Simone Manuel overtraining syndrome: How USA swimming star recovered to attempt Olympics return | Sporting News (2024)

Ahed of the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, Simone Manuel was viewed as a shoo-in to represent the red, white and blue. She had won two gold medals as a teenager in 2016, including one in the 100m freestyle, becoming the first Black American female swimmer to win in an individual event.

But Manuel failed to qualify for the race for the 2021 Summer Games. Five American swimmers finished faster than herin the 100 freestyle final at the swimming trials —the same race that put Manuel at the top of the podium in Brazil five years earlier.

The reason? Overtraining syndrome. The condition resulted in Manuel failing to qualify for a chance to defend her gold medal in the 100 freestyle.

Still, while she did not qualify for the 4x100 freestyle relay, Team USA coach Greg Meehan elected to put her on that team, and the four-woman squad won bronze. She also qualified for the 50 freestyle, but she was not in her top form, resulting in a missed podium in Tokyo.

Now Manuel is back and looking to represent the United States in what would be her third Olympic Games — and to secure another gold medal in the pool.

Here is more to know about Manuel and her overtraining syndrome.

MORE: U.S. Olympic swimming trials live results, winners

Simone Manuel's overtraining syndrome, explained

Manuel noticed something off in her training in January 2021. Over the next two months, she began to feel as though her body "completely crashed" and was suffering from an increased heart rate,insomnia, depression, anxiety and muscle soreness.

"Just walking up the stairs to the pool, I was gassed," Manuel said to the Associated Press in 2021. "I wasn’t seeing any progress with my performance in the pool. It actually was declining."

That's when her mother researched her symptoms and found a potential cause — overtraining syndrome.

Manuel had never heard of the condition before. She tried to modify her practices, then she stopped training for three weeks, but the break did not give her enough time to get ready for the trials. She was unable to see any sort of improvement, resulting in a disappointing result at the U.S. Olympic trials.

"I had moments where I didn’t even want to go to the pool because I knew it was going to be bad," Manuel said. "It was an uphill climb once I got back into the water. That was hard because I love this sport."

Manuel referred to that time of her career as the "most boring months" of her life in a 2024 interview with the Associated Press.

"I spent a lot of time talking about my feelings, what happened, processing what happened, because I think when you’re in it, you’re kind of in survival mode," Manuel said. "I really needed to process it and come to terms with everything."

After giving her body time off to rest, Manuel feels as though she is fully ready for the 2024 Paris Olympics. Of course, the first step is making the team, which she can accomplish by finishing with one of the top two times in her events at the U.S. Olympic trials.

"I’ve always been very in tune with my body in regards to swimming, but I’ve just learned it’s really important to take a breath," Manuel said. "It’s really important to not just be in tune with your body, but really listen to it."

What is overtraining syndrome?

Overtraining syndrome, also known as burnout, is a "condition that happens when you exercise too often or too intensely for long enough that it starts to hurt your body," according to the Cleveland Clinic. It is found most often in athletes who train vigorously in their respective sport.

"It’s not giving the body enough time to recover from intense training that presents itself with fatigue and a lack of motivation," said Dr. Paul Arciero, a professor in the Department of Sports Medicine and Nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh. "One of the tell-tale signs is a decline in performance."

Dr. Robert Trasolini, an orthopedic surgeon and specialist in sports medicine at Northwell Health Orthopaedic Institute in New York, said that the condition is particularly a concern for Olympic athletes. This is due to the extended training periods these athletes put themselves in with the goal of competing every four years at the highest level.

"When you start to overreach and see a decline in activity, that should be the bell that says, 'Hey, I need to stop,'" Trasolini said. "But that’s hard for an athlete who is working toward a goal, especially when there’s not that instant gratification."

There are three types of overtraining syndromes, according to the Cleveland Clinic.Healthcare providers divide overtraining syndrome into three stages based on where it’s affecting you and which type of symptoms you’re experiencing.

  • Stage 1 overtraining syndrome (functional overtraining): Stage 1 OTS causes mild symptoms that may be hard to notice or tell apart from usual aches and pains after training. Your body is giving you warning signs that it’s not recovering properly between sessions of activity.
  • Stage 2 overtraining syndrome (sympathetic overtraining syndrome): Stage 2 OTS causes symptoms that affect your sympathetic nervous system, the part of your nervous system that controls your body’s response to stress — your “"fight-or-flight”" response. Some providers refer to stage 2 OTS as Basedow’s overtraining syndrome.
  • Stage 3 overtraining syndrome (parasympathetic OTS): Stage 3 OTS causes symptoms in your parasympathetic nervous system, which relaxes your body’s systems. Stage 3 OTS is usually the most severe and takes the longest to recover from. Some providers call it Addison’s overtraining syndrome.

The best way to prevent overtraining syndrome is to give the body the proper rest it needs. That may mean decreasing the intensity of the workouts, or stopping training altogether for a certain period of time.

Simone Manuel overtraining syndrome: How USA swimming star recovered to attempt Olympics return | Sporting News (2024)
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