Overtraining: Don't Trick Yourself into Doing Too Much

Contributed by Jeff Henderson - Head MIT Coach

Pay Attention to Your Training   Hopefully by now most of you have found your home away from home on Saturday mornings by way of your pace group. If you have found yourself in the proper pace group you should be enjoying some great conversation and laughter during your Saturday workouts. This holds especially true for beginners. Our hope is that you have found a pace that gets you a good workout while also allowing you the ability to chat it up with your new friends.

What about the rest of the week? Are you hitting the same paces every day? Are you picking up the tempo a couple days each week? Perhaps you're taking it a little easier the rest of the week, but you're still getting out there. What about Wednesdays? Do you show up for the casual workout or the workouts? In any case, Bravo! You are doing more on your average day than most!

Stick to the Plan   Picking the correct training plan from the MIT site might be confusing, especially if you are new. If you’re training for a half marathon and this will be your first, or if you’re training for a full marathon and this will be your first, you should follow the beginner schedule. It’s extremely important that you follow this advice—you need to give your body time to adjust to the increased workload every week. After you have a couple of races at those distances under your belt, you can move up to the experiences training plan. Also, if you’ve trained for a half or a full marathon and didn’t love the experience, you might consider the beginner training plan as well. We don’t just want you to get to the starting line—we want you to enjoy the ride!

Once you’ve picked your training plan, follow it! There will be weekends (and weeks) where the number of miles are greatly decreased. Do not fall into the trap of doing more! Rest and recovery time is just as important as your training days. The lower mileage days are built into your schedule to allow your body to recover from the stress you’ve been placing on it, so it’s imperative that you allow your body that recovery time.

In general, beginners, experienced, and advanced folks alike need to be cautious that they are not over doing it. As Dr. Devor mentions in his heart rate training seminars we are not getting paid to workout in the manner that professional runners do. We don't get to take afternoon naps after a morning workout. We have jobs, spouses, children, and driveways to shovel. All of these things are additional stresses to our bodies.

It is very easy to fall into the trap of overtraining. It seems to make sense that in order to improve, you must workout longer and harder. Just as in life, training requires a balance. In case of your training this means balancing your workload and recovery. Not maintaining this balance can lead to physical and psychological symptoms of overtraining syndrome.

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
  • 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


What is your resting heart rate?   Knowing and tracking your resting heart rate is a great manner to recognize overtraining. To figure out your resting heart rate, check your heart rate before you get out of bed five to six times over the course of two weeks. Average out the numbers and this is your resting heart rate. Then you can periodically check your heart rate first thing in the morning. If you find that it’s five or so beats higher than normal, you will know that something is off. This often means you are overtraining. Ease up on the speed work or long runs. Take a couple days off. If you discover that you resting heart rate is higher than normal your priority should no longer be how many miles you will get in that day, but what you are doing to help your body recover.

Keep a Training Log   If you are not already keeping a training log you should start now! If you note that you have three consecutive workouts that didn't feel good...you guessed it, you have overtrained. Listen to what your body is trying to tell you! Don't keep hammering out the miles. Something needs to be adjusted.

You mental state is probably the most accurate manner by which to gauge overtraining. Are you dreading your next workout for reasons other than the heat or the cold you will encounter? Depression, anger, and irritability can be the first signs of overtraining. Don't ignore them.

Everyone responds to training differently, and everyone has different stresses at home or work that could be affecting your state of fatigue. Don't assume that just because your training buddy is managing the miles, you will as well.

Recovery is Key   Rest days are crucial to your training. Recovery allows you body time to adapt to the stresses you are placing upon your body. You are NOT getting stronger during the Saturday workouts or during the Wednesday speed work. You ARE getting stronger when you allow your body to properly recover.

For some, active recovery may be the answer. Active recovery helps speed the removal of lactic acid from your muscles by increasing blood flow. Additionally, adding low intensity exercise after an intense workout such as our Saturday long workouts or the Wednesday speed work do not decrease your physical recovery and often provide positive psychological effect by providing relaxation. This doesn't mean head out for another long run or walk on Sunday. Instead hop on a stationary bike while you read the Sunday paper. Or walk your dog to the coffee shop.

Nutrition for Recovery   Eating and hydrating after a workout can also significantly reduce your risk of overtraining. Eating foods that are high in carbs and low in protein immediately following a hard or long workout can help you body replenish your glycogen stores. Doing this actually boost your insulin receptors and allows for quicker recovery than if you wait until later in the afternoon and gorge yourself. Certainly eating later in the day is important as well, but bring a snack for after your next workout.

Additional Tips   Try cross training. Sometimes a slight change in your routine can be enough to slow down the onslaught of overtraining. Hope on a bike and take a dip in a pool. Your feet and you noggin might appreciate the break from the usual routine. Better yet, and only because I desperately want one myself...get a sports massage. Sports massage focuses on treating soft tissue aches, reduce muscle stiffness and help reduce your heart rate and blood pressure. Rumor has it they are a bit relaxing as well!

The bottom line is overtraining can ruin an otherwise enjoyable and successful training experience. Take care to watch out for the symptoms. Ask your close friends to kindly point out changes in your mood. If you’re not feeling like the spring chicken you are, perhaps ease up for a few days. You'll thank yourself for it in the come race day.

 

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