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.


Sports Watches (Garmin Specific) – TE and Performance Condition

Majority of the runners in my running group have Garmin devices, and have seemed curious as to what Training Effect (TE) and Performance Condition mean. Both of these measures are Garmin specific and have been developed by a company called Firstbeat Technologies Ltd.

What do they mean and how can one use these values for training?

The Performance Condition generally pops-up between 6-20 minutes into the run, with everyone either being concerned or curious…”why is there a minus?” what does the plus mean?”. Simply put: a positive value is good, negative, not so good – in a little more depth: the positive value indicates, based on your heart rate, anthropometric measures (height, weight), your age, and your pace, as to whether or not you are going to perform well on the run. Whereas a negative value can be indicative of fatigue. You can view this performance measure throughout the run, by adding it as one of the data screens – but if you’re monitoring your HR on a regular basis, you’ll manage just fine.


The Training Effect (TE) is based on your HR, duration and intensity of the workout. It is on a scale of 1.0 – 5.0, indicating the impact of an activity on your aerobic (endurance) fitness.

This TE can be used to help you further monitor your improvements in your aerobic fitness and/or level of fatigue.


*Please read “Overtraining and Recovery”

How does Garmin calculate your TE?

Garmin uses peak EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption) in order to determine TE, combined with your activity class. The activity class is a value that represents your activity level of the previous month, and the class ranges from 0 -7, 7.5 – 10.  EPOC reflects the disturbance of the body’s homeostasis related to exercise. Firstbeat Technologies Ltd (the company hired by Garmin to help add all these features to your watch), uses a heart rate based model to estimate EPOC and thereby TE during exercise.

Activity Class.jpg

The peak EPOC thus determines the TE of the exercise activity, as can be seen in the below figure:


To summarize EPOC:

  • The higher the exercise intensity, and the longer the exercise duration, the more EPOC accumulates
  • The sorter the recovery periods during exercise, the higher the EPOC
  • Exercise recruiting large muscle mass, such as in cross-country skiing, result in higher cardiorespiratory load and intensity of exercise and lead to higher EPOC as compared to exercises recruiting smaller muscle mass
  • EPOC can be evaluated for any given moment during exercise
  • The higher the EPOC, the higher the TE.

How do I use this information to adjust my training?

Training programs for beginners


  • Exercise should be performed regularly 2 – 5 times per week.
  • Easy exercise sessions should be scheduled between harder ones.
  • In addition to endurance exercise, also other types of exercise sessions are needed: strength and flexibility 2-3 times per week each.

Training programs for trained individuals


  • Effective exercise sessions should be done 1 – 4 times per week.
  • Training should be focused on the specific sport in which one wishes to improve.
  • Workouts of long duration and low TE are needed between more demanding workouts to maintain an endurance base.
  • Easier training periods must be scheduled between the more demanding ones.


  • The overall training load of highly active individuals is often very high due to the high intensity, long duration and high frequency of workouts.
  • High training frequency causes single workouts to load the body to a greater extent than otherwise expected, due to residual fatigue.
  • Therefore, all workouts cannot be improving; a few of the weekly training sessions must remain maintaining. Furthermore, even the top endurance athletes need easy weeks between the harder ones to ensure that the body has time to adapt and recover, which allows the level of fitness/performance to improve.
  • Replacing the easy workouts and easier training weeks with harder ones may, in the long term, lead to the development of an overtraining syndrome.

What are the benefits of the different TE’s?



The concept of Overtraining and Recovery is one that all athletes should try and familiarize themselves with. But don’t worry, there is a reason there are individuals who have studied the concepts in detail, they (like me) are here to help you. Read the blog on Overtraining & Recovery for more information

Sports Watches / Wearable Devices – An Introduction

The use of wearable sports/fitness devices has become increasingly popular, not just with elite athletes, but with recreational athletes/weekend warriors/people just wanting to improve their health and well-being (1-5). As the devices have been further developed, each device has many added features; in addition to the heart rate monitor, the GPS, and the stopwatch, the watches now have features that extend beyond just running/counting steps, but multi-sport. Although not all watches may be multi-sport, the watches will have additional information popping up once you have done your exercise session – vertical oscillation, step frequency/cadence, heart rate zones, recovery hear rate, performance indicator, maximal O2 uptake (VO2max), Lactate threshold, O2 saturation, and EPOC (excess post-exercise O2 consumption) to name a few. – If one purchases add-on’s for bicycles one can get power readings and Functional Threshold Power (FTP) as well. Oh and most of the newer watches are all Bluetooth enabled… so you connect to Garmin Connect or Strava etc, people follow you, give you “kudo’s”/”like’s” and it becomes a socio-motivational factor (3).

It’s all very exciting, and “snazzy” (especially if your watch receives smart notifications). But what does it all mean? How can one benefit from the information? Is it good to exercise with a sports/fitness device all the time? How accurate is the information my watch is giving me? Should I go and get the values tested by an expert? – these are just some of the questions I have heard (overhearing other people’s conversations), and I think they are good questions to pose.

My observations have lead me to believe (and partially fall into the trap) that “I need a new watch to fit in” / “Everyone else’s watch does this, I need to upgrade mine”. It would seem that this trap is dominated by the recreational athletes/weekend warriors rather than the elite athletes; and may be compounded by the medical aids providing benefits when one uses the devices on a regular basis (I use mine to help track daily activity to get points for my medical aid). Although this initiative is great for getting people active and healthy, and rewarding them accordingly, it can be an expensive endeavour.

