Hard Workouts vs Overtraining?
In some cases, what doesn’t kill us will make us stronger. But when it comes to running, repeated hard training sessions without adequate recovery will send us into a physical and psychological tailspin that ultimately breaks down the body and mind. – By Ed Eyestone
Overtraining is individual in nature: What is too much training for one runner may not be nearly enough for another. So it’s impossible to tell if someone is over-trained just by looking at their workout list. It’s the way the individual’s body responds to those workouts that helps diagnose overtraining. One of the first symptoms of overtraining is fatigue. While fatigue is a normal part of hard training, when it persists for days after a hard workout despite sufficient recovery, it’s an indication that adaptation to the higher workload is not occurring. Instead, the body is experiencing catabolism, or breakdown.
Some other symptoms that often accompany fatigue are a decrease in performance, muscle soreness, difficulty sleeping, elevated resting heart rate and emotional instability. Overtraining in the short term is sometimes called overreaching. We typically overreach when we have too much training volume or intensity without adequate recovery.
We can also overreach when we have proper workloads and recovery but we’re taxed by other stresses. Too little sleep, deadlines at work or school, or taking care of small children all stress the system. And when added to hard training, such stressors can push us over the edge. In a recent study, researchers induced overtraining by having well-trained subjects double their volume and increase their intensity by 15 percent for two weeks. They then performed tests on the athletes to see which would identify overtraining the earliest.
Interestingly, simple function tests – as opposed to invasive biological tests – were the quickest to spot overreaching. The athletes’ rate of perceived exertion (RPE), for example, rose immediately as they became over-trained. The results of this study indicate that listening to your body is the easiest, cheapest and most accurate way to diagnose overtraining.
JUST TIRED, OR OVERTRAINED?
Here’s how to tell if you need a break
TEST 1: In your log, note on a scale of 1 to 10 how difficult each workout seems. If over any 10-day period, your perceived exertion registers higher than normal on easy days, or you notice that similar workouts lead to higher numbers with slower times, you need a rest. Reduce mileage by 50 percent and eliminate hard workouts for the next week or two.
TEST 2: Use a heart-rate monitor to measure your heart rate while running at a comfortable training pace. If a six-minute kilometre usually elicits a heart rate of 130 beats per minute, but you suddenly reach 140 for the same pace, you may be overtraining. As above, cut mileage and eliminate hard workouts for a couple of weeks. If you still feel lethargic, take five to seven days off.