Overtraining Part 2: Correct and Avoid It

In the last post, we went over some symptoms of overtraining. If you found yourself nodding along in agreement, then today’s post is certainly for you. If not, well, it’s still beneficial to read this to ensure you don’t end up nodding in agreement in the future.

To clarify, overtraining is, loosely, defined as an accumulation of stress (both training and non-training) that leads to decreases in performance as well as mental and physical symptoms that can take months to recover from. Read that last bit again: M.O.N.T.H.S. Just because you took a couple days off does NOT mean your body is ready to go again. The time it takes to recover from and return to normal performance will depend on how far into the realm of overtraining you’ve managed to push yourself.

Let's delve into recovery strategies. Of the many symptoms that can appear, chronic inflammation is a biggie. Whether that’s inflammation of the joints, ligaments, tendons, or muscles, it doesn’t matter; too much inflammation compromises their ability to function. (A little inflammation is ok as it jumpstarts the recovery process.) Just as you created a training plan, so to must you create a recovery plan for healing after overtraining.

Step 1: Seek to reduce inflammation.


- Adequate sleep is imperative! As in, go to bed BEFORE 11 or 12 PM teenagers-that-must-awaken-at-6AM-for-school. (Subtleness is not my strong suit.) Conveniently for us, our bodies restores themselves during the night. They release anabolic hormones (building hormones) such as growth hormone (clever name) and sleep helps reduce the amount of catabolic (breaking down) hormones such as cortisol. Since increased levels of coritsol are part of the overtrained symptom list, it would be a good thing to get those levels under control!

- Eat whole foods. Particularly load up on vegetables (such as kale) and fruits (like berries) that are rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds. Apparently Gold Milk has those, too and, according to Jarrett, helps him sleep. Bonus! Lean protein sources like fatty fish, chicken breast, and leaner beef (grass-fed if you can get it) will not only help provide the much-needed protein for muscle rebuilding but also will supply  healthy fats that also help reduce inflammation.

- Drink lots of water. Water helps the body flush toxins and damaged tissues/cells out and keeps the body’s systems running smoothly. Water also lubricates your joints, which if they’re beat up already, the extra hydration will help them feel better and repair more quickly. A good goal is half your body weight in ounces of water guzzled.

Step 2: Take a week off

You’re muscles are not going shrivel up, lose your skill/speed, nor will your body swell up with fat. Take 5-7 days and rejuvenate. Go for a couple walks, do mobility circuits, play a pick-up basketball game… do something that’s NOT your normal training routine and just let your body rest. Remember, the further you wade into the murky waters of overtraining, the longer it will take to slog your way out.

Step 3: Learn from your mistakes.

While you’re taking your break, examine what pushed you over the edge. Was it too high of a volume and/or intensity? Was it too many days without rest? Was your mileage too high? Are there external factors you’re missing? Were you were stressed out at work/school, not sleeping enough, or maybe you weren’t eating enough or the right foods to support your activity. I’ve learned that I need 2 days of rest per week, any less than that and my performance tanks.

Step 4: Recalculate and execute.

When you’re ready to come back, don’t be a ninny and do exactly what you were doing that got you into this mess in the first place. Hopefully, you learned from your mistake(s) and gained the wisdom to make the necessary changes to avoid overtraining in the first place. Here, let’s learn from my mistake:

I overtrained; and I mean, I really overtrained. I had all the symptoms (mental and physical) for months and months. I was a walking ball of inflammation, every joint hurt, I was exhausted mentally and physically (and, decided to make up for my exhaustion by pushing myself even harder.) I ignored all the warning signs. This intentional stupidity led to my now permanent injuries (torn labrums in both hips, one collapsed disc in my spine, and two bulging discs). The body is pretty resilient, but it can only take so much. I ended up taking four months off, completely, from any activity beyond long walks. (That was terrible by the way. I hated every minute but knew it was necessary.) When I did come back, I had to ease into it. Very. Very. Slowly. Even then, I think I pushed it a bit too much. It took me almost 2 years to return to my normal physical and mental state. (Well, outside of the permanent injuries. Those I just work around now.) Learn from my mistake.

So how can we avoid overtraining? Here are simple strategies:

1. Eat enough and the right foods to support your activities.

2. Take rest days. Listen to your body. If you need to rest, rest. If you need to scale back your workout, do so.

3. Keep workouts on the shorter side. Avoid marathon weight lifting sessions (trust me). Keep it to 1-1.5 hours. Max. Sprint sessions shouldn’t exceed 15-20 minutes.

4. Sleep. High quality sleep should be a priority in your life. If it isn’t, you need to change that.

5. Stay on top of your SMR and mobility work. I wrote about SMR here and here.

6. Train towards specific goals. You can’t be a marathon runner and a power lifter. Pick one to three goals (that don’t conflict with each other) and train towards them. You can’t do everything at once.

Armed with the knowledge of overtraining prevention, rest, recover, and continue in greatness!