Signs of Overtraining

April 23, 2015

Bellin Health running expert Nate Vandervest offers advice on how to identify overtraining — and what to do about it:

Overtraining is an often-misunderstood part of training. It’s not something that only happens to elite runners; and in fact, it can happen to anyone.

Overtraining usually occurs after a period of time when a runner really pushes his or her limits. Unfortunately, the signs and symptoms are vague, so overtraining can be difficult to diagnose. My hope is to equip you with the knowledge to make smart decisions if these symptoms arise.

Decreased performance is the main, but by no means the only, indicator of overtraining. When someone is over-trained, illness and injury are more likely because the body is working so hard to catch up that the immune system is compromised. Injury often occurs due to the constant breakdown of the body coupled with the lack of recovery time.

Early signs of overtraining include increased resting heart rate, irritability, increased thirst at night, a change in sleep patterns or a loss of will to compete. Asked how they feel, over-trained runners may complain of heavy-feeling legs or similar physical symptoms.

When a runner has a bad race, he or she tends to think “I must work harder.” But when that runner is over-trained, that’s actually the worst thing he or she can do. If you’re putting in more and more effort but not seeing the results on race day, step back and take a close look at your training plan. It can take a mildly over-trained runner a full week of not running to recover. For more serious cases, it can take even longer.

To reduce the risk of overtraining, a strategic training plan is worth its weight in gold. A good plan will take you through multiple phases of training to stress the body into getting better. Periods of building up and then recovering should be the norm.

The take away from all of this is to listen to your body. Pay attention to little aches and pains, and make notes on a calendar if you’re not sleeping well or experience other over-training symptoms. 

A bad race doesn’t necessarily mean you’re over-trained — sometimes it just isn’t your day. But if you listen to your body and follow a solid plan, you’re more likely to set yourself up for success.

The bottom line? Train smarter, not harder.

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