I'm telling you, avoiding overtraining in running should be the top priority every day. Because if you don't train enough, you don't progress, the opposite works too. I started to explain it to you in the article on understanding the mechanisms of training. But today I'm going to go into the details of sports overtraining. What is overtraining? Why and how do we overtrain? What are the symptoms of overtraining and its consequences? And of course, how to avoid it in order to make progress in the long term.
Training makes you regress, it's recovery that makes you progress!
Back to the roots with the principle of overcompensation that I have explained here. If we had to summarize the overcompensation in running, we could say that this is when progress is made after a training session. Because just after an intense training, our body is tired and we finally regressed. Moreover, not surprisingly, if we did a post-training performance test, the results would be very poor. Training per se does not therefore improve. It is later that overcompensation comes into play and progress is made.
First we recover from the training, then we have this phase of progression that we all seek and that comes through overcompensation. Overcompensation takes 6 to 72 hours depending on the type of training performed. And all the recovery techniques that can be used after training will help our body to recover better and therefore progress better. In the end, we are the actors of our progress and not only during training, quite the contrary! Avoiding overtraining in running is not only done by limiting your practice, you can on the contrary boost it with good practices!
Symptoms of overtraining in running
When overtraining, the following symptoms can be observed, among others: severe fatigue, decreased performance with other disorders: insomnia, loss of appetite, irritability, depression (source: Larousse Médical). Overtraining is in itself a form of overwork that can lead to burnout. We know him well in the professional world but the same is true in the world of sport.
Moreover, the symptoms mentioned above are very similar to those of professional overwork. I will not dwell any longer on the symptoms of overtraining because, as you can see, it is often subjective. It is difficult to objectively assess whether or not sport causes these disorders. An article from the US National Library of Medicine goes into detail if you're interested.
Easily measure overtraining
However, there is a simple indicator to measure fatigue and whether you should slow down to avoid overtraining. This is the Rest Heart Rate Frequency (CRF). Basically, we all have a different RCF. But the more you train, the more the heart muscles and the lower it tends to be (which is clearly one of the benefits of running: in the long term, you spare your heart!).
Well, if you know your resting heart rate accurately enough, you can measure your fatigue level when you wake up. Unless there is an abnormally hot environment or other factor that causes your Heart Rate to rise, you should not observe a variation of more than 2 to 3 beats per minute on your FCR. For example, my Heart Rate at Rest is 42. If I feel tired and when I wake up I measure a stabilized Heart Rate of more than 47, I know there is a risk of overtraining.
An INSEP study (Aubry et al. Plos one 2014) analysed the state of functional overwork, with an impact on performance (below the level they call overtraining, which corresponds to a very advanced stage). Subjects had an FCR that was 8 beats higher on average than their normal FCR. Significant enough to be observed and above all a very significant increase. Imagine 8 pulsations on a usual value of 42, we are at 20% increase!
Consequences of overtraining: reduced performance
The first consequence of the possible overtraining is therefore the decrease in performance. This same INSEP study conducted performance tests on subjects with acute fatigue VS functional overload (what they consider normal fatigue after intensive training) VS control group. After the intense training cycle, overworked athletes saw their performance drop by 2% while those in acute fatigue saw it increase by 2%. Very significant!
With two weeks of recovery / sharpening, the overworked athletes are back on the right side with a 1% improvement on their basic performance. Except that during this time athletes in acute fatigue will progress by more than 4%. By the way, the control group, which did not carry out the intensive training but normal training, performs better than the overworked group... Proof that contrary to the saying..." Better not enough than too much"! It also shows the interest of the sharpening phase at the end of the training plan to be in peak form at the competition.
Overtraining and injuries!
The second direct consequence of overtraining in running and not the least is injury. When you stress your body beyond what it can handle in a sport like running... The injury is never far away! When you no longer recover properly from one workout, you start the next one with fatigue. Each stride will generate a new stress on the body that will accumulate to the previous one. The shocks of each stride are then no longer accepted by the body as usual. Muscle tears, tendonitis, fatigue fractures...
The risk of contracting these ailments is dramatically increased in situations of overtraining. And once the injury has set in, it can take weeks or even months to get rid of it. Chaining training with incomplete recovery can work when it is calculated. But it's a dangerous game that only works with optimal recovery afterwards. For the pros, no worries, for the amateurs... Be careful not to play with fire too much, you can quickly burn yourself! ????
The runner's overtraining: an invisible evil
That is the biggest problem. Overtraining is often invisible... Until you are in the middle of it and see the effects. Detecting overtraining is complicated and it is better to try to avoid it as much as possible. If I have given you the Heart Rate at Rest method above, respecting the principle of progressiveness in your training (see this article) is a very good basis.
Also respect the alternation between work blocks and weeks of recovery. Take the time to fully recover from a competition before going back to training. How many times have I seen neomarathoners return to training as if nothing had happened on the Wednesday following their run... If sometimes it can pass, the risk of injury is at its highest at this time.
Be careful not to confuse fatigue with overtraining
To progress, it is normal to tire your body. Intense workouts such as the fractionated one will stress the body and make us tired. This fatigue is normal and necessary. It is even this stress that will trigger the body's need to adapt. The body evolves according to what you put it through. He strengthens himself to be able to repeat the training you have given him by "suffering less".
So don't fall into hypochondria by never leaving your comfort zone. The important thing is to recover well from these intense workouts and not to repeat others in the time needed for recovery. It takes a lot to fall into the physical burnout of overtraining!
>> READ: Learn to manage fatigue to improve your progress
The more you train, the more you have to think about recovery
It's simple, the more you train, the more you stress your body and the more likely you are to overtrain. Unless the focus is on adequate post-effort recovery. The more we work on the recovery aspect, the more we will be able to train. A very good recovery also makes it possible to put a multiplier factor on the progress that a training session will generate. It is the combination of these two elements that allows professional athletes to cope with their training. By doing everything to recover they can do much more volume in fundamental endurance between their intensity sessions.
Overtraining is not only due to intensity!
A last precision to avoid overtraining in running. It can come from different problems. Overtraining is when there is a TOO that the body is not able to handle. This often comes from an intense training too intense: too much split, jogging too fast....
But it can also simply come from too much volume. If you can be able to run 50, 75 or more than 100km a week with habit, running a lot can be learned. You don't turn up your volume overnight, otherwise, even running slowly can put you in overtraining. If the body is not used to taking so many kilometers, it will tire more than reason... And the rest, you know it!
Avoid overtraining in running: The assessment!
On that note, as I said earlier, don't be too afraid of overtraining after reading this article either. But keep in mind that being patient will prevent you from over-training in running in the long term... Better small regular progress than big progress interspersed with injuries because in this case, what you have won hard... is lost again! It's tested and approved... I've "lost" years of progress by not properly integrating this notion into my training. Today everything is easier now that this notion is clear in my head. I hope it is for you now too!