In the pursuit of becoming stronger, faster, and more resilient runners, we often find ourselves pushing our limits. However, there’s a fine line between pushing for progress and overstepping into the realm of overtraining. Overtraining is a serious concern that can hinder performance and lead to physical and mental burnout. In this blog post, we’ll delve into the symptoms, causes, and solutions of overtraining in the context of running, helping you strike the right balance between training hard and training smart.
Overtraining, also known as overtraining syndrome (OTS), is a state where the cumulative stress of training exceeds the body’s capacity to recover. It’s not a singular event but rather a process that develops gradually. Over time, the body’s ability to adapt to training diminishes, leading to decreased performance, increased risk of injury, and a range of physiological and psychological symptoms.
Symptoms of Overtraining
- Persistent Fatigue: Feeling excessively tired and drained even after ample rest is a common sign of overtraining. This fatigue can impact both physical and mental performance.
- Decreased Performance: A noticeable decline in performance despite consistent training can indicate overtraining. Slower race times, reduced endurance, and poor workout results are telltale signs.
- Increased Resting Heart Rate: A higher resting heart rate than usual might be a sign of overtraining. Monitoring your resting heart rate can provide insights into your recovery status.
- Elevated Injury Risk: Overtraining weakens the body’s ability to recover and repair, making runners more prone to injuries such as strains, stress fractures, and muscle imbalances.
- Mood Changes: Training too much can impact your mental well-being, leading to irritability, mood swings, anxiety, and even depression. It is often ironic as people generally use running especially to help with their mental health, but taken to far, it can hinder you.
- Insomnia and Sleep Disturbances: Difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or experiencing un refreshing sleep can all be linked to training too hard.
- Recurrent Illness: A weakened immune system resulting from overtraining can lead to increased susceptibility to infections and illnesses, as well as disturbances in the menstrual cycle of female runners.
Causes of Overtraining
- Excessive Training Volume: Rapidly increasing mileage or intensity without allowing sufficient time for adaptation can lead to fatigue and injury. Training volume should always be increased gradually. See our other Blog that looks at this subject.
- Inadequate Recovery: Failing to prioritise recovery through proper nutrition, hydration, sleep, and rest days can contribute to overtraining. Build in days for Stretching, Yoga, Stength Training, Short Runs or Recovery Runs to limit your likelihood of overtraining.
- Lack of Variation: Repetitive training routines without sufficient variety can lead to physical and mental burnout. This is where cross training can be very useful. Swimming, Cycling and use of the Cross Trainer all help to avoid injuries and burn out.
- Ignoring Warning Signs: Neglecting early warning signs of overtraining and pushing through pain and fatigue can exacerbate the condition. This can put you back for many months, as the reality of overtraining is that the solution becomes rest.
- External Stressors: Overtraining can be compounded by external stressors like work, family, and life events. Often people use running to help control mental stress. So if you are experiencing a period of stress in your life, this can lead to excess running which in time can also lead to overtraining.
Solutions and Prevention
So how do we prevent overtraining?
- Listen to Your Body: Pay close attention to how your body responds to training. If you’re feeling excessively fatigued or noticing performance declines, it’s essential to adjust your training load. Many people use fitness watches these days to monitor their heart rate etc. If your readings are starting to move away from your norm, it is time to make changes to your training program.
- Structured Training Plan: Follow a well-designed training plan that includes appropriate periods of progressive overload and recovery. There are many available for free on the internet, or we can create a specific training program just for you using our Sports Science knowledge.
- Rest and Recovery: Rest days are an essential element of any training program. They don’t have to mean total rest. You could take part in Yoga or Thai Chi. You could prioritise a Gym weights session or a swim. Your body will reward you with faster run timess and lower injury risk.
- Proper Nutrition: Fuel your body correctly for the activity you are doing. We link in with local nutritional experts who can tailor a food program just for you ensuring correct nutrition and hydration. This will help you avoid over training, but also support you if you have already reached the point of training too much.
What if you are already suffering from overtraining?
The first thing is to Stop! Mentally this is the last thing you will want to do, but your body needs to rest before more serious injuries and fatigue kick in.
Then you need to take a long look at your training regime and lower those run durations and quantity. If you were running for an hour a day, lower it to 30 mins 3 times a week.
If you still feel tired, lower it again to 30 minute walks twice a week. You need to find the level that your body can manage.
Take a good hard look at your diet, is it full of sugars and simple carbohydrates? If so, help yourself by increasing your protein, vegetable and complex carb uptake. Take a look at your gut health and seek the help of a nutritionist to keep you on track.
We have helped many clients navigate the tricky area of overtraining, helping them to get back to running. There are solutions that will maintain your fitness whist allowing you to recover and often only a simple tweak in your training plan is needed.
See how we can help you with your running here.
See other information on overtraining here.