Overtraining & Recovery

Saturday morning, long run, worked hard during the training session, need a little R&R? Ever had that feeling? Ever felt like you’ve hit a plateau? Or ever felt like you’ve come back into training a little too quickly, or too hard?

Overtraining syndrome is a serious set back for many an athlete/weekend warrior. It’s not just about being overtrained, but what it can lead to – injury or worse. Unfortunately we all have that urge/understanding that to get fitter we just have to push ourselves harder and harder, go further and further – “rest is for the wicked”, “sleep when you’re dead” are just some sayings that we should put, ironically, to rest. Yes we need to push ourselves (stress), but we also need to rest (recover).

I’ve had to teach my students about a concept known as the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS). What this entails is understanding that our bodies need to have some form of stress or overload (exercise) applied to them in order to disturb its homeostasis (balance), with this though, one needs adequate recovery in order for a training effect to occur. The below graph shows us that when we place a stress (exercise) onto our bodies, our performance initially decreases, as we keep training (with adequate rest), our bodies build a resistance to the exercise, and our performance returns to its baseline value, or goes beyond it. When this happens, we tend to find that our performance plateaus,  and this is because we are adapting to the exercise. What we do then is change it up, either increase intensity or duration, but essentially change the stressor, so that we can keep adapting. However, if the stressor is too high (e.g. you haven’t run for a while, you do a high intensity run for a long duration, you don’t rest), your performance decreases substantially, and can lead to overtraining syndrome.


So what happens if you rest adequately and you don’t over-stress your body? Simply put, this:


The training load needs to be gradually increased over time in order to elicit long-term improvements in fitness levels. As the fitness levels improve, the balance between training and recovery becomes quite important – training must be hard in order to elicit training adaptation, but adequate recovery must be allowed.

How does one know how much rest is adequate?

The lower the intensity of the training session, the less rest required between exercise sessions utilizing the same muscle groups.You should be aiming for 48 – 72 hours recovery. I know, your mind is now racing.. I need to train every day, I need to do a back to back run… Granted this will be the case, especially for those training for big events. Just be clever! Incorporate more stretching, foam rolling, ice bath (if it works for you), and do a little pre-habilitation when you can. And importantly, make sure you are getting good sleep (approx 7 hrs).

How does one know what the training load should be?

The general rule for developing a training load over time for endurance/aerobic training is increasing either distance, or time to complete a set distance by 10% every week. For strength training, there are different percentages of 1 repetition maximum (1-RM) for different training outcomes.

Strength training goal.jpg

How do I know if I am Overtrained?

  • You lose motivation
  • You stop seeing results
  • You become more restless and anxious
  • You feel more lethargic (general fatigue)
  • You experience chronic soreness in your joints, bones and limbs
  • You get sick more often
  • You experience feelings of depression
  • You can’t sleep and experience insomnia
  • You feel more sore after a heavy training session, compared to normal
  • You lose focus and mental concentration

Remember, overtraining isn’t a phenomenon that happens over night after a single bout of exercise. There is a continuum of overtraining development, if one keeps experiencing overload and overreaching, it will inevitably lead to overtraining:

Continuum of overtraining.jpg

I cannot stress the importance of rest and recovery even more.


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