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Overtraining- Stefan Timms

Avoiding Overtraining

By Stefan Timms

There is much discussion these days about “overtraining”, and the term has become so popular that many triathletes believe that if you feel tired at times in your training, you must be over trained.  Of course the reality is that when you are training for an endurance event that involves three sports, fatigue is going to be part of the deal.  In fact, in many training plans, fatigue at certain times is a sign that your program is on track.  Training is about getting the right type and amount of physical stress, followed by the right amount of rest.  It is in this rest period where you recover and grow stronger.  Proper training has a cumulative effect. It takes you through cycles, which will definitely leave you tired from time to time.
However, feeling fatigued may be a sign of the onset of overtraining.  If sufficient rest is not included in a training program then regeneration cannot occur and performance plateaus. If this imbalance between excess training and inadequate rest persists then performance will decline. Overtraining can best be defined as the state where the athlete has been repeatedly stressed by training to the point where rest is no longer adequate to allow for recovery. Overtraining is characterized by a collection of emotional, behavioral, and physical symptoms and is also known as “burnout” or “staleness.” This is different from the day-to-day variation in performance and post exercise tiredness that is common in conditioned athletes. Overtraining is marked by cumulative exhaustion that persists even after recovery periods.
The most common symptom is fatigue. This may limit workouts and may be present at rest. The athlete may also become moody, easily irritated, have altered sleep patterns, become depressed, or lose the competitive desire and enthusiasm for the sport. Some will report decreased appetite and weight loss. Physical symptoms include persistent muscular soreness, increased frequency of viral illnesses, increased incidence of injuries, and abnormal heart rates.
Signs of Overtraining
* Changed sleep patterns

* Moodiness

* Excessive muscle soreness

* Mental focus decreases & loss of motivation

* Altered appetite

* Frequent injury or illness

* Lack of physical energy (fatigue)

* Abnormal heart rate
The implications of this information are that after reaching a certain level of fatigue it is critical that allow your body to recover, either by rest or easy recovery workouts. Rather than dealing with the problem once it occurs, it would be better to institute some basic measures in your daily life to avoid overtraining before it begins.

Ways to Avoid Overtraining
* Develop a periodized training program and use a heart rate monitor to follow it

* Follow your plan not your training partners

* Set goals

* Keep a training log

* Eat properly

* Sleep well

* Deal with non training stress (work, family, etc)

* Stretch, Ice, Massage

* Get a physical and blood tests every 6 months

* Rest. Take a day off each week, or even a few if necessary
Develop a Training Plan
There are precise energy systems that need to be worked for certain amounts of time, and a periodized training plan is the only way to achieve this.  I recommend finding a coach to help you in this endeavor, as they will be able to use their expertise to design a program based around your individual abilities and schedule.  Developing a plan of attack in your training will keep you from logging junk, focus your training, and ensure that you have built in periods of rest so that your body can recover and you can avoid overtraining.
One of the best ways to monitor your training is through the use of a heart rate monitor. If your heart rate is significantly above or below your normal range than schedule an easy session or take the day off and tackle that workout another time.

Train your Schedule
Many athletes are chronically overtrained trying to keep up with their training partners, or someone they know who has had success. Don’t copy anyone else’s training schedule. Their specific needs may be different than yours. You may respond better to speed than endurance, or your body may require more or less rest before your next hard session than your training buddy. Also, if you have a specific workout scheduled then set your monitor limits to beep when you are out of the prescribed zone. Then you can tell your buddies, “Sorry, but I have to follow my program.”

Set Goals
You should establish goals to ensure that your training is focused on developing your energy systems correctly.  You will need to ask yourself what you expect to achieve from your training program. Do you expect to improve your efficiency, your speed, your power, your endurance, or all of these things?  Establishing goals ensures that you have a training program that leads you to these goals.  You will find that your goals help motivate you while training alone, creating a sense of personal satisfaction from the workouts
Setting goals also requires you to be realistic. If you’re new to triathlon don’t let your goal be to win half of the races you enter. Set your goals conservatively at first and you will be pleased with your results. Setting goals too high may push you train beyond your capacity, which could lead to overtraining.

