Over-Training Symptoms

Over-Training Symptoms

How do you know if you’re working too hard?

This is an interesting question.  First, because overtraining can take a physical or mental form and is usually a little of both.  Second, because how do you tell the difference between being tired – which is to be expected from training – and being in a state of over-training?

To understand over-training, you have to understand training.  Training is a series of physical and mental challenges that you plan for yourself over the course of a training cycle.  Typically, these challenges will increase in difficulty and specificity over the course of the training cycle.

The whole point of these challenges, or workouts, is to push your body and mind a little bit further than you have before.  These challenges require you to marshal resources.  These challenges break you down.

You know when you finish that long run or tempo run or other challenging workout that it was hard.  You may be tired or even exhausted.  Your muscles may be sore the next day.  The process of training is to systematically break you down a little bit with each of these challenges.  The challenges cause your body and your mind to adapt, to change in response and to get stronger.

This is the process of training.  Push and recover.  Push and recover.  Each wave of training as you progress through the cycle is a bigger push and each time you recover to a higher level of race specific fitness.  That final push is the hardest and then your taper is the recovery.  That is the point of your peak race fitness.  The result of adapting to all the pushes throughout the cycle that got you to this highly adapted fitness level for your event.

Over-training happens whenever your body or your mind doesn’t recover from the push. You become over-trained when you don’t get the adaptation bounce.  You keep pushing, but instead of adapting and bouncing back your machine stresses.  Over-training is cumulative stress without recovery.

The difference is hard to tease out, especially if you’re a newer athlete.  With experience you’ll start to see the symptoms.  With experience you’ll start to see the difference between being tired and being over-trained.

You can get the same situation from over-racing.  Too many hard or long efforts in a row and your system enters a kind of stress stasis where no adaptation is occurring.  You’re in survival mode.

As you get older it takes longer to recover from the hard pushes.  It becomes easier to get broken down.  The key to sensing and responding to an over-training situation is, as trite as it sounds, listening to your body.

What are the symptoms of over-training?

Physical exhaustion

The number one symptom is being physically and/or mentally exhausted.  I’ll write that in my workout logs.  “Got the workout done but felt heavy and tired.”  Coach will see that and keep an eye on it.  If he sees 3 or 4 of those in a week he’ll give me more rest or cross training.

Being in a state of abnormal tiredness is a symptom of over-training.

If you’re like me, you hate missing workouts and will try to do them even if you’re exhausted.  If you’re like me a bad race or a bad workout makes you want to hit the next one even harder, which if you are over-trained is the worst thing you can do.

If you continue to train hard after you have passed the breaking point it will require even more time to recover.  Undoubtedly, you’ve seen stories of elite athletes that had to take months off to recover from the long term stress of racing into a deficit condition.

No ‘pop’

One of the things I look for in my training and racing is what I call ‘pop’.  It’s that feeling of strength and energy that you will get in your legs at the beginning of a workout or at the end of a training cycle.  If I write in my log ‘no pop’ coach knows my legs are not fully recovered or something else (sleep or nutrition) is going on.

One bad workout is not over training.  3 or 4 bad workouts or races in a row and you need to re-assess what you’re doing.  If you are training consistently you should feel that energy, that ‘pop’, in your legs when you recover fully from the last push.  If you don’t, that may be a leading indicator.

Mental Exhaustion

You can be mentally exhausted as well.  Especially in the winter months.  Too much for too long and your brain checks out.  I try to condition myself for the ‘dark place’ that occurs towards the end of a training cycle where the volume and effort seem unreasonably difficult. If I know it’s coming I can set my mind to it.

A symptom of over training is when you just don’t want to do the workouts. You’re sick of it.  You start faking workouts or skipping them for not-really-great reasons.  If you can’t engage your mind to at least soldier through and make a decent effort, you may need a mental break.  There’s no shame in that.  Racing is as much about the mind as it is about the body.  Both need to be in peak shape for you to execute your best event.

The effects of over training are insidious.  They are hard to see when you’re inside the training cycle.  It is awesome to have a coach looking over your shoulder and doing the thinking for you.

If you find yourself in an over-trained state the right thing to do is to back off and recover.  There is no benefit to pushing through.  Your body (or mind) has lost the ability to recover and benefit from your workouts.

You need to regain that resilience before you continue.

If you catch it early it may mean an easy week in your schedule.  If you try to push through it could be several weeks before your body is able to train effectively again.


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