Overtraining: Causes, Symptoms, and Prevention

EndurElite Chief Endurance Officer Matt Mosman discusses what causes overtraining, signs and symptoms, and how to prevent it from happening.

Video Transcription:

Overtraining And The Endurance Athlete

Oh, hello there. Are you an endurance athlete who suffers from lack of sleep? Do you find yourself irritable? Do you find your heart rate racing for no reason at all? Have you lost your appetite? If so, you may have children. These creatures keep you awake at all hours of the night, have unreasonable requests that drive you absolutely crazy, and generally like to fight with other siblings. Now, if you have children, here is what you... What's that? Different video? Oh, my bad. So, if you display these signs and symptoms, as an endurance athletes, you may be overtrained. So in today's video, we're gonna discuss what causes overtraining, the signs and symptoms of overtraining, how to prevent overtraining, and in the worst case scenario, what you need to do if you are overtrained already.

What Causes Overtraining?

What Causes Overtraining in runners, cyclists, and other endurance athletes

Now, overtraining is caused by extreme levels of training frequency, volume, and intensity, or a combination of all these variables without sufficient rest or recovery. Now, overtraining is also called Overtraining Syndrome. And Overtraining Syndrome, depending on how far or long you are overtrained, can last anywhere from a few days, a few weeks, a few months, and, in some cases, Overtraining Syndrome has ruined athletic careers. Now, let's go back to a few of those variables that cause overtraining and discuss them real briefly.

So, extreme levels of frequency could be going from exercising three days a week up to seven days a week, or, if you're more of a trained endurance athlete, maybe doubling up on your workouts without letting your body take the time to adapt to that. Increasing training volume, for example, you know, going from running 10 miles a week up to 120 could lead to overtraining. And then, with intensity, that could be doing way too many hard workouts a week, like intervals or something of that nature without allowing sufficient rest between hard sessions. So, that's a little bit of what causes overtraining.

The best way that I like to think of it with overtraining, and probably the simplest explanation is trying to do too much, too fast in the hopes that you're going to see improvements in fitness and become a better endurance athlete more quickly. Now, in a perfect world, that would be great, but the best training strategy is one that is gradual, that slowly builds up the volume, intensity, and frequency, so it allows your body time to adapt and to avoid overtraining.

What Are The Sign And Symptoms Of Overtraining?

So, that in a nutshell is what causes overtraining. Now, what do you want to look for as an endurance athlete, as far as the signs and symptoms of overtraining so you know what to be on the lookout for? So, let me get my glasses back on right here, and let's see what Mr. Powers and Howley says about overtraining. So, if you are overtrained, some of these things may happen to you. Decreased performance, agitation, moodiness, irritability or lack of concentration, excessive fatigue and malaise, increased perceived effort during normal workouts, chronic or nagging muscle aches or joint pain, more frequent illnesses and upper respiratory infections, insomnia or restlessness, loss of appetite, and chronically elevated heart rate at rest and during exercise.

So, most people think that overtraining manifests itself just from a physical standpoint, but it also can manifest from a psychological standpoint. So, if you find yourself not enthused about training or burnt out or something like that, that could be overtraining too. So it can be a combination of both physical and psychological variables that lead to overtraining.

What's The Best Way To Prevent Overtraining?

So, what's the best way to prevent overtraining? And this is my best explanation. The best way to prevent overtraining is through periodized training. Now, what does that mean? That basically means scheduling rest or recovery periods within training blocks, so it allows your body time to rest and recover. So, for example, I'm training for a marathon right now, it is coming three months from now, and what I'm doing is I'm doing four week blocks. The first three weeks, kinda basically go up in intensity and duration, and on that fourth week, I take it down a week to let my body recover. Now, on a bigger picture, I would still do a rest week after three weeks, but then at the end of this marathon, I may take a week to two weeks off to let my body recover.

So, the point being is to avoid overtraining, the best thing to do is periodized training, and to schedule rest and recovery periods, whether it's, you know, a couple of days, a couple of weeks, or a couple of months. But, you know, this begs the question, what do you do if you're already overtrained, and all of you are not going to like this answer.

What Do You Do If You Are Already Overtrained?

If you are already overtrained, and depending on how far along overtrained you are, you just, you need to rest. And this, again, can involve resting for a week, a couple weeks, you know, even a few months in some cases, to let your body recover. You know, if you rest for a week, and you still go out and exercise, and you still feel rotten down, chances are your body's not recovered. So you're gonna have to be patient with the recovery process. So, rest and nutrition comes and plays a big part in preventing overtraining and recovering from overtraining, if you already are overtrained. So, just eating enough calories, eating enough fat calories, protein, and especially carbs.

So that is overtraining in a nutshell, as far as what causes it, the signs and symptoms, how to prevent it, and how to recover from it. Now, I'm going to end this video like this, and I want you to listen very closely. I know, as an endurance athlete, you know, that we think more is always better, and this is not the case. I can tell you right now that no athlete is immune to overtraining. I've worked with thousands of athletes over the years, from, you know, novice to Olympic caliber athletes, and one thing they have in common for long term success, is they have scheduled rest periods within their training blocks.

For example, I used to live and train with an elite group of Kenyan marathoners back in the day. And these guys would train for 10 months out of the year, really hard, and take two months off. And during these two months off, I kid you not, they would slam McDonald's every day, sit in front of the TV, play XBox, and put on about 20 pounds, but they knew that this rest and recovery period from a physical and psychological standpoint was beneficial for them in the long term and helped prepare their body for the vigorous training that was going to come after the two months of rest.

So that's about it for today, my endurance friends. If you want more information on overtraining, go over to the EndurElite blog, www.endurelite.com, where we have a whole article written about this. If you know a friend that has overtrained, or is currently overtrained, please share this video with them, and if you want additional content like this, subscribe to our YouTube channel, where you can see this video and all previous videos on everything endurance-related. Training, supplementation, and nutrition. All right, my endurance friends, until next time. Stay fueled, stay focused, stay fast, and be smart.