Recovering from Overtraining

As a personal trainer, you’d think I know to avoid overtraining.  But it doesn’t always happen. In my previous post, I wrote about the 2018 Patch Sprint, which was one my best-ever races, up there with my personal best in the Lake Placid Loppet.  The six weeks following was a crash-and-burn nightmare.  In a word, I overtrained.  How did this happen?

Because the Patch Sprint finished on a mountaintop, I had to descend to the trail head under my own power. Already wrecked from a huge effort, I picked my way downhill and hopped on to the last shuttle bus before it started raining.

The next day, my attitude intervened.  “Three-day weekend in Lake Placid, it’s training camp!”  I tried summiting Phelps Mountain and failed, and I was out in the woods for five hours.  A beautiful day despite no summit, and a big mistake.

Memorial Day Monday I bagged the training camp concept, slept in and drove home.  At home, I had three rest days before tackling yard work: two-foot tall grass and a tree branch blown down in high winds.  Between the hike, the yard work, and resuming training too soon, I put myself over the edge.  On 16 June, I got sick.   On 23 June, I woke up with raging rotator cuff tendonitis.  All this due to to not taking days off when I should have.

Overtraining can be defined in a number of ways, but perhaps this Denver Post article sums it up best: “persistent tiredness that spans days.” Despite eating properly and getting adequate rest, you wake up feeling tired. 

Lehman et al define overtraining as an “imbalance between training and recovery” and further distinguish between short-term and long-term overtraining.

Signs of overtraining include lacking the ability to complete the workout(s) you planned; a lack of motivation; not taking pleasure in normally enjoyable activities; and a loss of appetite.  Outside factors such as workplace stress can also contribute to overtraining.

Recently retired World Cup skier Noah Hoffman shared his perspective on overdoing it at the elite level.

There are several strategies you can use to avoid falling in the overtraining hole.  First, listen to your body.  If you’ve scheduled a hard session for e.g. Wednesday and you just don’t feel up to it, either skip the workout, or back off the intensity.  When you’re writing in your training log – you do keep a training log, right? – include notes on how you feel, how fatigued you are.

In terms of intensity, also ensure that you vary the intensity of your workouts.  Going full gas all the time, either in cardio workouts or in the gym, will run you down.  Tracking heart rate variability(HRV) and/or resting heart rate can give you warning signs that you’re overtraining.  There are several HRV applications available for your computer or mobile device.

If you find that you are overtrained, relax and give your body the break it needs.   While some think that you can recover from overtraining by shortening workouts or reducing intensity, my own experience is that you need to take complete time off.  Go to bed early.  According to WebMD.com, most people require seven to nine hours of sleep each night. Take additional steps for recovery: get a massage, use a sauna or a hot tub.  Look for ways to reduce stress in your life.

The day you wake up in the morning feeling recharged, take another day or two off before resuming your routine.  And when you start, don’t pick up where you left off.  Ease back in to training with shorter workouts:  if a weekday easy distance session is normally 90 minutes, get out for 45-60 minutes, at 50% – 70% of maximum heart rate. Avoid high intensity during the first week back into your routine.

Although it can be excruciating to sit on the sidelines while the competition is training, remember that you’ve built a base that will enable you to return to training – if you give yourself enough time to recover.  Coming back too soon will just dig you a deeper hole.  Take those off days, relax, catch up on your reading, and take care of yourself to you can return to the grind feeling your best.

Training questions?  Email me at peter@oxygenfedsport.com.