Guilty of overdoing your training?
How to avoid overtraining
Do you think you might be overtraining? It is possible to do too much. If you have noticed that you really have to drag yourself out for a run and even when you do get out, your muscles feel heavy, your improvement has stalled and overall, you've really lost your spark you might be suffering from 'overtraining syndrome'. Find out if you are guilt of overtraining with these tips, advice and facts.
What is overtraining and what are the symptoms?
Overtaining is still difficult to diagnose. With many possible underlying causes and numerous symptoms, it is often easily missed. There is no specific test to diagnose it, and therefore it is best to look at the symptoms and consider whether you might be suffering from overtraining.
The first thing that the overtrained runner may notice is the fact that their performance goes downhill and they have a continuing feeling of lethargy. Unfortunately these symptoms are often late signs, by which time overtraining has become entrenched. Other symptoms include moodiness or anxiousness, and sleep patterns may also be disturbed. Appetite and sexual appetite may be reduced.
One way in which runners can sometimes spot the signs of overtraining is if they are someone who regularly checks their resting heart rate. Resting heart rate will usually be higher than normal quite early on, and it will take longer to return to normal after exercise. These symptoms often follow a period of high intensity training with inadequate rest, or other life stresses.
In order to fulfill the criteria for overtraining syndrome, the symptoms above need to be present for a period of at least two weeks, despite adequate rest, and with no identifiable medical cause (see below).
- A short period of rest is taken from running (several days or a week), but this proves inadequate and the symptoms return on the resumption of training.
- A cold or other viral illness may accompany each premature return to running training.
- Running injuries are reported more frequently.
What not to do if overtraining?
One of the problems with overtraining is that the runner sees a drop on performance and as a consequence decides to increase training to try and compensate — this only compounds the overtraining syndrome. Of course, medical causes should be excluded, so it is important to visit a doctor should you develop symptoms of overtraining syndrome. The doctor can carry out tests to check for anemia, certain viruses or thyroid problems, which may be the root of the symptoms.
As some of the symptoms of overtraining syndrome are common to other illnesses such as clinical depression and post-viral or chronic fatigue syndrome, it might be worth suggesting overtraining syndrome as a possible diagnosis, because the doctor might not readily think of that. A specialist in sports medicine or a running psychologist might seek to identify overtaining syndrome using a mood questionnaire.
Avoiding overtraining syndrome
Being aware that there is such a thing as overtraining is a start in itself. Regularly checking your resting heart rate will be a good way of spotting the warning signs early on.
The key to avoiding overtraining is simple — don't train too much! But getting that balance right is not always easy. Make sure that intense training sessions are followed up with adequate rest so that the body can adapt. If the body is not given time to recover, it starts to 'break down', so avoid monotonous, repetitive training.
Hydration is also a factor, so ensure you consume sufficient levels of water. Your diet should also include sufficient carbohydrate to maintain glycogen levels as this will allow the body to respond better to heavy training.
So, if you have been diagnosed with overtraining syndrome, what action should you take? Rest for three to five weeks is suggested, followed by a slow build-up return to training. This could possibly take as much as three months to get you back to where you were before. Race competitions should be avoided completely during this time. Gentle, non-competitive sports can be participated in and can often help speed up the runner's recovery.
During this time, it is also important to get other matters sorted in order to aid recovery. Relaxing properly, eating well, and addressing other stresses in life, can all help your recovery and get you back to running well.