In search of structure, and in the absence of most other pastimes, exercise has become more prevalent in our daily routine during lockdown.
With more free time in our diary and a motivational goal in the calendar like Struggle Dales (only 12 weeks to go), it can be easy to clock-up too much training overtime, spiralling us into a state of fatigue that is of no benefit to our fitness.
Effects of Overtraining
The symptoms of overtraining can have negative consequences for our fitness levels, causing performance to plateau and even decline. Muscle soreness, injury and lack of adequate nutrition can stop us hitting performance high-notes and hinder our fitness gains.
Overtraining not only affects our musculoskeletal system, causing soreness, pain, injury, loss of strength and performance; it also affects the endocrine system which is responsible for hormones governing mood, growth, repair and reproduction.
More importantly, overtraining can be severely harmful to our health. It can weaken the immune system - something not ideal during a pandemic. Left untreated, overtraining can become chronic and be detrimental to long-term health and fitness for months - even years.
Signs of Overtraining
It’s not always intuitive to identify overtraining as many of the symptoms are surprising, such as trouble sleeping or loss of appetite even though we're training hard. Check yourself against these symptoms and ensure you aren’t familiar with too many:
- Prolonged muscle tightness, soreness or pain
- Persistent niggles and injuries
- Feeling fatigued - not just after exercise
- Loss of appetite
- Increased perceived effort (PE) - the same workouts feel harder
- Loss of libido
- Disruption in menstrual cycle in women and loss of period
- Low mood
- Loss of motivation
- Feelings of restlessness
- Lack of concentration
- Plateau or decline in performance
- Higher heart-rate - during exercise and at rest
- Disrupted sleep or trouble falling asleep
How to Avoid Overtraining?
1. Manage Volume:
A sudden increase in training volume can be counterintuitive to fitness. Slowly increase your hours in the saddle weekly, but ensure this volume is sustainable over the coming weeks/months.
2. Limit Intensity:
If you’re maxing out all your training sessions, looking for the most bang for your buck, think again! Only one or two session should be intensive each week. The rest of your training should to be aerobic. For ease, consider a simple 80/20 rule: If you’re training for 10 hours, 8 hours should be spent riding steady and 2 hours should be spent on intensive intervals.
3. Prioritise Recovery:
When is your rest day? And are you really resting or simply not cycling? Overtraining syndrome is most commonly caused by lack of recovery, so ditch the DIY and head to the sofa. If you’re compelled to exercise on your rest day consider active recovery; this should be no more than 30 minutes of very easy pedalling.
4. Add Variety:
Athletes focused on one discipline (like cycling) are most prone to overtraining. Consider cross-training by introducing other forms of exercise to your regime and take the load off your legs. Swimming, yoga or strength work are great ways to increase performance and avoid overtraining.
5. Eat Sufficiently:
Every rider thinks they could lose a few kg and climb faster. However, if you’re training lots, your body need calories. Ensure you’re eating sufficiently including all the major macronutrients. Consider using a calorie counter app like MyFitnessPal or we prefer LifeSum. The latter manages your protein, fat and carb intake to help balance calories between food groups.
What To Do If You’re Overtraining
If you’ve identified yourself as overtrained you’re already one step towards getting back on track with your exercise regime.
1. Take a Break
Consider taking a week or two off. See it as a holiday. You’ll come back to the bike feeling refreshed, invigorated and no doubt you’ll perform better instantly. Enjoy other forms of light exercise or simply go for short, low-intensity rides just for fun.
2. Eat Well
Replenish your body with the nutrients it deserves to assist your body in recovery. Consider anti-inflammatory foods such as berries, fish, fruit, veg, turmeric and more.
3. Combat Stress
Try to reduce your cortisol levels with self-care techniques that work for you. Allow yourself downtime and headspace, whether it’s a bath, reading a book, meditation or yoga. Whatever works for you, just be mindful of your stress levels.
4. Plan your Comeback
During your rest week consider putting together a new plan for your next block of training leading up to Struggle Dales in 12 weeks. Ensure you plot in at least one rest day and balance intensive training session with aerobic rides, active recovery and cross-training.