Avoiding the Overtraining Syndrome
We all know what it’s like - can’t sleep at night, too tired to wake up when you were able to get to sleep, nutrition plan has gone out the window, elevated heart rate during rest, anxiety, stressing over little things at home or at work, your body feels like it’s going to break down during an easy training session, or worst of all: you don’t even want to think about training.
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, chances are you’re overtraining. And these are only a few of the long list of symptoms!
At one time, all cyclists and endurance athletes have over trained their bodies into extinction. Most athletes learn the hard way the first time it happens and are good to correct it, but there’s always a select few that just don’t get it. Good coaches can spot it instantly, and usually there’s a quick remedy called REST that a coach will impose in their athlete’s training plan.
HOWEVER, there’s always the one or two select athletes that feel like they’ll be able to shift to the next higher racing category or possibly try to win their age-group, or even drop those couple of pounds they’re trying to shed, by blasting their bodies into heart rate zones 4 and 5 for a few hours everyday and not taking a rest day or two.
They then begin to suffer not only on the road while racing, but off the road in their personal lives as well. That’s when the coach will begin to re-evaluate the training plan of their athlete, and make adjustments accordingly so they don’t encounter this monster again. Here are some easy tips for coaches and athletes alike to spot the overtraining beast so that it can’t sink its teeth any further than it already has:
1. Re-evaluate the Training Plan - Is the coach or athlete just pushing it to the limit? Then maybe it’s time for a re-evaluation of the training program. Is the athlete working for too long in a certain heart rate zone? Is there too much repetition in workouts? Maybe certain days need to be a little easier than others, and watch for burnout!
2. Incorporate a little more rest - Does the athlete just need a well-deserved break from training? If there’s a big time gap between races, that might be the time to suggest taking an extra day off during the week, or take that vacation that all athletes deserve. I’ve had athletes take as long as four days off the week before a big race and come out doing extremely well because they were able to give their bodies an extra break.
3. Check out the “chow” - Most athletes have some kind of nutrition log or at least have a good idea of what they eat during the day and how it’s incorporated into daily training. Has the athlete been missing some meals or not getting enough fluid? I also like to check for caffeine intake in the athletes I coach because of the diuretic effect caffeine can have on an athlete leading up to dehydration. If they’re not getting enough calories during the day, maybe some extra snacking might be an option. A good sports dietician might also be a good reference for some help.
4. Environment off the road - Is there some new stress going on at work or at home? Are there some new deadlines that have to be met at the office, or are we struggling to get the kids to soccer practice on time? Any type of outside stress can end up having a great effect on anyone’s training program, so it may even be advised to halt training for a period of time for an athlete to get back on track.
5. Sleep on it! - Not getting enough sleep at night is a huge detrimental factor in overtraining. Most doctors and experts will recommend getting at least 8 hours a night to be able to function in the real world the next day. But as endurance athletes, we really don’t live in the real world. Training can have one up at “zero-dark-thirty” or even take one well into the evening. If it’s just impossible to get the recommended 8 hours of sleep a night, try taking a “power nap” sometime during the day. Even a short nap of 30 minutes can really do justice for the body and make one feel really rested and fresh.
6. Treat yourself! - When was the last time you had a great massage, or used flexibility or Yoga as a training session. Actions such as these can help the body unwind (literally) and help keep the muscles flexible which, in turn, will help prevent injury. A good massage and some flexibility training will also help an athlete feel more relaxed and less stressed.
7. Make it fun - How many athletes do we know that are total slaves to the training schedule? If a training day needs to be light to get back on track, than make it a “fun” day. Take a loved one or friend on a training ride that doesn’t have to be a “training” ride. Treat it as more of a recovery ride and have some fun with it by taking a new path or go explore a new area. The scenery around you doesn’t always have to be a blur.
8. Shake it up - Training can get pretty stagnant and repetitive and even downright boring. Try a new cross training exercise or something to keep it fresh. What about weight training or a new cardio machine at the local gym or fitness center? Aerobics classes? You’re still getting all of the cardiorespiratory benefits and not having to do the same thing over and over.
Andy MacDonald, of L&T Health and Fitness, is the current Program Manager at the National Labor Relations Board Fitness Center in Washington, D.C. A two-time Ironman Florida finisher, he currently directs Capitol Punishment, a Washington DC-based triathlon team as well as a member of the Evolution Cycling Team from Vienna, Virginia. He’s a licensed coach through USA Cycling and USA Triathlon, and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.