Are You Overtrained?
About a month ago, my training on my bike came to a screeching hault. Well, not really but it sure’s hell felt like it. In Concepcion Rd in Los Altos Hills California, we’ve got a .83 mile climb that avg’s 2-3% at the most. Its something, that when I’m fit, I can do under 2:40.
The Folsom Cyclebration (MTB omnium) is something I’ve been targeting since January. The sole goal of the weekend was to win the short track cross country race to allow me to lose points in the time trial, and then make my assault on the overall standings in the cross country race. That’s how I’ve played the last two years, and its worked out well.
I had been riding at a pretty high intensity four time a week with two 90 min workouts on Tuesday and Thursdays. My own workouts, and then coaching our Maximum Velocity Program riders right afterward. This was on top of a MWF schedule of weight lifting at the studio. If there was a day that ended in the letter “Y,” I was training somehow some way.
Until about four weeks ago. A few weeks out from Cyclebration, my Concepcion Rd times went to hell to the tune of 3:30, FIFTY seconds slower than my best rides. I did a repeat workout one afternoon, and after six trips up, I barely sniffed 3:20, let alone even coming close to sub 2:40. At this point, I fReAkEd out! My goal event was coming up, and I was losing fitness.
What I wasn’t taking into consideration were the following factors:
I was beginning to lose my appetite.
I own my own business, and things were at a warp factor 400000 pace.
I was having trouble sleeping.
When I did eat, only very salty or very sweet things appealed to me.
I was developing aches and pains I couldn’t get rid of.
I had no desire to workout on or off my bike.
I woke up exhausted, and even coffee didn’t pick me up.
I was turning into one grumpy S.O.B. as well.
I was forgetting things, much more so than usual!
I felt constantly dehydrated regardless of how much I drank.
I actually dozed off for a split second on a ride!!
Life just plain old sucked.
What did all of this mean? I had slipped into a state of overtraining, in desperate need of a break. I figured I could grind this out, and get through it, but no such luck. And then, luckily, I got sick.
“Luckily you got sick Al?” Yes. The reason this was a good thing is because it gave me two days of rest that I desperately needed. And then, the heavens parted and life improved exponentially. Within a few days of this forced rest, coincidentally enough, I hit 2:40 on Concepcion Rd feeling stronger than I had in about a year to be honest.
“If sufficient rest is not included in a training program then regeneration cannot occur and performance plateaus. If this imbalance between excess training and inadequate rest persists then performance will decline. Overtraining can best be defined as the state where the athlete has been repeatedly stressed by training to the point where rest is no longer adequate to allow for recovery. (Mark Jenkins, MD, The Overtraining Syndrome, Rice University).”
Overtraining syndrome is the lump sum total of how you act, how you feel (physically and mentally) and ultimately how you perform. If you stress the system to get it to adapt and get stronger, you need to let it recover to rebuild and make you stronger. However, if you continue to keep the gas pedal down without allowing time for regenerating, you are simply grinding yourself down getting further away from your training goals.
“The overtraining syndrome should be considered in any athlete who manifests symptoms of prolonged fatigue and performance that has leveled off or decreased (Mark Jenkins, MD, The Overtraining Syndrome, Rice University).”
The cure for over training is to do NOTHING. AT ALL. You sit still, and do not move. That is the ONLY way your body will get all systems back online to allow you to move forward with your training. Then, once you do, it must be a gradual return. Go back full force, and you’ll slip right back into the same problem.
Continue overtraining and you increase the population of Cytokines in your body. These are responsible for communicating information from cell to cell and, when their numbers increase, they send information all over the body having a more systemic affect.
“During phases of training where recovery is not optimal (overtraining) and inflammation is elevated, or during periods of injury, pro-inflammatory cytokines may play a large role in communicating to the body that something is wrong,” says Patrick Ward, MS, CSCS, CMT in his article “Rest, Recover, Regenerate Part 1.”
Ultimately, flood your body with cytokines, and you will start to experience the classic symptoms of being overworked and under rested as listed on Ward’s website:
changes in blood pressure
changes in heart rate at rest, during exercise, and during recovery
increased frequency of respiration
increased oxygen consumption at submaximal exercise intensities
decreased lean body mass
changes in sleep pattern
fear of competition
gives up when the going gets tough
loss of coordination
reduced capacity to correct technical faults
negative nitrogen balance
elevated C-reactive protein
depressed muscle glycogen levels
decreased free testosterone
increased serum cortisol
complaints of muscle and joint aches and pains
muscle soreness tenderness
swelling of lymph glands
increased susceptibility to and severity of illness, colds, and allergies
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you may be doing to much and it is probably time for a break. If you take a break, and you still feel like this, call your doctor and schedule a physical.
How do you prevent being overtrained?
The best way to do this is to have a plan. Ideally a periodized plan that bakes in a week of recovery every 4-5 to allow for systemic adaptations to take place so you can get stronger yet still keeps you pointed in the right direction.
You can either dial back the instensity by at least 40%, or take a full break for a few days where you don’t do anything.If you time these breaks correctly, you should continue to progress and eventually hit a performance peak.
Al Painter, National Academy of Sports Medicine Performance Enhancement
Specialist, Corrective Exercise Specialist is a Cat 2 Mountain Bike Racer as well as the President and Founder of INTEGRATE Performance Fitness.
He has also been named the “Bay Area’s Best Personal Trainer” by CitySports Magazine, and he has also received a “People’s Choice Award” from the Palo Alto Daily News.
INTEGRATE Performance Fitness has also been named “Northern California’s Best Fitness Facility” by Competitor Magazine as well as a “Top 5 Bay Area Fitness Facility” by the SFGate.com.
He also holds a degree in Journalism from Santa Clara University.