OVER TRAINING SYMPTOMS (OTS) FOR ENDURANCE ATHLETES
Overtraining is best described as a fatigued athlete.
After normal recovery time the athlete fails to recover and performance declines. The athlete is more fatigued than normal post exercise.
- Slower response to recover, repair and the inability to cope as normal with every day life stress and problem solving.
- An imbalance between training stresses (TS) and not enough recovery (R) and lifestyle stress (LS) leads to over reaching (OR) and fatigue (F). Training stress and recovery leads to improvements.
- Life style stress (LS) can be all of the following from relationships, divorce, moving home, work stress, travelling etc. the more of each stress the bigger the factor that (LS) has towards over training.
- If you continue to ignore OTS then this results in overtraining which at the very least will take 4 weeks to recover from.
- Many athletes take 4 -60 weeks to recover from over training.
- Over reaching (OR) is the first stage of fatigue, from combined stresses of life & training. Accumulative fatigue (AC) and over reaching can lead to over training.
- Insufficient sleep (IS) = no power naps and less than 8 hours a day average will lead to loss of energy and slower improvement after 14 days.
- Non-Stop Activity (NSA) where your mind and body is constantly active for 14 days with no down time so you can fit in training and life etc also leads to under performance (UF) in training and racing.
- A combination of many things all contribute to over training. We are all different and throughout our athletic careers our fitness levels change due to the many external factors. Our ability to cope with training stress insufficient sleep alters the direction of our fitness.
- Burnout or staleness are other names given to overtraining both also describe very well how an over trained athlete feels. Fatigue can be the same after exercise and continues longer after normal recovery or sheer exhaustion in the days after a relatively normal work out.
See my summary below.
TS-IOS = OTS
TS-IS-LS- = OTS
TS-IS-NSA = OTS
TS-IS-NSA+F = OTS
Each tiny factor of the formula may seem to be insignificant to pushing us over the top, combined can have disastrous results causing a condition known as over training which can take many months and in some cases more than 12 months to overcome.
Often the longer the formula the easier the athlete can become over trained. You should not confuse this with over reaching and fatigue that can last from 7-14 days.
The longer the formula although each factor may seem insignificant each small stress facto accumulates and soon pushes the athlete into an over trained state.
Training stress = Increased volume or quality work outs or a combination of both.
Life style stress from travelling and work.
Not enough quality sleep. Accumulation of many months of doing the same may not appear to cause stress but can be just as disastrous as you become stale.
If you ease back from over extending yourself you can recover within a week
Early warning signs of over training
Been completely washed out after a hard session or race, need to sleep and have no energy. Everything is a struggle including loading up the car or going up some stairs.
Overtraining Syndrome (OS) is the combined state of abnormal behaviour, emotional stress and physical abnormal symptoms that have occurred when over trained.
The following symptoms can be a sign of overtraining, everyone is different some people experience all the symptoms below while others only a few signs.
Washed out feelings
Loss of normal competitive desire in sport and life
Lack of normal energy for at least 7 days Still tired when you wake up after a good nights sleep
Unable to sleep mind very active at night
Unusual heart rates either lower than normal or elevated upon waking up in the morning
Long term headaches
Thick head similar to a head cold
Reduction of maximum performance.
Loss of your normal capacity to cope with fatigue.
Being tired much earlier during a work out
Tired during the day and need to have a sleep
Slower than normal recovery
Muscle stiffness and soreness Pain in joints Depression
Irritability – everything seems a chore
Loss of excitement for life, training racing and sport
Sudden drop in performance
Loss of appetite
Injuries that take much longer to clear up
Extreme mood changes Changes in blood chemistry, hormone levels
Increased number of colds and sore throats mouth ulcers or a long term on going colds
Problem with skin complexion
Infections you cannot seem to recover from
Increase in urine production especially at night
Increased levels of the body’s stress hormone called Cortisol
Reduced immune system
Decreased levels of testosterone
Laboratory testing may not show any difference in results especially during the early part of the becoming over trained.
Viral illness can also have some of the above symptoms so consider why you are tired before jumping to conclusions
What to do if you are suffering from overtraining.
Complete rest – The amount of rest depends on how deep you are fatigued and how long overt raining has occurred. Early detection is vital to avoid ruining the next 6 months.
