It’s no secret that I’m not currently in intense training mode for anything (although I definitely have the itch now that I’m running pain-free again) but I know there are many of you training for fall races.
I am a huge advocate of following training plans when preparing for races – anything from 10Ks to sprint triathlons to marathons. The benefit of training plans is that they offer an easy and logical way to build mileage and prepare you for the event. The downfall is that it’s tempting to adopt the mindset that the plan is the end all/be all and you can’t modify skip workouts.
The truth of the matter is that there is no “perfect for everyone” training plan and it’s important to modify them to meet your specific needs. For instance, I find that when I get into high-mileage/peak zone that I need more rest than the average plan allows. After an 18 or 20 mile training run, I need a solid three days with NO running rather than the one off day that most plans suggest. (And ice baths…hurts so good!)
It’s important to take more rest or back off of the intensity when your body is sending signals that you may be overtraining. Some of the physical symptoms include:
- A general feeling of fatigue that you can’t shake
- Sleeping poorly and not having restful sleep
- Getting sick – picking up colds and other bugs that are going around more frequently than normal due to a weakened immune system
- Feeling down in the dumps and not motivated to train
- A decrease in performance – struggling to maintain your normal pace or getting the “dead legs” sensation
- Injuries, aches and pains
There are also two easy ways to test for overtraining. (Please note that these are only meant to serve as guidelines and not absolutes. Always consult with your physician before starting a new activity or if you are experiencing any negative effects from training)
Tracking Your Resting Heart Rate
The easiest way to tell if you are overtraining is to monitor your resting heart rate. This is your heart rate when your body is at complete rest – you should be lying down and awake but not recently active. The best time to take your resting heart rate is upon first waking up in the morning before you’ve even gotten out of bed.
Take your resting heart rate by lightly placing two fingers on the inside of the wrist to find the radial pulse or on the side of the neck to find the carotid pulse. Count the beats in 10 seconds and multiply by 6 to find the beats per minute.
The average adult resting heart rate is between 60-80 beats per minute but many highly conditioned athletes may have resting heart rates that are much lower. (Lance Armstrong had a resting heart rate of 32-34 bpm at his peak – insane!)
Don’t worry so much about what your baseline number is as long as it falls within or below the normal range. What you really want to watch for is any elevation. If your average number increases by 5-10 bpm, consider it a sign that you may need to take a rest day and back off of the intensity of your training.
Heart Rate Zone Training and Recovery
Many training plans call for speed work. In general, speed work is extremely effective to help increase pace and performance but if you are on the road to overtraining, pushing your body that hard can lead to injury.
Speed work usually cycles you through different heart rate zones. Tracking these zones requires the use of a heart rate monitor.
Calculate your maximum heart rate by 220-age, keeping in mind that this is just a rough guideline. To know your true maximum heart rate you would want to have a stress test done on a treadmill.
Zone 1 (65-75% of max)
Maximum heart rate x .65 or .75
Zone 2 (80-85% of max)
Maximum heart rate x .80 or .85
Zone 3 (86-90% of max)
Maximum heart rate x .86 or .90
How to apply this to test for overtraining…this would be especially useful at the beginning of a speed workout.
(Source – NASM: Essentials of Personal Fitness Training)
- Warm up in Zone 1 for 10 minutes
- Increase speed/intensity every 60 seconds until you reach Zone 3. This should include about a 2 minute climb through Zone 2.
- Push for 1 minute in Zone 3
- Decrease workload for 1 minute. You want to recover to a Zone 2 heart rate within that minute. If recovery does not happen that fast, consider yourself tired or overtrained and stay in Zone 1 or Zone 2 for the rest of the workout. It is not your day for speed work!
And as always, listen to your body. If it is telling you to take a break, take a break! It’s much easier to recover from overtraining at the beginning stages rather than letting it escalate to exhaustion or injury.
I hope you guys enjoyed this post! Now that I actually hold a personal training certification, I am really excited to do more informative posts like this one. I was hesitant to do them before due to lack of qualification. I must state one.more.time. for the record that these are just suggestions and always do what is right for you and listen to your body and you physician! The majority of the information in this post comes from general knowledge that I’ve gained over the years through YMCA and Personal Training certifications.
What are your signs that you are overtraining? For me it’s prolonged muscle soreness (especially in my calf muscles), fatigue and dreading runs.