You have trained countless hours and sacrificed a lot only to find your performance decreasing. Does this sound familiar?
Overtraining is all too common among the sport of triathlon and happens to a lot more triathletes than you think.
Triathletes are constantly training hard and often times they end up not resting enough because they constantly feel the need to do more.
More speedwork, one more run, one more strength workout. Whatever it may be I’m sure you have been there before.
Even those of us who have put in 14 hours of training in a single week will still have the feeling of, “Am I doing enough?”.
Training Without Recovering
Simply having the thought that you need to be doing more is one thing. But actually doing more can be a dangerous slope.
And one that triathletes around the world end up going down too often.
Going through triathlon training without proper rest and down time can lead to more problems than you can imagine.
These problems can be minor like fatigue or major like rhabdomyolysis. But the most common thing that happens when you train too much is something called Overtraining Syndrome (OTS).
Basically Overtraining Syndrome is the multiple things that your body does in response to excessive exercise without proper rest. To put it simply, its too much training than your body can recover from.
Overtraining Syndrome boils down to 3 bodily responses to excessive training: neurologic, endocrinologic, and immunologic.
These 3 responses can show themselves in a variety of ways so here are a couple signs that you may be training too much for that triathlon.
1. Your Performance Starts To Decline
Since it is almost Christmas while I am writing this article I’ll use this example. You know how if you put up all your holiday lights and plug them all into the same electrical socket you run the risk of blowing the socket?
Think of your body in a similar fashion. Except it won’t just blow up but rather it will slow down and stop performing.
So if you are training harder and your training suggests that you should be improving but you are actually seeing the reverse then you may be training too much for that triathlon.
2. You Are Sluggish All Day
This one may be tricky for triathletes to determine because we are often tired. Triathlon training is a lot of work and most of us live life in a constant state of tiredness.
However, there is a difference between being tired from a workout and being sluggish.
Being tired from a workout means your muscles may be tired and your body a bit fatigued but overall you are in similar spirits.
Sluggish is normally a response from your body’s endocrine system. This system regulates testosterone and cortisol and if overtrained can respond with symptoms similar to being sick.
An easy test that worked personally is the coffee test. If I require the same amount of coffee to be productive but I am still just tired then I am most likely just fatigued from a workout.
If no amount of coffee gets me in the right mindset during the day then I am sluggish and probably need some rest.
3. Mood Swings
Any of you with a spouse will be able to figure out if this is a problem for you. You shouldn’t be constantly moody if you are triathlon training.
You should be training for triathlons because you enjoy it so it shouldn’t cause moodiness. But if it does and you are happy one second then yelling the next then it may be an indicator that you are training too much for that triathlon.
4. You Lose Focus More Easily
This one was always tough to measure for me since I am ADD. I have never been able to focus well.
However, if you are normally able to focus on things at work or at home and are suddenly finding yourself unable to do so then it could be a sign that you need some rest.
Many times a loss of focus due to overtraining is coupled with restlessness so if you are noticing both of these things happening to you then I would get some down time.
5. You’re Sick More Often
This one was the key indicator for me when I trained too hard for my first Ironman. For a normal person an increase in sickness is due to a lack of good health. Sleep, nutrition, more stress and exercise are all things that if lacking can lead to you getting sick more.
However as triathletes we are often good at all those things. Sure we may have a bit more stress due to strict schedules but overall we are much better than the average person.
So if you find yourself coming down with a sickness more often than normal then you need to stop and rest a bit. Overtraining takes a huge toll on the body’s immune system so you need to be careful.
Personally I did not listen to my body when I got sick over and over again and ended up going into rhabdomyolysis.
So please listen to your body.
6. Loss of Grip Strength
This one didn’t happen to me until I was already in the early stages of rhabdomyolysis. Mine was a bit extreme as I couldn’t even hold a pen and write my name.
However, it doesn’t have to be as extreme as my case. If you suddenly find your hands getting tired after gripping the handlebars on your bike then it may be a sign you are training too hard for that triathlon.
7. Heart Rate Changes
This is one of the easiest ones to measure and a dead giveaway of Overtraining Syndrome.
Your heart rate doesn’t lie and is one of the most reliable things in your body. If you do a workout every morning and you are suddenly noticing that your heart rate is climbing higher than it normally does for the same effort then you are overtraining.
8. Easy Days Are Still Hard
Easy days are supposed to be easy. As a triathlete we often get excited for those long and slow runs and easy swims.
But if you are noticing that the easy day ended up being harder than it should have been then you may be training to much for that triathlon.
9. Not Sleeping Very Well
Oftentimes us triathletes have no problem sleeping. We hit the bed and pass out only to wake up at our morning alarm to go workout.
Not sleeping well for a triathlete is almost laughable. But if it is happening to you and you are tossing and turning in bed then you are probably training too much and need to rest.
How To Fix Overtraining Syndrome
Luckily for you there is a few solutions to training too hard.
Not only do these pointers help you recover from overtraining, they can also help you prevent it.
And we all know that prehab is always better than rehab!
So here are a few ways to recover and prevent overtraining.
1. Get Some Sleep
You knew I was going to say that didn’t you? Well good for you because it’s true.
Sleep is free. You don’t need any fancy equipment or expensive foods. Just go to bed earlier.
When you are asleep it is really the only time your body can recover so this is really the most important step.
2. Decrease Stress
This one is easier said than done. But stress really does play an important role in overtraining and recovery.
I’m not telling you to quit your job or anything drastic like that. But maybe try putting the phone away for an hour before bedtime.
Or stop stressing if you happen to miss a workout.
3. Nutrition is a Necessity
You can’t run a Formula 1 car on grease and oil. You also can’t run a body.
Stop giving in to your cravings and stop eating all that junk food.
Eating a proper diet will help you recover quicker and stave off overtraining a lot easier.
I personally try and stick to a 90/10 rule on nutrition. 90% of the time I eat well and 10% of the time I indulge.
4. Adjust As Needed
This is really a catch all but I felt it was important to mention. Your body isn’t an assembly line. It isn’t going to perform exactly the same regardless of the situation. So you need to listen to it and adjust your triathlon training as necessary.
Lose some sleep because your child was sick and you were up all night? Maybe take an off day and catch up on sleep or do an easy run instead of speed work.
Do too much at the gym and still feeling really sore? Probably not a good idea to do a track workout and sprints.
You get the idea.
At the end of the day most triathletes are going to experience some form of overtraining during their careers. It’s just the way we are.
However, with the proper tools at our disposal and right mentality I think any triathlete can do a little bit better and prolong their careers.
It is a lot harder to do all those extra workouts than it is to get a little more sleep and eat some vegetables. I promise.