Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Overtraining - How To Spot It

Everyone training for something significant will experience what most sports people would call "overtraining". If it is not mitigated, it will lead to injuries, burning out and possibly dropping out of the program or the sports that they loved to do.
Feeling like you had stagnant in your progress?
Hectic lifestyle and continuous hard training contributes to "overtraining". While it could be misused term, what it essentially meant is insufficient rest before the next workout. It effects not just physical, but emotional and behavioral as well. Many underestimate the effect of  overtraining and not many will be able to recognise it. For this write up, i put myself through some rather un-called for routine just to simulate the condition. With sleep of less than 4hours on Friday and Saturday and with awesome hard mileage put onto both days (approx 36km bike, 13km run)
49km total for 29 and 30 September.
Some may argue why I put myself through this - and my reasons is simple. Just to better understand the condition and how one can learn to spot it and avoid it. After all, the most important key to continuous improving performance is to ensure that you do not burn out and/or peak too early before the race. Look closely at the week before my Desaru 116, my mileage were minimal and i had two rest day in between with 3km of walk (with the dogs).
Walking the dog is most of the time, a barefoot affair. Dogs don't wear shoes, right?
A workout that is lack in variety and with inadequate recovery, running the same distance at the same pace and limited/narrow range of intensity will eventually lead to overtraining. Some of us are too preoccupied by the mileage aka QUANTITY of the kilometers (or weight, frequencies etc) that we forgot to ensure a good QUALITY workout. Understanding how our body reacts to changes and (workout) stress is a tough balance - as we will always think "we never did enough". Sometimes, we "peak" too soon, only having to severely under perform at the A-race (a jargon typically used to denote a targeted race where the end result matters). And we start to blame ourselves for not performing. In actual fact, overtraining could already had happened and you are paying a price for it.
Here is how to spot overtraining 
1. Elevated Resting Heartrate
Easiest tell tale sign is the "higher than normal" resting HR. You have to be conscientious to ensure you take your resting heart rate the first thing in the morning for more accurate measurement. A typical 10 beats or more than the usual resting rate denotes that your body has not recovered from a recent training. As I happened to have surprisingly low resting (by my standard), i peg it at 10% or more increment as a general guideline.
Good example or indication. September 29 before i started the experiment was 38bpm. Morning of October 1, 43bpm. An increment of 13% more than usual.
2. Insomia
Due to the activities i put into both the days, I had a total of 8hours sleep for both days. It was only 3hours for me on September 30 before i set out to Marshall the race. Both days were ended with a run with yesterday's 6km completed at 9pm. With elevated heart rate and still sweating as the body finds equilibrium, sleeping was a task. You are tired, but your body just refuse to rest.
3. Changes in eating habit
You either lose appetite or you have a hearty appetite that is more than normal. For myself, i could not eat after an intense workout or a long workout. As evident in some of my longer races (like Ironman), i was not hungry despite no solid food for the whole day. Danger comes immediately the next day when the body starts to send signal to be fed every other hour. In short, your regular eating pattern changes, leading to possible weight gain (due to overcompensating of food) or not eating, thus discouraging the body from repairing itself.
But I will say yes to this bowl of Taiwan Beef Sirloin noodle - i think
4. Falling sick with cold or flu
Big quantity/volume training with inadequate rest will deprive the body from repairing itself, making it vulnerable to simple sickness such as flu or cold. The compromised immune system will take longer to cure and you will find yourself not feeling up to mark and this will then lead to withdrawal of working out, and ultimately causes mood swings. Sound all too familiar? (by the way, a friend is going through this, big time now)
5. Workout gets tougher despite it to be same distance/weight/frequency
This is when you feel despite whatever you are doing, you are not improving. To make matter worse, you slide further down on the performance scale despite putting in the same effort level and intensity. Your typical 5:00 pace suddenly become a slow 7:30 despite how hard you tried. You felt like a failure and aim to push yourself harder - only to get your body deeper into the overtraining mode.
Varies your training distance and intensity to avoid overtraining. Smiling help too
6. Muscle sore for days and injuries that doesn't heal
The typical burn and lactic acid build up giving the signature "muscle soreness" is synonym to a good workout burn. However, a soreness that lingers for a while and perhaps an injury sustained such as sprained ankles that takes long to recover could be the body failing to repair and recover itself. Thank goodness for my homemade foam roller.
7. But I used to run faster!
Race performance deteriorate and you can't hack the same similar timing - and you know it is NOT due to not training when you are hammering in the hours and mileages twice a day, everyday. On Sunday, my 6km recovery run was a level 3 effort as i feel the tireness creeping in.
8. Changes to other physiological activities
Due to all the changes above, one would find it easier to get irritated, short tempered, constant headache, lack of motivation, wanting to give up, lowered sex drive and worse of all, being in denial and continuing the training intensity ending up with injuries that will take years to heal - and that is if you are lucky to heal, that is.
Next: Breaching The Plateau


  1. Great write up. Keep up the good work and sharing. Hope to ride with you one of these days.

    1. One day we will ride together sir! Thanks for the compliment!

  2. That's very true. Being able to monitor when you are overworking/overtraining yourself is a good thing. I had a friend who always pushed himself too hard and practically on a daily basis. Thankfully he hasn't hurt himself yet, but I am worried he will. I will pass this article on to him for sure.