Learning Center: Overtraining


Overtraining: How to Avoid the Pitfalls of Doing Too Much

If you've been running for any length of time, you know that there's a fine line between training hard enough to set a PR and training so hard that you get sick or injured. Luckily there are both physical and psychological indications that you're training too hard, and often the mental "symptoms" manifest themselves first. By paying attention to what's going on in your mind and body, you can avoid overtraining.

Mind Games

Try rating yourself once a week or so on your feelings in these areas:

  • Self-confidence
  • Ability to focus
  • Satisfaction with training
  • Satisfaction with relations with fellow runners
  • Satisfaction with relations with family members, co-workers and non-running friends
  • Satisfaction with finances

Rate your feelings using a five-point scale:

  • 5-very high
  • 4-high
  • 3-average
  • 2-low
  • 1-very low

Keep in mind that there is no "right" or "wrong" score. What you're watching for are deviations from the norm that last for more than a few days. Some studies have shown that once psychological symptoms manifest, the physical signs usually show up within a week or less.

Trust Your Body

If you ignore the psychological indications that you're overtraining, the physical symptoms may be more likely to get your attention. Classic physical manifestations of overtraining are:

  • Unusual muscle soreness
  • Lingering dead legs
  • Frequent colds and upper-respiratory infections
  • Elevated morning heart rate
  • Unexpected weight changes
  • Increased irritability
  • Lack of desire to train
  • Poor-quality sleep

It's Not Too Late

Once the physical indications of overtraining have appeared, you still have time to turn things around. Unless you're exhibiting all eight signs, a few weeks of rest, perhaps changes in your diet and even a change of scenery will allow you to get back to your regular training routine.

  • Depending on how many signs you're exhibiting, cut your mileage in half for 2-4 weeks (more than three signs means three weeks minimum)
  • When you start training again increase your mileage by 10% per week if you reduced your mileage for two weeks, 5% for three weeks or longer
  • Don't bump up your mileage week after week until you reach your maximum mileage; instead increase mileage for two weeks, then go back down to the lowest week's mileage for one week
  • Avoid cross-training during the time you're reducing mileage, you're giving your body a rest. However, if you exhibited more than five signs of overtraining, stop running completely and do only non-stressful activities such as yoga, simple stretches and/or easy walking.
  • Watch your diet during the time you're "de-stressing". Add more carbohydrates to your meals in the form of whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables. Avoid all refined sugars and all alcohol (in this case, beer doesn't count as carbs!) Don't drink coffee or other stimulating beverages.
  • Try to be in bed by no later than 10:00PM every night, and sleep eight hours. If necessary, wear ear plugs or listen to a soothing CD to keep out noise distractions.
  • Don't get up before 6:00AM to run. Run at lunch or in the late afternoon following work, when your body temperature is higher.
  • If possible, take a relaxing vacation. This isn't the time to visit the in-laws, try the islands instead!
  • If after a few weeks of reduced mileage, earlier bedtimes, better diet and perhaphs a quiet get-away you're still not feeling up-to-par, you should see your physician to rule out any underlying condition.