Over-training is common in endurance sports among the Type A athletes. Competitive athletes always want more out of themselves (even if they want to compete against themselves) and will think they need to train more. You see the consistent facebook posts of those who posts their training on a daily basis and they're always trying to smash some session. These type A athletes will typically be injured consistently, fade out in the sport within 3-4 years, or become chronically over-trained.
To improve your performance you have to rest. By continually trying to push through barriers without sufficient recovery it will make you weaker, burned out, and/or injured. During rest or recovery periods is when the physiologic adaptations are made and you become a stronger athlete. (1). Our busy lives are already stressed and you may seek endurance training as an escape. Even endurance training is stress that needs to be considered in your life, too. What you may need is incorporate more rest into your training. (2). Coach Brett Sutton once told Chrissie Wellington, "You don't know how to rest your body and mind. Unless you can learn to do this you will never be a successful athlete." (8).
What is Over training?
Over training in it's earliest stages is nearly impossible to detect. In training, you still need challenging sessions, but combined with an ample amount of recovery. Everyone recovers different. With appropriate monitoring and feedback, a smart coach will know when to cut their athletes training short and switch it to rest or active recovery.The early signs and symptoms to look out for can be hormonal changes, reduced sexual desires, depression, and anxiety, and being exposed to injuries. When this happens there is still a chance for the athlete to come out of it and make huge gains. (2).
The second stage of over training, which is still hardly noticeable, is an increase in cortisol. The body fights this off as appearing restless and being able to go-go-go. Significantly high levels of cortisol could increase fat storage. In this state, there is still opportunity to recover and dig your way out of this hole by changing your food intake and recovery strategies. (2).
The third stage of over training would include noticeable chronic fatigue. Chronic fatigue can lead to a decrease in hormones and believe it or not, cardiovascular disease. (3). Athletes can get into this state before they even realize it, even then it's still hard to detect. Typically, this athlete is someone who is used to doing double and triple sessions 6-7 days a week and probably without planned recovery. This athlete gets either injured, sick, or has chronic fatigue - if not managed properly. The athlete may still continue to train at a high level despite the warning signs.
Warning Signs & Symptoms
There are no absolute signs and symptoms of over-training. You can assume that it's from excessive training without the necessary recovery (6). The symptoms of over training are much like mononucleosis with chronic fatigue. (7).
Here are some signs that you maybe over training. (4). (5).
1. Declined Performance. You have noticeable performance declines of what once was an attainable session. Maybe you could normally get through a swim set of 10x100's on 1:30 base comfortably, but now fall off the base time half way through. Your runs may seem flat and you can't run close to the 5k times you once did a month ago.
2. Weight Gain. . You would think you would lose weight with your training, but when cortisol levels are high, testosterone functions less and you become insulin resistant and an increase in fat composition occurs.
3. Insufficient Recovery. You know the athletes that are smashing session after session? However, not many of them will meet their true potential and will end up being forced to take an extended period off. Eventually you need to take time for full rest and active recovery training. Experienced athletes tend to do better with active recovery than complete rest, while new athletes may need more complete rest.
4. Sleep Deprived. Are you having trouble sleeping? If you are over trained, your sympathetic nervous system will be high all the time and you will be unable to relax and put yourself to sleep. By not sleeping you are increasingly putting yourself into a deep hole and not allowing for recovery.
5. Chronic Fatigue. If you are constantly tired all the time then eventually your parasympathetic nervous system will cause a decrease in testosterone and increase in cortisol, which we have discussed will leave you chronically fatigued.
6. Aches & Pains. You are having odd aches and pains. Your shoulder is starting ache from a lot of swimming, knee pain from cycling, or shin splints from running. It's important you take some time to recover when you feel these things come on. If you're a coached athlete, it is always important not to add any more intensity and volume other than what is already prescribed to you and be open to tell your coach what you are feeling.
7. Frequent Illness. If you are constantly catching a cold and it's not from any other variables such as sleep, mental stress, or nutrition, you could be over-training.
8. Irritable Mood. If your mental state isn't positive or feeling good even after the easiest of training session, you could be over training. It's time to take some rest.
Recovery & Prevention
Recovering from over training can take just a few weeks or it could take many months to get well by complete resting or a significantly reduced training program. (5)
There are several factors that play a role in contributing to over training besides smashing session after session that includes: (5)
1. Large volume or intensity increases all at once. This is usually the main cause of most endurance sport related injuries.
2. Racing every weekend and continuing to have hard sessions through the week. While racing is exciting and fun, doing it every weekend can lead to burnout and injury. It's important to have a carefully planned racing and training schedule.
3. Lack of recovery and/or periodization in your training program. There are so many athletes that are going at it with no specific strategy or scheduled recovery in their training. There is basically no purpose to what these athletes are doing.
4. Monotonous training program from repeating the same sessions week after week. Single sport athletes, like runners, often to do the same predicable sessions week after week with a stapled long run, "tempo" run, and maybe a shorter speed session.
5. High stress plays a roll even if it's not directly training related. Stresses outside of training such as your career and family a play a role in your training.
Over-training syndrome can alter ones athletic career drastically. Often times one can be over trained before the all the symptoms and signs are realized. It's important to follow certain preventative measures. They include, but are not limited to: (5).
1. Proactive monitoring athletes internal and external feedback. It's important to have someone, like a coach, mentor, or someone you trust review your training. It's important to have another set of eyes from the outside looking into help. External feedback would be what you think you are going through psychologically (even if it's outside of triathlon) and internal would be, for example, your resting heart rate variability. It's important to include both of these in your training log.
2. Decreasing the known effects such as sudden training loads, frequent racing, and inadequate fueling.
3. Individualizing training to the athlete. Every athlete is different and responds differently to training and recovery.
4. Periodizing training to include adequate active recovery and rest days.
Over Training Testimony by Cobb Mobb Teammate, Chris Morelock
Chris Morelock, on the Cobb Mobb team explains how he found he had over training syndrome.
"I didn't know until I was finally diagnosed by Dr. Kevin Sprouse, Garmin-Cannondale team doctor, and even then it is tough to diagnose because there is not a set in stone line where " You have OTS vs. "you are overreaching, ease off," at least not one you can see besides retrospectively. I was working with a coach, we had trouble self-diagnosing because one of my symptoms was ON/OFF performances, so it would like I was doing great, then all of sudden "BAM" bad workout/race. It was hard to distinguishing from having a "bad day". I started a complete "reboot" (no endurance training) in early December, lasting until almost end of March "Recovery" is still ongoing.
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