Rest Yourself To The Top – Why You Must Avoid Overtraining

Training is obviously an essential part of any basketball player’s life. Without it, you will lose both the skills and the physical ability to dribble, dodge, and shoot hoops with the best of ‘em. However, there is something else that should be an equally important part of your basketball life: rest. How much and when depends upon the individual and their individual bodily needs – everyone is different, after all. But everybody has a limit – and if you overstep that limit, you’ll actually end up in a lot worse shape than before.

You Can Get Obsessed

One of the reasons that people begin to overtrain is that exercise, while perhaps not classically ‘addictive’ in quite the same way that heroin or cocaine are, it certainly has a tendency to cause many of the same symptoms as an addiction. Indeed, many psychiatrists do classify it as an ‘addiction’, for though it does not have quite the same neurological effects as a classic addiction, it mimics the symptoms, and can be equally damaging to health and lifestyle. Psychiatrists like William Glasser have even observed “withdrawal” symptoms in those who are denied their ‘addiction’. People who make exercise a big part of their lives naturally tend to become passionate and serious about it – and that’s perfectly ok. However, if you let it take over your life too much, it might start to become a damaging obsession. People start to get a warped perception of themselves and the amount of exercise they should be doing. They become anxious when they cannot exercise, and start to think that they can feel their muscles wasting away, or fat pouring onto their bellies for every moment that they’re not in the gym. Exercise starts to take priority over friends, family, food, and even sleep. Obviously this is bad psychologically, but it takes a pretty heavy toll on your physical body as well.

Your Muscles Will Be Damaged

Most athletes and sportsmen are aware that muscles are made up of protein fibers. It is by a process of tearing and healing these fibers that muscles grow and strengthen. However, you may have noticed that it’s not immediately after a training session that you’re rubbing Deep Heat onto your biceps – it’s the day after. This is because your body can only process and repair exercise-induced muscle damage while you’re at rest. Human growth hormone, which, according to Colorado State University, “stimulates amino acid uptake and protein synthesis in muscle and other tissues” [1], is only released while you are sleeping. The military advise all recruits to never scrimp on sleep unless it’s absolutely necessary – as “without adequate sleep, there is not enough rest for muscle cell growth and repair” [2]. So never let your need to get in a certain amount of exercise hours per day cut into your sleeping patterns. Well rested, well tested.

You’ll Get ‘Skinnyfat’

When you overtrain, you exhaust your body. It struggles to find the resources needed to keep putting you through your punishing regimes. At this point, one of two things can happen: If you’ve burned through all of your fat reserves, your body will start cannibalizing muscle to feed itself. This is fairly basic nutritional science – your body gets its primary energy sources from the food you eat. Once it has exhausted that possibility and still needs to keep moving, it turns to other sources. This is what causes weight loss, as your body’s preferred source of secondary energy is fat. However, depending upon the specific circumstances, this is not always the case. As Dr Len Kravitz puts it, “When a person is in a negative energy balance, the weight loss may come from three body sources: water, adipose tissue [fat], and muscle tissue” [3]. If you are low on fat then muscle will be burned to fuel the exercises you’re doing in order to build your muscles. Even if you aren’t running low on fat, chances are that your body – desperate for any and all fuel – will start rationing out the fat in order to preserve it in case of emergency, and burn muscle. The kind of emergency it’s concerned about is a fairly common scenario amongst anorexics and chronic over exercisers – the body does not want to be forced to start burning the heart muscle to fuel itself. This is something which can and does happen when the body has nothing else to turn to and the individual keeps pushing it. In order to prevent it from getting to this stage, your body may go into ‘starvation mode’, during which it will conserve fat and lay it down at every opportunity in order to protect the heart for as long as possible. So you’ll end up ‘skinnyfat’ – a person who looks thin on the outside, but who has negligible muscle tone and a lot of subcutaneous fat. There is only one way to stop this from happening – ensure that you are getting enough rest and enough good nutrients to prevent your body from literally burning out.

You’ll Be Flooded With Cortisol

Cortisol – the ‘stress hormone’ – is useful in small, brief doses, but it’s seriously bad news if released frequently over a long period of time. If you overtrain, your body is likely to be marinaded in cortisol 24/7. Cortisol has been linked to depression, anxiety, insomnia, lowered immune function, high blood pressure, memory loss, the production of visceral fat (compounding the problems mentioned above), and even heart damage. All in all, you want to avoid it. To keep your cortisol levels low, make sure that you build plenty of sleep and rest days into your training regime – your game will be all the better for it!

This freelance article was written by Helen Young

[1] R Bowen, “Growth Hormone (Somatotropin)“, Colorado State University, Dec 2006

[2] Stew Smith, “The Importance of Sleep“,

[3] Len Kravitz, “Fat Facts“, University of New Mexico

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