Have you ever felt like death warmed over for weeks at a time—like no matter what you did, your interval workouts and races just kept getting slower and slower? You may have been overtrained, a common ailment for Type-A runners and one that can lead to injury. Besides injury, overtraining can even put you on the sidelines for months or years at a time.
But there are signs that you can look for to nip overtraining in the bud. In an effort to learn what these signs are, we looked to six-time Ironman world champion Mark Allen for advice. He’s very familiar with the phenomenon—at the tail end of his career, he got so overtrained that he had to cut back his training for two years to feel normal again.
Here are some signs Allen says to watch out for:
1. You’re more irritable than normal.
2. You’re not sleeping soundly at night. “Maybe you go to sleep like a dead man and wake up and can’t go back to sleep,” says Allen. “Or maybe you sleep fine but you wake up feeling like a Mack Truck hit you.”
3. You have to motivate yourself to get out the door for each and every run.
4. Your legs and arms feel sluggish all the time.
5. You experience sudden weight loss or gain.
6. Your workouts are inconsistent. “If one day you feel like a super hero and the next day you feel like you can barely move, that’s a big sign that you’re getting toward the real danger zone,” says Allen. “Your body is taxing your adrenal system and it’s trying to compensate, so one day it’s able to compensate, but it’s on super drive. But [in the process] it takes every bit of reserve out.”
7. The people around you keep telling you that you don’t seem quite right. “Anybody who is overtrained for a long period, they’re going to deny it and everyone else is going to see it first,” says Allen.
If you believe you are overtrained, there are steps you can take to ensure you get back to normal as quickly as possible. To start things off, Allen recommends that you take two days really easy. If you don’t feel like you’ve bounced back on the third day, cut everything in half for a week and skip all intensity. If you still don’t feel right, begin taking complete days off.
If you have a big race coming up, start by taking two days completely off. “Two days of complete rest will do absolutely nothing to hurt your fitness,” shares Allen. “If you take a week really easy or a few days off and you feel even worse, that’s a sign that you’re probably really overtrained and should back things down a bit.”
Just remember that whatever you do, don’t make the mistake of brushing the signs of overtraining under the rug. “Overtraining is something that should not be taken lightly,” cautions Allen. “If you can nip it in the bud each week or each month instead of plowing through denial for years, then you’ll have a pretty good chance of sustaining fitness and health over the long haul.”