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Oops, I Think I'm Overtrained

By Kim Morrow
Certified USA Cycling Elite Coach and eliteFITcoach Founder/Head Coach

What do you do when you, as a competitive athlete, are just plain worn out? Occasionally I answer e-mails from cyclists around the globe who are concerned that they may be in a state of overtraining. They are no longer able to complete the same workouts they easily completed earlier in the year. They may be extremely fatigued, despite getting hours of sleep, and wonder what to do. Most of these athletes are self-coached, and inevitably ask, "How long will it take for me to recovery from this fatigued state?" 

First, let’s look at some of the major symptoms of overtraining in endurance athletes. One of the main warning signs is a consistent decrease in an athlete’s training or racing performance. If you are concerned about this, compare your current condition with previous race performances.  For example, is there a consistent decrease in your intensity, power, race results, and motivation to train or race?

Other symptoms may include decreased muscular strength, loss of appetite, delayed or prolonged recovery, changes in resting and exercise heart rates, general apathy, lack of concentration/focus, lack of tenacity when the going gets tough, a bacterial infection, decreased serum ferritin, decreased hemoglobin, elevated cortisol levels, and a general state of fatigue.

How long will the recovery period be if an athlete consistently exhibits the above symptoms? Well, this is one of the areas where the distinction between “overtraining” and “overreaching” is highlighted,  although this is not so easily definable, since trained athletes move along a continuum which includes detraining, undertraining, ideal training, overreaching, and overtraining. But, if the accumulation of training stresses, (and real life stresses), have you in a state of "overreaching", then several days or several weeks of proper rest/recovery will usually get you back to your normal performance capabilities. However, if you are in a state of "overtraining", then this could take several weeks to several months.

Each one of us is unique. The training plan that may put you in a fatigued state may work perfectly for another athlete. The recovery period needed for each athlete will vary greatly. That is why it is important to have individual training programs for each athlete, and if possible, to have your own personal coach. A coach can add the objective eyes and ears that a motivated endurance athlete needs. Most of us are passionate and diligent in our training. And, I rarely have to challenge one of my coached athletes to work harder. Usually, I end up encouraging them to REST more, and to remind them that rest is an important part of the training process.

If you are concerned that you may be overtraining or overreaching, I’d recommend that you get checked out by your own physician. Then, I’d encourage you to continue to focus on the areas of your life that you can control, and that will affect your recovery. Focus on good nutrition (fresh fruits/veggies, lean protein, limited amounts of refined sugar, etc.). In addition, try to limit other life stresses as much as is possible, and reduce both the volume and intensity in your training. How long will this take until you get the spring back in your step and/or the "snap" back in your legs? Unfortunately, that is not a question I can answer definitively, as again, each athlete is unique, and each will recover at their own pace.

But here are a few final suggestions:

1) Be patient. This may take a bit longer than you want it to, especially if you are overtrained.

2) REST, REST and more REST. (Active recovery rides in zone 1 are fine.)

3) Keep a training diary of your recovery progress which includes the monitoring of your sleep, fatigue levels, stress, resting HR, etc.

4) Consider conducting a simple field test every few weeks in order to assess your recovery progress. The key is to note when your training is back to "normal" performance levels.

5) Schedule a follow-up appointment with your physician in another two months or so.

6) Remember that a delay in addressing this issue will only prolong the problem.

7) Consider making an assessment of this year's training program, to determine what you might do differently next year, and to record what you have learned.

Happy training, resting, and racing!

~Kim Morrow



Kim Morrow has competed as a Professional Cyclist and Triathlete, is a certified USA Cycling Elite Coach, a 4-time U.S. Masters National Road Race Champion, a Masters World Road Race Champion, and a Fitness Professional. Her coaching group, eliteFITcoach, is based out of the Southeastern United States, although they coach athletes across North America.

Kim also owns BicycleCoach.com, a resource for cyclists and coaching professionals worldwide. To find out more about Kim, please go to BicycleCoach.com and visit her Professional Profile page: http://www.bicyclecoach.com/profile.php?id=kim@eliteFITcoach.com


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