Overtraining and Getting the Balance Right

||, Health & Injury|Overtraining and Getting the Balance Right

Are You Overtrained?


Overtraining ins’t an injury, per se. You’re not hurt. Nothing is swollen, nothing is broken. You don’t limp. It’s just that when you run, your legs feel dead most of the time, your workout and race times have both started to deteriorate, and you enjoy running less and less. By overdoing it, you may be predisposing yourself to injury. If you over train, something bad could happen.


Marathon runners are more prone to overtraining than other runners, simply because of the volume of training required. It stands to reason that if you train more, you increase your chances of becoming overtrained.


Probably the key cause of the symptoms of overtraining is the loss of glycogen, the sugar like substance that fuels your muscles and provides the readily available energy that permits them to contract efficiently. Glycogen debt can occur if you’re not eating enough carbohydrates to match the amount of of calories burnt – or if you’re not synthesising enough glycogen. Excessive training appears to inhibit the body’s conversion of fuel into energy, although why this occurs is not fully understood. This condition might be compared to having fouled plugs in your automobile. The engine still runs, but not as well as it would if you bought new plugs.  Like I always say to my athletes, make sure you’re putting fuel in the fire if you’re running lots of miles.


Some runners increase their training levels to reduce weight. They sometimes train for marathons to provide the incentive to slim down. But one common mistake is to combine an increase in mileage with a decrease in calorie consumption hence the above message to fuel the fire!


Glycogen depletion is not the only problem. Another is microscopic damage to the muscle fibres, which tear, fray and lose their resilience, like a rubber band that has been snapped too often. This breakdown of muscle fibres over time can reduce recovery times and increase the risk of injury.


My key message to runners is, if you want to avoid overtraining, don’t eliminate easy days or down periods in your training, even if you feel things are going well, why not take a proactive approach to training properly rather than a reactive approach?


Recognising the signs.


The simplest defensive running strategy you can use is your training diary.


Your training diary can also provide clues that you’re overtraining. For example, if you’ve noted that you feel tired all the time, you may be training too hard.


Here are some other symptoms to watch for:


  • Heavy legs
  • Increased heart rate
  • Struggling to sleep and restless sleep patterns
  • Diminished sex drive
  • Fear of training
  • Sore muscles



What should you do if you’re over trained?


  • Stop exercising. This is easier said than done for most people who are prone to overtraining. By setting aside a few days, and sometimes up to two weeks, to allow for the body and mind to recover, you will enable yourself to return to an exercise program even stronger and more focused than before.
  • Reduce the number of sets and reps, length of time, or intensity of training. For example, if you currently do 45 minutes of cardio before your weightlifting routine, lower to 20 minutes. If you perform 5 sets of an exercise, perform 2-3 instead. If you sit in spinning class at 180 beats per minute, try not to let the heart rate exceed 160 bpm. Continue to adjust variables until your overtraining symptoms subside.
  • Introduce recovery days and weeks. Every fourth week, for example, lower both the volume and the intensity of each workout. Or choose two days of the week, such as Sunday and Wednesday, in which you perform only light recovery exercise. This type of strategy is common among athletes, who call it “periodisation”.
  • Relieve tension and stress. There are many ways to manage muscular tension and mental anxiety, including massage, meditation, yoga, hot baths, aroma therapy, and soothing music. Try to include a time during the day that involves a relaxation component, even if it is just 10-15 minutes of gentle breathing and light stretching in the morning.
  • Identify nutritional deficiencies in your diet. Inadequate restoration of the body’s fuel needs after a workout can lead to a state of overtraining. Directly following any exercise, adequately refuelling the body with a mixture of proteins and carbohydrates should be a priority. As a basic component of the body’s hormones, cells, and tissues, healthy fat should not be avoided, but consumed in moderation. Consume high quantities of fruits and vegetables to avoid vitamin and mineral deficiencies, and be sure to drink water before, during, and after exercise.
  • Listen to your body. An excessively sore or weak muscle should be given rest. A good rule of thumb is to allow 48 hours before working the same muscle group. If that muscle group is still sore, you may need to wait even longer – sometimes up to 5 days! This may mean that you need to change your training schedule, but sometime the body needs a break from the normal routine!


Often, overtraining is a gradual onset. An individual who begins an exercise routine may be given the impression that if “some is good, then more is better”. Typically, when starting into an exercise programme, it is easy to lose high amounts of weight almost immediately. When this weight loss levels off (or “plateaus”), the temptation is to work even harder to continue to achieve the same results that initially occurred. In doing so, more and more time is spent not only exercising at high intensities for long periods of time, but also fretting and worrying about the apparent lack of results. Overtraining commonly occurs in such a situation – which just makes the problem worse, since it is even harder to get results when the body is broken down and overtrained!


The body does not grow stronger, fitter, or leaner while you are working out. Instead, rest and recovery outside of exercise allows for repair of damaged muscle fibres, restoration of glycogen stores (muscle fuel), and restoration of hormone levels that are essential for normal bodily function.

So remember to allow yourself to rest, The regeneration that occurs during recovery will allow you to see better results from your training and avoid injury, excessive fatigue, and lack of motivation to exercise. Think of it as one step back for two forwards.