1/5 Overtraining Syndrome

In the next week or so I’m going to do a series of posts on overtraining and how important rest and recovery from training is.  Recently I decided I was probably overtraining in my challenge to do the Highland Fling and took the decision to pull out and change my priorities

My decision not to do the Highland Fling took a lot of pressure off me and allowed me to concentrate on other goals, like helping others and cross trainnig, instead of putting pressure on myself to run faster or run further.  I have to say, I’m liking it. 🙂

I didn’t think I was over training at the time, but all of the signs were there, I felt wiped out sometimes, I had blurry vision, I got a cold and had to spend some days in bed off work.  I was asking a lot of my body and eventually it took its toll. 

I’ve learned a lot about training and over training through experience and reading about it, so I thought I’d share it with you.

What is Overtraining Syndrome?

Overtraining syndrome frequently occurs in people who are training for competition or a specific event and train beyond the body’s ability to recover.  Goal orientated or competitive people often exercise longer and harder so they can improve.  But without adequate rest and recovery, these training regimens can backfire, and actually decrease performance.  

I know this from when I wrecked my knee in attempting to run 31 miles from where I was born to where I grew up in May 2011.  I had to reassess my goals, pull out of the Clyde Stride and had to stop running for at least a month.  I used cross training (bike and strength work) to keep my fitness levels up and my sanity, but I learned a good lesson.

I learned that I was overdoing my training.  A long run (up to 31 miles) each week for 3 consecutive weekends was too tough on my body, and it was taking too much time out of my life. 

So when I trained for the Highland Fling, I changed it about and did one week of long / high training, then one week of recovery.  It worked well for me, but what works for one doesn’t always work for others.

Now I’ve got to the point where I’ve questioned my goals.  I feel that as much as it would have been an amazing achievement to run the Highland Fling, I would need to have sacrificed a lot of time and relationship to persue that goal.  And I found I just didn’t have the time or room to do it.

I’m refocusing my goals to keep fit, have fun and help others.  Simple.  I’ll have a mixture of cross training and cardio, and less emphasis on running for events.  I can enter events, but my main aim is to keep things mixed up and not put pressure to run this much then or that much when so that I can get whichever running goal I’m after.

There needs to be a balance between goals, overload, recovery and fun.  Too much overload and/or too little recovery may result in both physical and psychology symptoms of overtraining syndrome.  Goals and how you are going to acheive them (training plans) should be reviewed continuously to make sure they are what you want, need and are able to do.  Most of all, life should be fun!  🙂

Common Warning Signs and Symptoms of Overtraining Syndrome

  • Washed-out feeling, tired, drained, lack of energy
  • Mild leg soreness, general aches and pains
  • Pain in muscles and joints
  • Sudden drop in performance
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Decreased immunity (increased number of colds, and sore throats)
  • Decrease in training capacity / intensity
  • Moodiness and irritability
  • Depression
  • Loss of enthusiasm for the sport
  • Decreased appetite
  • Increased incidence of injuries
  • A compulsive need to exercise

It’s easy to ignore the signs of overtraining, especially when your goal or your training plan is so important to you, but it’s best to review your performance, health and training and make sensible judgements about it.  What might seem important at the time (an event or goal) might not be the most important thing in the world.  Your health is much more important than any PB, Event or Goal.  🙂

Recognising Overtraining Syndrome

There are several ways you can objectively measure some signs of overtraining. One is by documenting your heart rates over time.  Track your aerobic heart rate at a specific exercise intensities and speed throughout your training and write it down. If your pace starts to slow, your resting heart rate increases and you experience other symptoms, you may heading into overtraining syndrome.

You can also track your resting heart rate each morning. Any marked increase from the norm may indicate that you aren’t fully recovered.

A training log that includes a note about how your feel each day can help you notice downward trends and decreased enthusiasm.  It’s important to listen to your body signals and rest when you feel tired.  You can also ask those around you if they think you are exercising too much (not that I listened to people when they told me… another lesson learned by me!)

While there are many proposed ways to objectively test for overtraining, the most accurate and sensitive measurements are psychological signs and symptoms and changes in an athlete’s mental state. Decreased positive feelings for sports and increased negative feelings, such as depression, anger, fatigue, and irritability often appear after a few days of intensive overtraining.

How to Treat Overtraining Syndrome

If you suspect you are overtraining, start with the following:

  • Rest and Recover. Reduce or stop exercise and allow yourself a few days of rest.
  • Hydrate, Drink plenty of fluids and alter your diet if necessary.
  • Get a sports massage. This may help relax you mentally and physically.
  • Begin Cross Training. This often helps people who are overworking certain muscles or suffering from mental fatigue.

Research on overtraining syndrome shows getting adequate rest is the primary treatment plan.  New evidence indicating that low levels of exercise, or active recovery, during the rest period speeds recovery, and moderate exercise increases immunity.

Total recovery from overtraining can take several weeks and should include proper nutrition and stress reduction.

How to Prevent Overtraining Syndrome

It’s often hard to predict overtraining because everyone responds differently to certain training routines.  It is important, however, to vary training through the year and schedule in significant rest time.  The following tips may help you avoid overtraining:

  • Include structured rest and recovery in your training (full days and ways to recover).
  • Include at least 1 day, or 2 days ideally of complete rest in your training plan.
  • Practice active recovery (walking, nutrition, hydration, stretching, yoga, rest).
  • Be aware of how much exercise you need to achieve your goals, don’t overdo it.
  • Rate your workouts based on the importance of them in achieving your goals. If you’re tired, run down, or have other commitments, it’s ok to skip a workout or two.
  • Check for risks of injury, burn out or when you feel run down.
  • Follow the 10 per cent rule (loosely if you want) and be careful to build up miles,  training time and loads to avoid injury.

If you recognise any warning signs of overtraining, it’s important to objectively measure your training routine and make adjustments before you end up sick or injured.

Look out for the next post in this series:  Top 10 Recovery Tips.

This entry was posted in Recovery, Relaxation, Training Plans. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to 1/5 Overtraining Syndrome

  1. Pingback: How to deal with injury constructively | Lorn Pearson Trains…

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