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Effects of Gymnastics Overtraining on Young Girls

By Michelle Zehr

Gymnastics is a highly competitive sports that requires a great deal of dedication and training on the part of young girls. Overtraining can have serious effects on young gymnasts. Failure to balance the needs of a young girl's body coupled with overtraining can lead to a condition known as the female athlete triad. This condition can lead to disordered eating, osteoporosis and absence of menstrual cycles in young girls.

Disordered Eating

Excessive exercise coupled with the stereotypical image of a gymnast -- thin and in shape -- can lead to serious eating disorders in young gymnasts. Long hours spent at the gym along with eliminating foods that a gymnast believes will make her fat can create serious disorders including anorexia nervosa -- failure to eat -- or bulimia nervosa -- eating and then purging. If an eating disorder does not occur, a lack of energy can occur as the result of poor diet and overtraining.

Bone Health

Poor nutrition along with overtraining can lead to osteoporosis in young female gymnasts. Osteoporosis causes the bones to weaken as the result of low levels of hormones and inadequate nutrition, resulting in poor bone development in young girls as well as weak bones. Hours upon hours spent in the gym can lead to stress fractures or other more serious bone injuries. These injuries can potentially halt or end a gymnast's career. In addition, young girls have to worry about weak bones later on in life.

Absence of Menstrual Cycle

Overtraining can cause decreases in estrogen in the body of a young gymnast. Estrogen is a hormone that helps to regulate the menstrual cycle. Overtraining can cause young girls to miss their periods or have irregular periods or can cause their periods to stop completely. A missed menstrual cycle is known as amenhorrhea. Overtraining can delay the onset of puberty, especially in girls who have been intensely training in gymnastics for a majority of their lives. Since a missed menstrual cycle does not automatically indicate the female athlete triad and overtraining, a doctor's exam is called for.

Other Effects

Overtraining can do more than just affect the health of a young girl participating in gymnastics. Spending countless hours at the gym and training can take a toll on the emotions of a girl. A girl may have difficulty sleeping, trouble keeping up in school or feel overwhelmed. Young gymnasts may feel like they are missing out on other aspects of being a kid -- such as socializing with their peers outside of gymnastics. Girls may feel constant pressure to be the best, practice hard and maintain a certain body image, which can lead to feelings of stress or depression.

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