So you’ve bought this “fancy” sports watch (it doesn’t just tell the time), and you’ve noticed you have more information popping up when you review the history – what does it mean?

I will be writing a series of posts, trying to cover all of the different components of the data provided, to help guide you into understanding what the data actually means, and how you can use it to help improve your running.

I received my first fitness device in 2014, a Garmin Forerunner 15. I had never really been a runner, however, had started running a little more at the end of 2011 / start of 2012, but battled to pace myself as I had no sense of how far I had run on the road; so when I got the Garmin Forerunner 15, I was thrilled to say the least. It made a major difference – I now had a way on not only monitoring the distance I covered and the pace of my run, but my heart rate as well. Then I kept striving to go faster or do longer runs, to constantly create new records. When I went onto my current medical aid, I tracked my daily activity a little more seriously (need the points, you know!), but besides this, I noticed a significant improvement in my intrinsic motivation to run – it was no longer too much of a drag to go for a run!


  1. Sultan, N. (2015). Reflective thoughts on the potential and challenges of wearable technology for healthcare provision and medical education. International Journal of Information Management, 35: 521-526.
  2. Yang, R., Shin, E., Newman, M.W., and Ackerman, M.S. (2015). When fitness trackers don’t “fit”: End-user difficulties in the assessment of personal tracking device accuracy. ACM. http://dx.doi.org/10.1145/2750858.2804269
  3. Tholander, J. and Nylander, S. (2015). Snot, Sweat, Pain, Mud, and Snow – Performance and Experience in the Use of Sports Watches. CHI. http://dx.doi.org/10.1145/2702123.2702482

Running Shoes – Endless Choices?

So you’ve decided, “new year, new you”, and you are wanting to take up running, so you walk to your cupboard and notice you don’t have any running shoes… off to the shops you go.

Staring at the shelves of shoes, you’re so confused, do you go with Asics, New Balance, Saucony, Puma, Nike (and the list continues)? Do you choose the ones with the most colourful design, or do you choose the more practical shoes, that will go with any of your running outfits?

There are a few things we need to understand about how we run before we buy any shoes, but there are some baseline rules. So what are the Baseline rules? (let’s start with these)

  1. Go for a neutral shoe – unless you are overweight or have been diagnosed, by a podiatrist as having over-pronating or supernating feet, go with neutral.
  2. Make sure you’re choosing the right shoe for the type of terrain you will be running on – road (lighter shoes and withstand continual impact with hard ground) or trail (more ankle support, thicker soles and more traction)
  3. Make sure the shoe fits – the wrong fit can result in many problems, ranging from blisters and chafing, to sprained ankles or knee pain

Did you know that during running, you subject your feet to approximately 2.5 times your body weight with each stride? As a result, it’s important to understand the different factors involved in finding the right shoes for you – buy the correct shoes, and save your feet.

What injuries can one get from running/walking?

Generally, our feet move in a neutral motion, called pronation; sometimes our feet over-pronate or supinate. When our feet over-pronate or supinate, injuries are most likely to occur.

Over-pronator injuries:

  • Achilles tendonitis (inflammation of the achilles tendon)
  • Arch pain
  • Knee pain
  • Rigid big toe and sesimoiditis (inflammation of tendon running over the sesimoid bones in your feet)
  • Hip and lower back pain

Supinator injuries:

  • ITB syndrome
  • Plantar Faciitis (inflammation of the facia of the plantarflexors in the foot)
  • Achilles tendonitis

So, what does pronation, over-pronation and supination look like? And, how can one tell if one is neutral, over-pronating, or supernating?

Ever listened to your grandparents or parents talk about their experiences as a kid, and you learn an ounce of a lesson from their experiences? Well, your old running shoes tell a similar story…


Some of you may already be running and are due for new running shoes, and may be wondering, “I’ve been happy with my shoes so far, do I really need new ones?”. Yes, but no :). The reason for the Yes – you should be replacing your running shoes every 300 to 500 miles (482 to 805 km); however, this does vary according to each person. It is dependent on the persons build, running style and training load. But in general, the closer you get to 300 miles (482 km) start breaking in a new pair. Why did I say no? well it’s simple: “why fix something if it’s not broken” – not literally, what I am implying is, if the shoe that you’ve been running in has caused you no problems, keep going back to the same brand, make and model of the shoe, if you know you’re going to be doing high mileage, buy the same shoe twice :). Sometimes the make and model may no longer be on the shelves in the shops, then go for the updated version of said shoe – don’t jump brands because you like how they look. Although we are only human and are attracted by pretty colours, please don’t choose a shoe based on that.

Although running could be considered a “cheaper” sport – you will need to pay a little extra for a good pair of running shoes, and if you get caught up in the fitness watches trend, it can become quite an expensive endeavour. But the health benefits of running are so immense that it sort of makes it a little easier to buy the running shoes ;). So what are these health benefits… well I’ll cover these another time :).

If you are still uncertain, go to your local running shoe store to find out if they do video analysis. I can provide personal accounts for two places in KZN, namely Durban Runner and Poobie Naidoos (PMB), the guys that work there are truly “jacked up” and know their stuff – quite a few are runners themselves – and are very clued up in giving you the best advice to find the right shoe for you.