Ask the trainer – How do I know whether or not I am over-training?

Richard Pine is a NASM Certified Personal Trainer, has been with Metro Run & Walk since 2004, and currently coaches the MR&W Training Programs.

Richard Pine is a NASM Certified Personal Trainer, has been with Metro Run & Walk since 2004, and currently coaches the MR&W Training Programs.

As a sequel to last month’s topic on balancing training with adequate rest, the topic of over-training, the opposite end of the spectrum, becomes a complicated issue to navigate, particularly for distance athletes. The question of “How do I know if my training is sufficient or too much?” becomes a very real challenge that has a very real impact on your health and subsequent performance. For many of us, whether you are training for a long distance running event, a triathlon, a century bike ride or all of the above, the urgency of “getting in the distance” is a constant “must,” which is that drive that allows us to push ourselves harder, forces us to improve, and eventually makes it possible to meet our goals. That same drive, however, as good as it is also has the ability to drive us so hard that we stop listening to our bodies and fail to back off appropriately.

What does it mean to Over-Train?

The definition of “over-training” is training beyond the body’s ability to recover. Without adequate rest and recovery, over-training can have a negative physical as well as psychological impact.

With that said, what does over-training look like? Some common signs of over-training may include:

  • Lack of energy; constant fatigue
  • Decrease in capacity to train
  • Insomnia
  • Sudden drop in performance
  • Lower immunity (increased susceptibility to colds, etc.)
  • Headaches
  • Moodiness and irritability
  • Increased occurrence of injury
  • Loss of excitement for the sport
  • Soreness and pain in joints and muscles
  • A compulsive need to exercise
  • Depression
  • Decreased appetite

Though there are more objective ways to identify over-training, that threshold is going to look different for each individual and one of the best tools in discovering that threshold is learning to listen to your body.

#1 Rule of training: Listen to your body!

As a distance athlete, it is expected that some of these symptoms such as fatigue and muscle soreness are part of the package when you sign up. However, if you find that you have abnormal muscle soreness and constant fatigue in combination with any of these other symptoms, it is possible that you are experiencing over-training syndrome. A simple and effective method of identifying your threshold is to keep a log of your perceived exertion. If you already keep an exercise log, simply add another notation into your notes for the day on how you felt (i.e. scale of 1-5; 1 – poor; 5 – great). Another indicator is simply assessing your mental and physical state of being. Decreased positive feelings and increased negative feelings most likely show up when you are pushing yourself beyond your limits. If you feel excessively fatigued or your muscles are really sore and tired, it may be necessary to decrease your mileage and intensity, or completely cancel the workout. Another way is to ask those closest to you whether or not they think you are doing too much. An outside perspective will often times allow you to view the situation more objectively.

So if you find yourself over-trained, what is the next step? The most obvious is giving your body time to recover by resting. Many people believe the myth that by taking time off of training, the lack of training is going to negatively affect your performance. Contrary to popular thinking, taking that time to recover is actually going to be more beneficial as it is going to physically allow your body to rebuild itself so that it is stronger and more ready to effectively and safely execute.

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