Is it possible to get too much of a good thing? Here’s what to do if you’ve pushed yourself too far
Runners, coaches, and physiologists feel fairly confident about how training programs work. The “formula” looks something like this: stress + recovery = improved performance. The “stress” part of the equation can be a single workout, multiple workouts, or even weeks of difficult workouts. These workouts can and often will produce some tired, heavy-fatigue days. But as long as your performances continue to get mostly better, all is well.
Of course, few things go up forever without occasionally dipping down, and those dips can be a big problem. This is especially true if you are a recent retiree depending on the stock market, or a runner who had planned for a race-day peak only to find yourself flat as road kill.
All are agreed that the secret is not to overtrain. Unfortunately, as with stock market crashes, overtraining is easier to see through the rearview mirror than in advance. A recent consensus statement from European and American sports science experts includes this tantalising sentence: “Athletes … would benefit greatly if a specific, sensitive, simple diagnostic test existed for the diagnosis of overtraining syndrome (OTS).” It then states that there is no such test.
The concensus authors state that one simple, popular method of determining OTS, morning heart rate, is not consistently effective.
Also, “there is virtually no evidence suggesting that OTS can be ‘treated.'” Therefore, “the emphasis needs to be on prevention.”
How to prevent overtraining? The experts suggest these general guidelines:
1. Follow a periodised training program with sufficient recovery times.
2. Take a least “one passive rest day” per week.
3. Get adequate sleep.
4. Consume sufficient kilojoules; don’t lose weight unintentionally.
5. Don’t let your glycogen supplies get depleted. That is, eat plenty of carbs.
6. Avoid excessively monotonous training routines.
7. Keep a training diary, and don’t be afraid to adjust planned training, or skip it entirely, when overly fatigued.