Catchy title that one. While over training is definitely a thing, these signs may also be a sign that you are under recovering; when it comes down to it, they are basically the same thing.
I could do the typical 10 to 1 list here. It’s been done 100 times before, and you can definitely google it. But my point isn’t to tell you how you feel. I want to tell you WHY you feel it and what you can do to correct those things, either by dialing back intense training for a while, upping recovery, changing nutrition strategies, or just seeing things from a completely different place.
Because perspective is everything.
Firstly let’s put out a disclaimer: what works for me may not work for you. What works for you might not work for your neighbour. The only non-negotiable I have is this: take what works for you and ditch what doesn’t. If I, or any other coach / expert / whatever, says something you don’t agree with, or doesn’t FEEL right, then please, don’t try to make it work. You need to take what works best for you, create your OWN perfect training plan, your own perfect diet (and by that I mean what goes in your mouth, not cutting calories in half and eating cabbage) and your own perfect recovery plan.
Based on this, I want to have a chat with you about physiology. Mainly, a hormone called cortisol, which is produced when we are “stressed”. Such a multifaceted word.
Stress can mean so many things. It can mean a long, hard day at work with our boss or customer being complete and utter wankers. It could mean your mum rang you and you had yet another fight about what to do with Grandpa. It could mean you haven’t slept right, or you had Maccas on the way to work instead of your normal breakfast, or it could mean the training affects after your workout this morning.
And the thing is: while a lot of this is just PERCEIVED stress, but your mind doesn’t know the difference. It’s all producing the stress hormone.
Now don’t get me wrong, some stress is a good thing. Most stresses you can adapt to, like training stress. We’re talking about what happens when there is too much for your body to adapt to.
Cortisol wakes us up in the morning and gets us moving. The lack of it after the day settles us at night, and when we get a big fright (you know, those heart pumping, adrenaline charged moments when you need to run away from something) it’s cortisol that controls that fight or flight response.
Like, when a caveman needed to run from a bear.
The thing with stress, and our sympathetic nervous system, you are not guided by the most stressful thing. It’s like you’re carrying a box labelled stress, and everything that happens adds into the box. Unless you recover, and activate your parasympathetic nervous system (which controls the opposite to fight or flight, which is the rest and digest function in the body) you can’t take things out of the box. And if you don’t take things from the box, it gets pretty heavy to carry around.
Think the straw that broke the camel’s back. The smallest thing is what may cause the fracture, because we haven’t dealt with everything before.
So while training, exercise is a GOOD thing, if you are not recovering correctly you are compounding stress. It’s not even just a symptom of overtraining: it’s over stressed.
Now I that we’ve talked about this, I am more comfortable talking about the signs and symptoms of being over stressed / trained:
- You have a rest day and you are still sore and exhausted
- You have trouble getting to sleep at night
- You are gaining weight for no reason
- You are battling with chronic soft tissue injuries (even stress fractures)
- You can’t switch your brain off
- You think your motivation has up and left you
- The idea of getting up at 5am to run used to be easy and now you’re having a 15 minute argument with yourself about it, and it’s got nothing to do with the cold
- You’re training harder than ever, but you can’t get any faster (OMG this one)
This is not a complete list. Things are different for everyone, and you might have different signs.
That’s awesome Jess, but now what?
There are a few key things that you can incorporate to avoid these signs / symptoms.
- Take a rest day. Or even just a rest 24 hours (Train Sunday morning then not again until Monday night). Adaption is a key to fitness, and you need to REST for adaption to happen.
- PLAN your season. Triathletes want to race, but have a plan. Plan your races. Know what you need to do for each of them, and plan your recovery month. Yep, you heard me.
Why? Because not even the best athletes in the world train year round. These things work in cycles, if you never take a break, shit is going to go haywire. Even at work they give us four weeks a year as annual leave. I promise you, this is critical. Make sure you have a planned month off. It doesn’t have to be all at once, but two blocks of two weeks post A race would work too.
- Incorporate recovery. There’s another whole article about how to do that. But do it.
- Eat to perform. Food is fuel, and you need to fuel that body right, both for performance and for your recovery. Without fuel, the engine is going to run pretty badly. The associated post here comes in video form.
- Look at your training strategy. Do you have your pedal to the metal in every session? Leaving it all out there? If you don’t have a coach, talk to one. If you DO have a coach and you are struggling you need to either have an honest conversation with them, or find a new coach.
In 1000 words, this is so simplistic about something so serious.
But you now have a start.