Keep a Log
A training log is a great way to monitor athletic progress, but it is also a useful tool in keeping an eye on your body and its level of fatigue. In addition to keeping track of distance and intensity of workouts, you should record your morning heart rate, weight, general health, how the workout felt, levels of muscular soreness, number of hours of sleep, and fatigue. Any significant changes in these parameters may signal overtraining, and you should adjust your training accordingly.

Eat Properly
Ensure that not only are you getting in enough calories in the right proportion of carbohydrates, protein and fat in your diet, but also that what you are putting into your body is providing you with the vitamins and minerals any athlete needs.  Consumption of carbohydrates, specific proteins, other supplements, and water, during and after exercise can bridge the gap between potentially excessive training and racing, and exceptional performance.  Everyone is somewhat individual in his or her dietary needs, but fewer processed foods and more natural foods are better. A diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables, lean beef and chicken, and whole grains will, in most cases, yield the best results and help keep your body from getting run down.

Many people forget how important sleep is to the recovery process. The amount of sleep and the quality of sleep both affect your body’s recovery. While sleeping, growth hormone is released which is necessary for the body to regenerate, and the more you sleep the more hormones that are released.  The quality of sleep is affected by the sleep cycle.  Each night the body goes through numerous phases of sleep called a “sleep cycle”. These cycles are repeated many times during the night to give us a restful sleep experience.  So, even if you are able to get to sleep, if your body is restless and doesn’t go through the normal cycles it is used to you won’t get quality sleep. Medications are often of some help, but the most important things you can do to improve your sleep are: decreasing or eliminating caffeine from your diet, learning how to relax, and developing proper “sleep habits”.  By ensuring you are getting enough quality sleep time, you will help reduce fatigue and avoid overtraining.

Deal with Stress
Everyone has a certain amount of stress in his or her lives and the body usually has enough coping strategies to deal with everyday life. Occasionally, we are overcome by the extra stresses in our lives. This can dramatically affect your attitude, training, and sleep cycle. The stress of non-training factors can affect you physically as much as an intense workout, so it is important to find ways to coping with stress so that it doesn’t help lead to a state of overtraining.

Stretch, Icing, Massage
It is important look after all those aches and pains through adequate stretching, icing, and massage.  You need to be icing any small aches that have popped up, you need to keep stretching to ensure that you stay flexible, and you need to get massage to help flush your system.  They will help decrease inflammation and tissue tightness in problem areas, improve circulation, flush out muscle waste products, and lengthen muscles.  Try to stretch once a day (at the end is best), ice your legs after every hard run/bike or whenever an ache pops up, and get on a massage table at least once a month (or alternatively use a foam roller regularly) to break up any muscular adhesions, and you will notice an improvement in the way your body feels and functions.
Get a Physical
A yearly physical is a must, and I recommend athletes get one every 8 months. We tend to think that we are above serious illness because we are in great shape, but a routine physical may detect a viral illness or a need in your body for more iron, calcium, electrolytes, etc. Finding and fixing a health problem may lead to a huge improvement in your training and racing, and will help keep you from getting run down.
Get enough rest to recover from training. Recovery happens during times of rest. During recovery the body mends the damage of training and grows a little stronger than before. Rest time is also when glycogen stores are replenished between workouts, and not allowing adequate rest leads to a decrease in performance. If the training workload remains high with decreased rest time, overtraining becomes a real threat. Most amateurs, especially those with families and demanding jobs, don’t get enough rest. A day off, this means no physical training, is a must for all triathletes, and it is ok to take more than 1 in a week if necessary.

The treatment for the overtraining syndrome is rest. The longer the overtraining has occurred, the more rest required. Therefore, early detection is very important. It is important that the factors that lead to overtraining be identified and corrected, otherwise, the overtraining syndrome is likely to recur.  Of course it is best to avoid overtraining altogether.  A well-planned training program, and a coach that can help you navigate this sometimes-tricky water, is the path to faster times and good health.

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