No pain no gain right? Well, not exactly. Too much pain, too often is a fast-track to overdoing it and slowing up. Here are the five key overtraining symptoms to look out for
If you're taking on endurance sports chances are you have a strong go-getting Type A personality streak and, generally, this is great. It lets you set high goals and go about achieving them in your own no-nonsense manner. It's also responsible for the grit that keeps you going when your body's screaming 'enough'.
But when the shadow of overtraining looms these go-getting, high-achieving qualities can fast force you deeper into a hole of your own making as, instead of heeding overtraining symptoms and resting up, you write them off as just another weakness to be overcome.
The hard part is knowing when not wanting to hit today's session or those slower than normal training times are down to you not pushing hard enough, and when in fact they're all down to you pushing too hard.
It's a fine line we tread in endurance and to help you tread it to perfection, here's our ultimate overtraining guide covering the five key symptoms.
Overtraining symptom 1: exhaustion despite enough sleep
You're sleeping like a demon, crushing your 7-8 hours a night (or whatever you know is a healthy daily sleep hit for you) yet still waking up every morning groggy, foggy and knackered before spending your days struggling to keep your eyes open.
At its worst this will feel like a hangover despite not having drunk a drop the night before and if this is you, that's your red card right there - stop training, rest, eat well and sleep until you're waking fresh again.
Be mindful here of other life stresses too and whether they could also be affecting you. Training isn't the only thing that can mess with your sleep/rest after all. If there are other key events producing pressure then know that your training levels or intensities may well need adjusting to absorb and manage this.
Overtraining symptom 2: perceived training effort is harder
Perceived training effort is simply how hard something feels to you on scale of 1-10 with 1 being no effort, and 10 being an all-out sufferfest where you're absolutely on the limit and about to keel over any minute.
If you find your perceived effort repeatedly feeling harder in a training session you know well, say a familiar run route, this is a great indication you're heading into overtraining.
Overtraining symptom 3: slower for the same heart rate
When a lap at the track feels like a vertical trail run through deep bog, that'll be overtraining paying a visit
In this age of the quantified self, we have a plethora of data points to measure our training by and yet amongst all this good old-fashioned heart rate measurement is still a king player, particularly with regards overtraining.
What you want to look out for is a slowdown in pace for the same heart rate over a familiar route or session.
You'll need a familiar route because elevation and terrain will play a huge part - running up a mountain for 5km will clearly require a higher heart rate for a lower speed than doing the same on the pancake flat of your local running track.
One session showing a slowdown for the same heart rate isn't anything to worry about, but if your results are trending down in pace and up in heart rate over a few weeks, that's your overtraining flag right there.
To help understand the data, focus on average pace and average heart rate per session. Uploading your data to Strava is also helpful here, as even the free accounts allow you to track this data more easily over time.
Overtraining symptom 4: getting sick more often
2-3 colds a year is pretty standard but any more than this, particularly allied to them either turning up in quick succession, or simply dragging on for ages is a great sign you're overtrained and your body needs a breather.
Endurance training naturally reduces immune function anyway thanks to Post Exercise Immunosuppression. But with a healthy training protocol, good sleep and a great diet, there's no need for this to have any effect - this post explains more.
Overtraining symptom 5: a rising injury rate
A worn out body isn't recovering from training properly, so while you're merrily breaking it down in training if you don't give it the time to rebuild there's no benefit to the accumulated work.
As overtraining hits in the later stages, this results in injury rates rising. The good news is even at this point, there are warning signs, usually as previous niggles begin flaring up again and making themselves known.
If this pattern's repeating and increasing over a few weeks, you're tipping into overtraining.
Remember the same goes for a worn out mind too. Thanks to the brain-body connection, mental stress and tiredness can manifest as physical injuries and weaknesses. Worth bearing in mind that when work or life is running you hard, your body may need more TLC to absorb your training positively.
Overtraining symptoms - how to recover
With the symptoms covered, now lets look at dealing with them. Good news? It's really very simple:
Beat overtraining and getting back to training will feel like its all downhill
- Eat well: we're talking loads of fresh fruit and veg, plenty of water, and out with processed foods, alcohol and soda. For an added size 10 boot in the backside to banish overtraining and maximise results, we recommend incorporating 33Fuel's Pre and Post Workout Shakes into your training and racing. These deliver the most beneficial nutrient hit from 33 of nature's most powerful athletic superfoods to supercharge your fueling and recovery from those big sessions and races.
- Sleep & nap: sort your sleep hygene, pack the zeds in, and when life gets in the way consider power naps - this post on sleep for athletes goes into more detail
- Hydrate: nice and simple, drink plenty of water to help loosen your body up, flush toxins and help your immune system do its thing
- Move: but gently, so while threshold sessions, FTP turbo smashing, and all other manner of pain cave work is out, yoga, daily stretching, foam rollering and walking are all in. For more on how to rest powerfully, our tapering guide here has all you need to know
33Fuel Pre and Post Workout Shakes: your ultimate overtraining insurance
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