If you have only noticed OTS for a short time i.e. 2-3 weeks then 7 days of rest and recovery can be enough to get back on track. Once you resume training you should keep your heart rate below 80% for another 14 days. Other forms of exercise can be done but because new sport specific muscle development can occur which delay recovery can keep this new sport to a low intensity.
It is important to stay active (walking – hiking - gardening etc) this can prevent exercise withdrawal syndrome – the body’s way of saying I have had enough.
If you have had OTS for more than 3 weeks then 21-42 days break is required. Don’t worry most of this time taken away from sport will not be lost with fitness as your body over compensates however most of your top end fitness will take some time to get back.
Add more variety to foods you normally eat. Make sure your body fat content is above 8% to help you remain healthy.
Alternative exercise – Good for motivation, change is as good as a rest Go for a easy mountain bike ride initially that is very easy and see how you are in the next 2-3 days. If you are not washed out then repeat. Avoid planned distances and speed, go as you feel. Keep close to home or complete small circuits so you can finish when you have had enough.
Monitor your fatigue levels when walking up a stairs briskly (30-40 steps) are your legs still burning and head thumping minutes after reaching the top?
Initially try and put on some weight to help speed up recovery from your depleted body.
Once you feel invigorated again then start training ever so lightly. Just because you are keeping the effort low don’t make the mistake and increase volume and time.
No racing as during this crucial part of the recovery process any hard work outs or racing this will push you back into fatigued state for another 6-8 weeks!
Over training has two parts the body and the mind. Focus on stress management techniques like floatation tanks, massage, stress management and yoga.
All relaxation techniques will also help you in the future.
Without your health you have no racing wealth!
Having a gradual training plan with periodisation three weeks building and one week easy. Be flexible with taking extra recovery or easy days.
Keep a training diary, monitor your progress and fatigue levels.
Rate them 1/10 feel very low 10/10 feeling fantastic like you won the jackpot!
Also rate quality of sleep, recovery straight after, later and the next day and your mood.
Don’t forget when in high intensity or volume have very very easy days you and your body deserve it.
Monitoring resting heart rate quality of sleep moods feel good factors and being flexible is vital. Cut out speed work if you have 3 consecutive races in 21 days
Good nutrition practises from pre training to during and immediate after all help with recovery.
Understanding on going training accumulation and how it slowly wears you down.
Overtraining can occur within weeks of switching from volume to higher intensity training as your body takes time to fully recover volume and adjust to intensity.
Sudden increases in training stress either mileage, time, and speed all will contribute to overtraining. Cramming too much into a day and then having less sleep than normal will often flick the switch to overtraining.
Too many competitions without adequate easy recovery sessions between controlling your outside stresses
If your training and racing dips avoid harder work outs in an attempt to get back to recent performances, this will almost certainly push you over the edge.
Mild over training symptoms can occur during a successful taper in the final 3 weeks before your main race.
Training with others more than once a week who push you will break down the body faster than you can recover and improve.
Heath check to prevent and monitor over training.
Monitor heart rate at rest during normal activities and straight after. It is essential to check at least twice a week normally otherwise when you feel weak you will not have any recent information to compare.
Compare average heart rate for a particular training work out with speed. This is more accurate in a controlled environment like a swimming pool (water temperature constant) or on a treadmill with similar indoor air conditions.
Heart rate data for cycling or running outside has many factors that effect performance.
Perception of effort (PE) is also a good indicator. If a normal easy run is a 5 out of 10 and now it’s an 8 then don’t avoid the warning signals.
Regular testing will give you an indication if something is not right.
Blood tests may show infection or iron deficiency.
If you feel you are developing a cold then you should have at least 36 hours rest as with any viral infection during the incubation period the length & severity of the illness is related to training. High intensity training can increase length of viral illness by 4. So better to take 2 days off than 8 days after several days of erratic training.
Overtraining is not
If you have recently increased the volume or intensity and your performances start to decline this is because your body is still adapting.
Upon waking higher heart rate with no other symptoms you may be tired
Not over trained but…
Lacking the correct amount of carbohydrate
General Fatigue can be caused form more volume, higher intensity, tougher terrain and weather conditions too hot or cold and also the not eating the right nutrition at the correct time
The oxygen carrying capacity of the blood called haemoglobin requires adequate iron in the diet to manufacture red cells.
