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Angela Bekkala: Signs of Overtraining and How to Avoid It

When I first got serious about running, I lived and breathed by my training plan. Whatever it said to do, I did. The thought of overtraining never entered my thoughts. How could it? If I was following a training plan, there is no way I should be over doing it. The plan followed the rules of progression overload so my mileage didn’t jump up too fast or too much.

After what seemed like an endless week of consistently hard effort workouts, even on my easy runs, I realized it wasn’t that I had suddenly become bad at running. Instead, I was a classic example of overtraining.

Marathon training is definitely hard work. You are constantly breaking down and building up new muscle fibers with every run. Of course, you are going to feel tired and sore. But there’s a difference between general soreness and overtraining.

Here are 12 warning signs from your body that you are overtraining:

  • Feeling exhausted, even after getting enough sleep
  • Heavy legs before, during and after runs
  • Emotional highs and lows
  • Appetite changes
  • Consistently higher resting heart rates
  • Lack of motivation for usual workouts
  • Easy workouts consistently feel harder than usual
  • Persistent achiness, stiffness, or pain in the muscles and/or joints (beyond the typical delayed onset muscle soreness felt after a workout)
  • Frequent headaches
  • Drop in athletic performance
  • Not able to complete your normal workout
  • Lowered immune system

So what can you do to ensure you don’t fall into the overtraining trap?

  • Do follow a 10 to 20 percent increase in training volume over a three- to four-week period
  • Do one high intensity training session per week.
  • Don’t do back-to-back challenging workouts.
  • Do make rest and recovery days/weeks a priority.
  • Do control your personal stressors.
  • Do make sleep a big priority.
  • Do make good nutritional choices before, during or immediately after workouts.

Overtraining can be corrected by recognizing the early symptoms. During a recovery day or week, you need to ensure your body is given enough time to rebuild. Recovery is just as essential to a training plan as a long run, tempo or speed session. If you do feel that you are showing signs of overtraining, skipping a few workouts won’t kill your fitness levels. But it will prevent you from sliding into deeper trouble.

And remember, running is something you get to do, not something you have to do.