muscle (or muscles) in an efficient motion. However, there are a number of smaller support muscles and tendons that help the joints remain stable during use, and the machines don't give those small muscles the same workout. As a result, you create muscle imbalances during your workout.

In effect, the joints, tendons, and muscles self-destruct when stressed on the playing field.

Free weights at least require you to stabilize the barbell or dumbbells as you lift them, so the smaller muscles do get some more use. But again, the movement might not stress those smaller muscles and tendons quite the way they'll be stressed on the playing field, so they still end up being weaker.

Add the compulsion to overwork that some players have, and you can understand why this has become such a hot button topic. (I heard Tiger say he used to run 30 miles a week. There are track specialists who don't do that much!) Are these injuries being caused by the types of exercises we do, the intensity and number of workouts, or some combination of the two? Or could there be some other contributing factor that we haven't identified yet?

There are a few simple things you can do to lessen the chance of hurting yourself while you increase your strength and endurance.
  • Diversify your workouts. By that I mean to mix different kinds of exercise into your overall program. (Crosstraining was a popular buzzword for this at one time.) Mix cardio work with strength work. When you do strength work, mix weights or machines with bodyweight exercises like pushups, pullups, and squats. (Bodyweight exercises use your body in ways that work all those small muscles.)
  • Vary the intensity of your workouts. You don't have to do the same amount of work at each workout. Some days you can do longer workouts, and other days you can do shorter ones. Do strength workouts on different days from cardio workouts, or schedule strength workouts across two days. (Bodybuilders frequently do this by working their upper bodies on one day and their lower bodies on a different day. And cardio workouts rarely need to be done more than 3 or 4 times a week to be effective.)
  • Schedule off-days. When you first start your workouts and aren't pushing very hard, you can do something everyday if you want. But as the workouts get tougher, you should do them less often. For example, you might schedule this way (and this isn't the only way you could do it):
    1. Monday: Upper body workout
    2. Tuesday: Lower body workout & light cardio
    3. Wednesday: off
    4. Thursday: Upper body workout & light cardio
    5. Friday: Lower body workout & light cardio
    6. Saturday: off
    7. Sunday: medium cardio
    If you're trying to improve at some sport, the off days become good days for your sport.
  • Use good judgment and be flexible. Some days just aren't good days to work out -- perhaps you're ill, or maybe there's a schedule conflict. You can work out on a different day and, if you're sick, you can skip a day or two. Just remember to ease back into the workouts if you miss time due to sickness; otherwise you might hurt yourself.
Overtraining might be an occupational hazard for the pros but it doesn't have to be for us weekend warriors. Think about that when you see your favorite pros wrapped like mummies in therapy tape. You will gradually learn how much work it takes to keep you in shape if you just shelve your ego and use some common sense.

Remember: You don't have to train like an Olympic athlete to be in shape.

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