Avoiding Overtraining


Ever woken up with ‘heavy legs,’ but still forced yourself through a run and got back home feeling exhausted and burnt out? Then you were probably suffering from overtraining, but the solution is simple. – BY DERICK MARCISZ

When you train sensibly, your body builds up during the recovery period between training sessions, allowing you to do future training easier, or at a faster pace, or with an increase in distance. When you overtrain, the opposite occurs and your ability to recover and build up is outpaced by repetitive high intensity training (speed or distance), leading to a decrease in performance, or even illness and/or injury. You have pushed your body beyond its ability to adapt to exertion – and the crazy thing is that when this happens, many of us believe we need more or harder training, instead of less or easier training!

It is important to establish your balance between build-up and breakdown to prevent overtraining. Train and race hard, but always ensure proper recovery, which you can do by keeping a simple training log and using this information to determine how you train, by keeping check on your recovery:
• Monitor your waking heart rate every morning. A variation of 5-10 beats a minute above your average means you have not recovered fully and are tired. Have an easy or short run that day.
• Log your RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion) for each training session on a scale of 1-10, so that you can compare how you feel today against last week. For example, last week you did a 20km run in two hours and your RPE was 5 (medium to hard effort), but this week when you do the same route your RPE is a 7 (the run felt hard). Clearly you have not recovered properly from training during this week, so a rest day might be needed.

Solving the Problem
Overtraining often leads to illness (mostly colds and flu) and injury, and when this happens, you are forced to rest. However, overtraining can also simply affect performance, so an athlete can still perform reasonably well, but your performance should have been better had you taken notice of the signs of overtraining. So what do you do in this case?

Firstly, you need to acknowledge and understand that you are overtrained. This is not easy for fit athletes to do, and even more difficult is to cut back on training, but it is crucial that you do just that. Reduce the distance and intensity that you are running, and rest more often. Also, finish each run feeling you could do more, and could run at a faster pace. Hopefully after a week or two of this, you will start to feel stronger and look forward to your training, and then you can build up to normal training again.

Also, continually evaluate your levels of fatigue, especially when you get into serious training with bigger mileage weeks, and remember, hard training is not overtraining… but train to race, don’t race in training.

About the Author
Derick is a Joburg-based running and triathlon coach, with multiple ultra-marathon and Ironman finishes to go with his 20-plus years of coaching experience.