What is Overtraining?
Overtraining is a term used to describe a state of chronic fatigue resulting from accumulated stress. It occurs when the strain we are placing on our bodies – either through high mileage, fast paces, insufficient recovery, or a combination of factors – continually exceeds the bodies’ ability to recover. It can occur for any number of specific reasons, but the key component in overtraining is insufficient recovery. Overtraining can have serious negative effects not only on race performance but on an athlete’s overall mental health as well. If left unaddressed, overtraining can progress into more serious conditions and so it is important to watch for early signs and to make the necessary adjustments in order to avoid becoming “burned out”.
How to Spot Overtraining
There is no diagnostic test for overtraining. Rather, overtraining syndrome is a collection of symptoms, related to physical stress, which result in decreased performance. Many of the early signs of overtraining – like fatigue, soreness, and irritability – may initially be written off as a cold or a lack of sleep due to a busy work schedule. While occasional soreness and fatigue are a normal part of training, it is when these symptoms become persistent that overtraining must be considered.
Some of the earlier signs to watch for are:
– Increased Resting Heart
– Insomnia and/or Nightmares
– Unexplained Drop in Performance
– A Lack of Motivation or Desire to Run
– Persistent Fatigue
– Recurring Illnesses
– Frequent Injury
What To Do If You Are Experiencing Overtraining
Back off. Something you have been doing has not been working. It can be hard to take a step back, especially in the middle of a season, but trying to soldier through signs of overtraining is just piling debt upon debt. This way you’re bound to go bankrupt. The first step is to allow your body the recovery it has been missing. Depending on the severity of your overtraining, you may need to pull way back on your volume, taking anywhere from a week to a month easy or completely off in order for your body to reset. The key is to reduce both volume and intensity, and to focus on proper sleep, nutrition, and hydration. It is important that you listen to your body and allow it to fully recover before you begin to build back up. Taking an extra week upfront will save you significantly more time (and fitness) in the long run than if you rush back and re-stress
your systems before they are ready. You gain nothing by forcing the issue.
Instead, try to identify what the key stressors were in your training.
Was it too much volume?
Was it too many hard efforts in a week? Was it a prolonged caloric deficit?
Use this down time as an opportunity to reassess your training and pinpoint which factors likely contributed to your overtraining. While you can’t undo past training, you can use it as a learning experience to better understand your bodies’ limits and modify your training accordingly going forward.
How to Help Prevent Overtraining
Burnout in runners is a multi-dimensional issue. While training is one factor that can contribute stress, other factors such as a lack of sleep, trying to lose too much weight during intense training, or even a hectic work schedule can just as easily tip the balance from tolerable to overwhelming. That is why it is crucial that you do the little things.
1.) Keep Your Easy Days EASY: It is on the days in between hard efforts that our bodies
repair themselves and we get the benefits from our hard work. Running too fast on easy
days adds little aerobic benefit to your run, but significantly hinder your bodies’ ability to repair itself from previous efforts. For this reason, it is crucial that your easy recovery
runs are performed at a slow, conversational pace. Similarly, no two runners are the
same. While one runner may be able to do 80mpw with three hard efforts, another may
be better suited at 40mpw with two hard efforts. Each runner’s training should be
adapted to their own unique ability to recover (something that is continually evolving as
you learn more about yourself and/or your athletes).
2.) Perform The Easiest Workout That Still Elicits The Desired Response: Each
workout is designed to target a specific energy system, or “zone”, and the paces given
correlate specific to the zone(s) you intend to work. Run too fast and you are no longer
working that zone. Run too slow and you are not getting enough benefits from your work. The key is to find the balance. The goal for the majority of your workouts should be to run a pace which is just fast enough that it provokes significant developments to that systems but not so fast that you risk unnecessary stress. You want to finish most of your workouts feeling like you could do one more.
3.) Avoid Trying To Cut Weight During Intense Training: Speed sessions and long runs
do a number on your legs. Not only do they require a considerable amount of calories
just to get through in the first place, but they require a fair amount of protein and other
nutrients afterwards to repair and grow. It you limit your nutritional intake while
simultaneously ramping up volume and intensity, you are burning the candle at both
ends and inviting the potential for overtraining syndrome and injury into your running.