Anaemia symptoms include
Loss of performance – Less oxygen available to our muscles
Tiredness, unable to concentrate, feeling cold, laboured breathing, Infections & colds.
Avoid common mistakes
Tea contains Tannic which inhibits iron absorption
Coffee contains Polyphenols witch reduces iron absorption
Drink both between meals rather than during meals.
The iron in spinach is difficult to absorb because it also contains oxalic acid
A blood test can soon identify your haemoglobin levels.
Avoid taking supplements instead have foods rich in iron. (See iron rich foods page)
Some foods are rich in iron but it is harder for the body to extract the iron.
Vegetarians can obtain iron from beans, beetroot, bran cereals, peas, spinach, tofu.
Taking in vitamin C rich foods help with iron absorption because vitamin C cannot be stored keep your levels topped up throughout the day
Physiological improvements only occur during rest periods not just sleep after training. Types of training required to help with improvements in fitness include steady state training, hard workouts, consistent training where it puts subtle extra demands on the body over many weeks.
Every part of our body adapts at a different rate to the stress after training to allow us to perform better in the future. Don’t expect instant results from an interval session straight after our muscles have stopped burning.
Often it can take 2-6 weeks to benefit from a work out. This all depends on how much fatigue you have built up how progressive your training has been. Just consider all the different systems that need to develop to help improve fitness. This is the fascination of sport.
Our cardiovascular system making the heart stronger, increasing the number of capillary network in the working muscles, Muscle system becomes stronger, Increasing Glycogen stores, our mind also learns what our body has experienced.
So it’s important to see that without adequate recovery our performance can easily remain the same or decline.
Sprint and endurance over trained syndrome
The over trained sprint athlete
In the over trained sprint athlete the sympathetic system shows itself as an elevated resting heart rate.
The over trained endurance athlete
The parasympathetic system is affected in the endurance athlete by a lower resting heart rate and less beats per minute during exercise. The inability to train at your normal heart rate is partly due to reduced energy stores.
The Over trained Triathlete & multi-sport athlete
I have noticed overtraining in one sport like running but not in all 3 sports. Often first signs of over training are in the discipline that you are least efficient at new to or have increased the most amount of volume intensity or both.
It is not uncommon during the winter months for a triathlete to focus on their running.
This suggests that you need to reduce all training and back off more form the sport most affected otherwise all three will decline.
Avoid the most common 2 mistakes of single sport sub par performance
1. Do more of the sport that has declined – this can be fatal to your athletic season and reduce your immune system.
2. Increase both other sports to over compensate and very soon all three performances will decline.
Training is stress no matter how easy it its, don’t over estimate a recovery work out when you are tired. Your running legs may be sore & tired form a hard work out and although swimming may seem less stressful you are still working the heart & lungs and delaying recovery.
The longer you get use to fatigue the more your body thinks this is normal when it is not.
We are not all the same and all train differently so both the sprint and endurance athlete may have normal heart rates at rest and during exercise but have reduced performances for the same effort with increased perception of effort.
Gradually increase the intensity over 4 weeks and do not attempt to get back to your post overtraining programme for at least 8 weeks.
Intervals should only be completed after week 4 of rest & recovery at 85% effort (not heart rate) and have 50% more rest between each rep. take a further 4-6 weeks to build back to your normal number of repetitions.
You can always put in a great performance undertrained but never when you are over trained.
Fitness is not lost in 7 days and often can be maintained for up to 28 days with little training.
Always listen to the early warning signs for your road to good health and a long successful life in sport.
Mark Kleanthous estimates he has covered a total of 5,800 miles swimming 156,000 miles cycling and 51,000 miles running or nearly twice across the Atlantic Ocean swimming, cycling 6 times around the world and twice around the world running including
500 + Triathlon finisher
40 x Ironman Triathlon Finisher
2 x Double Iron Distance Finisher
1 x Triple Iron Distance Finisher
He has been helping novice to elite athletes for 20 years achieve their goals to cross the finish lone and has a coaching web site www.ironmate.co.uk
Friends call him the either “Triathlon Man” or the “Legend” I wonder why?
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