Thursday, October 25, 2012

Too much of a good thing...what is "Overtraining"?

I keep getting all these blog ideas very randomly. Maybe it's the excitement of all the changes going on in my life, maybe I'm feeling my way into what I want to become to the fitness world...I don't know. But I keep getting ideas and I'm going to do my best to get them out on this blog when they come to me.

Today I've been thinking a lot about how people do tend to overdo it when it comes to fitness. I've certainly been made myself an overtrained athlete. Back in 2010, after a very emotional training year that involved a lot of healing, I went through a bout of exhaustion. It was incredibly frustrating, so much so that I took the rest of the year off of racing after the Austin Marathon in February. I had developed a decent amount of speed during a previous season, but I overdid it, gained a few pounds, lost about 30 seconds per mile off of my pace for the remainder of that year, and I started to question my entire marathon career. Exhaustion is no joke.

I surround myself with a lot of athletes, and while I don't ever want to judge what another person is doing with their training, I do see things that make me cringe. Not that I'm a perfect example of all things smart, by any means, but I worry about how others are going about training, or just working out in general.

The concept of REST is vitally important. I have a tough training schedule right now. It's the toughest I've ever had, but I also have a huge goal I want to accomplish, so I'm toughing it out. BUT ONLY TO MY ABILITY. I have honed in on when too much of a good thing IS REALLY TOO MUCH. This week Monday called for an 8 mile tempo run. I decided that since I also had a personal training session that day, I would tack on a 90 minute bike ride instead of the run. It would be 2.5 hours of working out for the day. Not a run, but still some excellent time sweating and getting my heart rate up. I knew my body needed crosstraining more than running, so I made it happen. A few weeks ago I was supposed to do an 8 miler mere hours after speedwork. Again, my body wasn't having it, so I took the day off of working out. And I didn't feel guilty at all. If I'm listening to my body I figure I can't go wrong.

One thing I'm definitely discovering is the benefit of resting your muscles after an intense gym session. Overtraining Syndrome will occur when one trains beyond their body's ability to recover. Any kind of resistance training requires sufficient rest and recuperation periods, and sometimes this period can be days. When rest is achieved properly, your body will react positively to the different stages of increased stress you're putting it through. Conversely, if you allow for inadequate recovery periods, training injuries can occur, such as connective tissue injuries. Other harmful side effect of overtraining include "decreased performance, fatigue, altered hormone states, poor sleeping patterns, resproductive disorders, decreased immunity, loss of appetite, and mood disturbances." (NASM Essentials of Personal Training, Fourth Edition)

You know what this also means? You won't hit your fitness goals. If you don't allow complete regeneration to occur, you will plateau or decline. You might have a protein or calorie deficiency, elevated cortisol, excessive muscle tissue breakdown....we can get really scientific about it. But the common denominator is all of this is the lack of REST.

There is a reason why I only run 3 or 4 days per week. My running workouts are intense...all of them. If I don't take care of my body in between workouts I am not going to improve. If I feel entirely too fatigued when I begin a workout and I don't loosen up within a mile or two, I'm not really going to be doing myself any favors by overdoing it. The idea of "more is better" does not always apply. By taking "more" to an extreme level (and that level is different for everyone) we will start to see diminishing returns for our effort.

Do you think this might apply to you? Take a step back and analyze your fitness schedule. Perhaps you need to let a workout or two go during the week, or focus on different muscle groups on different days. Add in crosstraining, or replace a workout with yoga. Take a look at your diet....are the majority of your calories coming from fresh food sources or do you rely on processed food too much? Try to get adequate sleep and if this means sleeping through a workout, maybe your body needs that rest instead. Perhaps this change for a couple weeks will be exactly what you need to jump start your fitness.

I have a 20 mile run on Saturday. I have had 5 hard workouts in the last 3 days. Although my schedule called for a run today, I decided last night's speed session needed more recovery time. My hamstring has also been snapping at me, so I'm giving it a rest to be fully prepared to tackle my 3 hour run on Saturday. I'm listening to my body and doing what's right for it.


  1. Hi this is Rain, a fellow team Luke's member :) I heard you mention you had a blog at the meet up and I finally had a chance to ask Jodi what the name of it was...glad I found it!
    I started the less is more 3 day running schedule a few months back. I really think my body has benefitted from the days of rest in between.
    I miss running every day though!
    Look forward to reading some of your posts :)

    1. Hi Rain! I'm glad you found me :)
      I am running 3-4 days per week and trying to cross train's helping a lot. More quality, less quantity.