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Overtraining is one of those nebulous catch-all terms that coaches and athletes fear like the plague. After all, with highly competitive and slightly obsessive compulsive runners the issue is not in prodding them to do more work, but instead in holding them back just enough to keep them from reaching into this unwanted zone of overtraining. Typically, we think of overtraining as a physical state where our body has reached its limits in adapting and recovering from the work we have prescribed.

We can break this down physiologically and talk about the muscles not being fully repaired from training related damage, the hormonal shift towards breaking down processes, or even the nervous system switching into a more stressed state. All of these physiologic consequences can in fact happen, and they all indicate a mismatch in this balance of training stress and recovery. As a result of this, the prescription for recovering from overtraining is often rest or a much reduced training load.

But if we look at things from a psychobiological standpoint, this makes little sense. We may be giving the body physical recovery, but what we fail to realize is that this insistence to rest often creates an overreaction in the body. A recent study showed that when they took regular endurance athletes and then forced them to take time off, symptoms of depression and mood changes actually increased. Or from a physical point of view, if we get a stress fracture, the bone will actually heal quicker if there is a small stimulus to adapt in the terms of weight bearing loading, versus if we simply walked around with crutches and put no weight on the bone.

Many modern day diseases are now be classified as diseases of civilization, meaning that they are related to our modern insistences on comfort and monotony. We try to eliminate all stressors from our lives and instead end up with chronic low-grade stress instead of the natural ebb and flow of an acute stress followed by a nice recovery. While what we often have in over training is either too much work or too little recovery, to fix that problem with often go to the other extreme of full recovery and take away all stress.

What we’re looking for is not solely eliminating the training but instead restore this natural ebb and flow of acute stress and recovery. By doing so, we can get an athlete out of the over trained state and back on track to. The following strategies can be used to combat over training syndrome and reset your body so that you can make yourself resilient to over training.

Train differently:

Research has found that one of the many variables related to overtraining is actually monotony. The simple act of doing the same type or pattern of training leads to an increased likelihood of over training. The reasoning behind this is simple, the monotony creates a lack of mental and physical stimulus from which to adapt off of. Instead of falling into your same pattern of training, introduce something new. Do a different workout type, go to a new training venue, or even break away from the restricted interval workout to a more free flowing fartlek workout. Get out of the habit of having a set cycle and instead institute what we’d call big modulation, where there are large variations in the amount, intensity, and type of training each day in the week instead of your normal pattern.

Go outside:

            In an interesting study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, it was found that doing exercise in outdoor spaces had a large impact on a variety of indices of mood that are related to restoring willpower. This psychological impact of impacting mood and what we call affect creates a positive recovery state. Instead of jumping on the treadmill when your fit or cross-training on the elliptical when you’re injured, go outside for a run or take the Elliptigo for a spin. Just the simple act of being outside will help from a psychobiological standpoint of putting you in a better place to recover.

Introduce Mini-Workouts:

            Another study in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, showed that overtraining was related to both a high and low training load, meaning that those who trained too easy actually showed signs of stress. To combat this, introduce “mini” workouts where instead of doing a full blown interval workout, do one that includes about 60-70% of the volume. For instance, if normally, you would do 10×400 in 75 seconds, do 6×400 at the same pace. By reducing the volume of the workout and keeping the intensity we still get a small physiological stressor without pushing one over the edge physically or mentally.

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