Oops, I Think I'm
By Kim Morrow
Certified USA Cycling Elite Coach and eliteFITcoach Founder/Head
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
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
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
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.
resting, and racing!