Overtraining and recognizing its consequences.
Overtraining is when you do too much too soon or too much without providing your body sufficient time and resources to recover. Overtraining frequently happens to athletes training for a specific event, determined to reach a specific fitness or performance goal. Their mind determined to succeed, pushes their body beyond what it can deliver.
Training is the result of your body adapting to stress. The stress has to be strong enough and regular enough to cause your body to adapt, but the adaptation doesn’t happen during the stress phase. All adaptation happens during rest and ONLY during rest. Recovery is AS important as the workout and that is a fact that when ignored has landed many athletes in the hospital or in an unplanned and unwanted break from running Scott Murr coauthor of “Run Less Run Faster” often quotes “It’s better to be 10% undertrained than 1% overtrained when you step up to the start line” pretty brilliant!
Here are 12 key points to consider when it comes to recognizing overtraining and its consequences;
1. Caution ...it can happen to anyone;
A friend of mine recently sent me a video of American 20K, Marathon and Half Marathon record holder Ryan Hall who finished 4th at the 2011 Boston Marathon with a time of 2:06:17. The video was an interview with his coach Matt Dixxon and the main topic was recovery. Hall talked about the fact that in 2010 after finishing 4th in the Boston Marathon he was supposed to compete in the Chicago Marathon but never made it to the start line due to overtraining. Imagine if this can happen to an elite runner like Ryan Hall well I guess it can happen to anyone if we’re not careful In a presentation at the USU Consortium for Health and Military Performance Dr Francis G O’Connor delivered a presentation entitled “Overtraining Syndrome Clinical Perspective” where he looked at Overtraining in athletes Dr O’Connor identified (amongst other things) who suffers from overtraining syndrome and in what sports;
• 7-20% of elite athletes at any one time suffer from overtraining syndrome
• Two thirds of elite athletes have suffered with overtraining syndrome over the course of their careers
• Endurance events
• Running, Swimming. Cycling
• Power lifting, basketball
2. Why people overtrain;
Here are some of the most common reasons people overtrain;
- A belief that they need to train at race pace or paces approaching race pace in order to be able to maintain that pace on race day.
- The truth is that when you are running past 80% of your maximum heart rate you are switching into your anaerobic energy system which will not help you run at pace for any distance. Running endurance events like the Half and Full Marathon are just that ... all about endurance and the way you build a solid base of endurance is by running at or around 80% of your maximum heart rate to train your body to consume fat as much as possible and for as long as possible so that you keep glycogen consumption to a minimum. Speed- work is important but cut the base building phase of your training short and your speed work may not matter. Many people are concerned about the kick at the end of their race but if you don’t have the endurance to get you there because you trained too hard and too soon your kick isn’t going to happen anyway.
- The feeling of challenging themselves to go faster and better times.
- That’s racing not training. Training comes first! Get the order mixed up and you needn’t worry about the challenge of race day because if you make it to the start you surely will be disappointed with your result. The time for that type of challenge is on race day and the little reward you get during training is nothing compared to the reward of crossing the finish line, your goal achieved!
- World renowned personal development, success author and coach Zig Ziglar has a great quote; “If you do the things you ought to do, when you ought to do them. The day will come when you can do what you want to do, when you want to do it” I can’t think of a better quote when it comes to training for an endurance event than that one.
- Panic Training.
- Not feeling like you’re where you should be in your training, not fast enough doesn’t feel right ... let’s run longer, faster, harder... oh my gosh what will we do? Ehhh... hold off on the run longer, faster, harder.
- Suggestion, review the logic behind the plan you are following. Chances are, especially if you are past the midway point of your base building phase and haven’t started your speed work yet that you are just fine. This is a very common time for folks to get concerned but remember that distance running is all about endurance and cutting your base building phase short will more than likely hinder your performance on race day rather than improve it. With a good base built and a sensible transition to speed work you should transition just fine and feel right even after the first or second session of speed.
3. Signs of overtraining;
Some fatigue and soreness are a normal part of training and so keep going but when the fatigue becomes excessive and performance begins to drop, watch out ... your overtraining alarm should be going off. Here is a list of other things to watch out for;
Increase of resting heart rate of 5 bpm or more Sore throat or cough
Sudden weight loss of 5 lbs or more Mood swings
Sluggish or tired feeling Sleep issues
Loss of appetite Dizziness
Excessive thirst Sexual disinterest
Recurrent headaches Weakened immune system
Inability to adapt to training Decline in performance
4. Confusing overtraining with other conditions;
Symptoms of overtraining can easily be confused with other conditions and so a visit to your doctor is always a good idea if symptoms persist. Some of the conditions that can present symptoms similar to overtraining are; Hypothyroidism, Fatigued Athletes Myopathic Syndrome (FAMS), Post-Viral Fatigue Syndrome and Depression.
