It’s easier than you might think to overtrain. We enjoy our sport and want to get out there and be as good as we can. So we train, and then we train harder and then we train a bit harder again. And all the time we’re getting better. So we think “cool, I’ll just train a little harder again and maybe I’ll get to be better than those other sifters”.

Then our performance hits a plateau or starts to decline and we think “shit, I’m obviously not training hard enough. That 5-hour ride round the Akataweras wasn’t enough, I’ll have to do it twice next time”. By now, we’re exhausted but we daren’t give up, or we’ll lose condition. So we just keep going till we get sick, or just get so tired of it that we turn into Mr Blobby sitting in front of the telly every night. Or maybe we keep grovelling on year after year, but we never reach our full potential, and that’s a shame. And all because we forgot that after training, we have to recover.

ColganI did it, and it didn’t take 5 hour rides either. It just took 3 hour-long sessions of weights and 2 hour-long sessions of cardio a week. Nearly every week for two years – even when we went on holiday. Then I crashed. Ian said “You’re overtrained and have been for months”. I said “Rubbish. Lots of people train much harder than me. I don’t work that hard.” Then I read a chapter from “The Power To Perform” by Jon Ackland & Brett Reid and went “Oh. Maybe I was overtraining.” Then I had the blood test done and found out I’d had glandular fever recently. Glandular fever is one of those opportunistic viruses that you get when you’ve overstressed your body and made yourself ill. Read this excerpt from Michael Colgan’s “Optimum Sports Nutrition” to see how training can affect your immune system.

So how to avoid it? Read the overtraining chapter from“The Power To Perform” to get some details from the experts, but here are my personal rules of thumb now :

  • Get plenty of sleep. People’s needs differ, but studies have shown that most people need 7-9 hours sleep a night and a lot of people are chronically sleep deprived. If you’re getting the right kind of breakfast and you still need coffee to get your day started, you’re probably sleep deprived. Try going to bed a few minutes earlier each night and gradually increase the amount you’re sleeping.
  • Don’t train hard every day. Alternate hard days and easy days, and have a rest day at least once a week. You shouldn’t have more than one training session every 48 hours where you go into your anaerobic zone (over 85% of your maximum heartrate).
  • Vary not only your intensity of training, but also your type of training. The concept of “cross-training” became quite popular a little while ago, and everybody got both road and mountain bikes. Another way to vary your training is to do something completely different once or twice a week. Try walking, swimming, weight training, yoga, kayaking, climbing – the list of possibilities goes on and on. And make sure you do some stretching at least twice a week to help prevent injuries.
  • Sometimes you feel a bit tired, but once you get going you feel better. But sometimes you feel deeply tired and once you get going you feel worse. Try something drastic – stop and go home. Your body doesn’t need this today.
  • When you go on holiday, have a holiday from your normal training. Do some different, fun things. And if you don’t have holidays very often, have a “training holiday” every now and then.
  • If your training stops being enjoyable, beware. Train because you want to, not because you should.
  • One way to spot overtraining creeping up on you is to take your pulse every morning before you get up. If you start getting an elevated pulse regularly, cut back a bit.

Remember, just because someone else trains for 15 hours (or 10 or 5) a week and feels fine, it doesn’t mean you can. If you feel tired, have an easy day, or go back to bed for an hour. And every so often have a week where you only do easy or fun stuff. Even pros have an off season where they let their bodies rest. Rest is when your body rebuilds, and if you don’t get enough, it can’t.