Overtraining? Signs you are training too much (or recovering too little)
Training for a running event is pretty straight forward. You do certain workouts in a certain way at certain times to make improvements. Doing a workout puts planned stress on your body (overload), then your body recovers from that stress (recovery). The overload/recovery process leads to adaption and therefore progress. It’s a pretty amazing process. However, if you aren’t doing things just right, you could find yourself in a bad situation. (see podcast #16 for our discussion on all of this)
Without the right balance, overload leads to overreaching and eventually to overtraining. Overreaching is when you start to have accumulations of stress, resulting in decrements in performance. In other words, you aren’t fully recovering before moving on. Overreaching is the first stage of overtraining, and your number one goal should be to nip it in the bud fast because doing so can put you back on track. When you reach full blow overtraining, your season may just be over.
Your number one goal besides not getting injured is to avoid Overtraining. Below are 9 signs that you are leading towards or are currently overtraining. Watch for these things, especially if more than one occurs at the same time. And don’t forget to read about how you can prevent it and recover from it if you’ve gone too far, down below.
9 signs you are overtraining
- Unexplained fatigue/heavy legs
- Higher resting heart rate
- Lower or higher than expected heart rate while doing activity
- Injuries and illness – Getting sick or not getting better – immune system
- Alterations in sleep –
- Increased thirst, decreased appetite
- Decreased motivation/change in mood
- No progression/improvement
- Decreased performance
Unexplained fatigue/heavy legs
This is where you feel fatigued all the time. You can’t seem to ever feel rested. Think of the feeling after a hard workout, but it never really goes away.
Higher resting heart rate
Taking your resting heart rate very morning can be telling. As a general rule, it should stay consistent or go down with improved fitness. If your resting heart rate on more than one day is elevated 10% or more than usual (not explained by something else), this could be a sign of trouble.
Lower or higher than expected heart rate while doing activity
You might expect your heart rate to be high during a hard workout, but it’s lower than usual. Or, you expect it to be low during an easy one, and it’s higher. There are multiple variables that can affect this, but it’s something to pay attention to (especially if other signs are occurring at the same time)
Injuries and illness – Getting sick or not getting better
If you are getting sick over and over, or just not getting better, or if you are suddenly prone to injury, this could be a sign of overtraining. Your immune system can be affected by the accumulated training stress and it may be trying to tell you something.
Alterations in sleep
Your body actually physically recovers during sleep. If you aren’t getting good sleep, you aren’t getting good recovery. If you are accumulating training stress, your sleep may be affected. With today’s wearable devices telling you about your sleep habits, this is something simple to monitor.
Increased thirst, decreased appetite
If you are feeling thirsty all the time, and just don’t feel like eating.
Decreased motivation/change in mood
This is one of the first ones your friends and loved ones notice first. If they are telling you that you are moody, take a step back and look at yourself for other telltale signs.
You’re doing all the hard work, and not getting faster/better. Before you decide to work even harder (thinking it’s just your efforts), make sure it isn’t your body talking.
If you go do a race or a workout and do worse than normal, it could be a bad day or it could be too much accumulated training stress. Make sure it’s not the latter before you move on.
Now that you know what to look for, here are a list of things you can do to prevent overtraining from occurring in the first place:
- Carefully monitor yourself for the signs – early recognition is key
- Sleep! – recovery occurs during sleep when growth hormones are released
- Improve your nutrition – feed the body well
- Do appropriate training for experience and current level – know your limits
- Monitor your heart rate (resting heart rate and during exercise)
- Pay attention to rate of perceived exercise (RPE) – don’t exceed intensity for each workout
- Take your rest days (and additional ones when needed)
Recovering from Overreaching/Overtraining
If you gotten this far, you’ll need to stop focusing on training and start focusing on recovery. The most important thing for you to do is to work with your coach, nutritionist, and medical doctor. Here are some things that they will likely suggest:
- Rest, Rest, and Rest – this is the only way to get better
- If early (overreaching), taking 3-5 days completely off may do it. If symptoms go away, light training can usually start back up. The volume will need to stay down, and can only progress little bits at a time. If at any time symptoms come back, Overtraining is probably the problem.
- If overtraining – Stop training! – Stopping for a minimum of 3 weeks and as much as 6 to 8 weeks may be needed. Some athletes may need more. It’s important at this stage to work with your coach, nutritionist, and medical doctor.
- Nutrition is key – recovery takes all the right nutrients – focus on getting excellent nutrition
- Sleep! As.. much.. as.. possible… zzzzzz….
- Reduce mental stress as it can also play a role
- And I’ll reiterate, work with your coach, nutritionist, and medical doctor to fully recover before you get back on it!
USAT Level 1 Coach