5. Run with a heart rate monitor;
When it comes to noticing the early signs of overtraining a heart rate monitor can be your very best friend. By tracking your performance daily and knowing what your average heart rate is during different kinds and intensities of runs you can immediately see when your heart rate trend is irregular and you can make appropriate adjustments to your training (most times to its intensity). There are many options available when it comes to heart rate monitors, from basic units to complex GPS/heart rate monitor units. Most are good, let your budget and needs be your guide. Our favorites . . . the Garmin Forerunner series.
6. Running Log;
A detailed running log is probably your best bet for staying on top of important training, health and performance indicators. A good running log will help you track the following;
Distance Resting heart rate that morning
Pace Weight that morning
Time Hours slept
Type of run Average heart rate during run
Level of effort Shoes worn
The log book or online log should also allow you to write down your own notes on the day and have a weekly summary at the end of every week allowing you to review your training and progress. If you are working with a coach he or she will want to review your log on a regular basis.
7. Train with a coach;
A good qualified and certified running coach will not only provide Inspiration, Information, Guidance and Encouragement, more importantly he or she will provide an objective review of your training and because of his or her knowledge and experience will be able to help prevent you from overtraining.
8. The Three 10s of avoiding overtraining
John Stanton, bestselling author and Founder of The Running Room, North America’s largest chain retail running stores, writes about the Three 10’s of avoiding overtraining in his book “Running”;
- Establish a 10 week training base of endurance before doing any competition, speed work or all out efforts.
- Increase by a maximum of 10% per week. That means if you’re running 30kms a week you should increase to no more than 33kms the next week.
- Make only 10% of your weekly workout high intensity (speed work or competition).
Although opinions differ on the exact #s, the Three 10’s is a great guideline and following it will help ensure that you stay away from injury and overtraining.
9. Recovery’s role;
As mentioned in the second paragraph of this guide, all physiological adaptation happens during rest and recovery. Avoiding rest in an effort to train through it is counterproductive and likely to hinder your performance rather than maintain or improve it and also will only prolong the period you will have to rest anyway ... your body won’t give you a choice. In the words of Tim Noaks, MD, author of The Lore of Running, “The sooner you accept the inevitable, the better”.
10. The role of sleep;
Sleep is your body’s most important recovery technique, not only does it allow your body to regenerate in a state of total rest but during sleep your body also releases growth hormones that help repair it’s stressed muscles.
How much sleep do you need? The answer to that question differs from one person to the next, but here are some key points to consider that will help provide an answer for you;
• How much sleep do you need...plenty!
• You need as much sleep as it takes to feel rested.
• Consistency is key! Don’t make up for a short night by sleeping in, just stay consistent.
• One short night, even the night before an event will have no effect on performance.
• Several nights of poor sleep can ruin your performance.
• The harder you train, the more sleep you need.
• Budget the necessary hours of sleep into your schedule.
11. Respect the Hard Day/ Easy Day Training Cycle;
A hard/easy schedule allows for recovery and adaptation while maintaining activity. Don’t be fooled into thinking “those little short runs aren’t worth it”, they not only will make you stronger, they will in the end make you faster and help keep you away from overtraining and injury. In the words of Coach Janet Hamilton, author of Running Strong and Injury Free; “Never underestimate the value of rest. Rest days are vital to allow the body time to recover”.
12. Consider the consequences;
I once heard Anthony (Tony) Robbins speak about making committed decisions, based on the pain and pleasure principle. One of the techniques he offered up was to make the consequences so real and dramatic that you could never consider that behaviour, ever again. For example want to quit smoking, look at an x-ray of a smokers lungs or visit the pulmonary ward at a local hospital and see the people suffering the horrible consequences of smoking.
The same applies to overtraining. Read or watch the stories of elite athletes not even making the start line of a major competition that they have been training for months, see the collapsed runners on the side of the course at any marathon event and imagine the disappointment at not making or finishing the race that you have been working so hard to train for so many months. Make the consequences real to you!