My daughter seems to be constantly tired and moody. She has also been getting frustrated as no matter how hard and long she practices; she is not getting any better in her dancing. Why would this be?

It is no secret among dancers that in order to improve performance you have to work hard. However, hard training breaks you down and makes you weaker. It is rest that makes you stronger. Physiologic improvement in all sports only occurs during the rest period following hard training. This adaptation is in response to maximal loading of the bodies systems. During recovery periods these systems build to greater levels to compensate for the stress that has been applied, resulting in a higher possible level of performance. However, many dancers, in an attempt to constantly improve, drive themselves a little too far and can enter the realm of ‘Overtraining’. Overtraining can best be defined as the state where the athlete has been repeatedly stressed by training to the point where rest is no longer adequate to allow for recovery.

Overtraining frequently occurs in all kinds of athletes who are training for competitions or a specific event (such as exams or performances) and train beyond the body's ability to recover. Dancers often exercise longer and harder so they can improve. But without adequate rest and recovery, these training regimens can backfire, and actually decrease performance. If sufficient rest is not included in a training program then regeneration cannot occur and performance plateaus. If this imbalance between excess training and inadequate rest persists then performance in all areas will decline.

The "overtraining syndrome" is the name given to the collection of emotional, behavioral, and physical symptoms due to overtraining that has persisted for weeks to months. This is different from the day to day variation in performance and post exercise tiredness that is common in conditioned athletes. Overtraining is marked by cumulative exhaustion that persists even after short recovery periods.

Common warning signs of overtraining include:
• Washed-out feeling, tired, drained, lack of energy
• Mild leg soreness, general achiness
• Pain in muscles and joints
• Sudden drop in performance
• Insomnia
• Headaches
• Decreased immunity (increased number of colds, and sore throats)
• Decrease in training capacity / intensity
• Moodiness and irritability
• Depression
• Loss of enthusiasm for the sport
• Decreased appetite
• Increased incidence of injuries.

If you suspect that your daughter is overtraining, the first thing to do is suggest that she reduce or stop exercising and allow a few days of rest. This will be met with resistance, but perhaps giving her some information on overtraining to read will help. She should drink plenty of fluids, and alter her diet if there are any major imbalances. Cross-training by using different sports can help her discover if she is simply overworking certain muscles and also helps determine if she is just mentally fatigued. A sports massage can also help recharge overused muscles.