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Triathlon Training Philosophy, Pt IV: Overtraining Syndrome

In the last post we addressed the myth of periodization and why it really does not work for those of us who live in the real world. While the model month of Build + Build + Build + Recovery weeks does not make sense, taking time for recovery still does. But when? The first and most obvious times would be those scenarios discussed in the last post – when life gets in the way and you lack the time to train. When your schedule does allow for long stretches of week after week of continuous training you need to know and listen to your body. Take a look at the following email I recently received from an athlete.

Clearly this is a body asking for rest. It hits on more than one of the signs of Over Training syndrome.

Of course those are the obvious ones. Well ….hopefully they are obvious. There are also a number of secondary signs of overtraining that are not as intuitive.

Sure, when you fall asleep face first in the middle of your ice cream binge maybe it jumps out at you. Yet most of the time the signs listed above either pass by totally unnoticed or, at best, realized in retrospect after performance has deteriorated and/or your injure yourself. Often times the best gauge of your overtraining is a third party. This could be a coach who asks the right questions after seeing notes like the one below. Or, you could check in with your spouse who will likely be happy to tell you about what a grouch you’ve been, how you’ve been worthless at your normal household duties, and that he/she wishes you wouldn’t eat so much in front of company.

Let’s say you identify some signs of overtraining. Then what? Rest! To give credit where credit due, my recovery protocol was taken from 6-time Ironman Dave Scott.

The two days of total inactivity followed by two days of low quality and low volume work are relative. If you are reeeeeeally hurting, take more. If you are simply on the verge of going to a bad place, taking just a single rest day may do the trick. I typically follow up the above protocol with a test to see if my athletes are functioning normal again. This could be a simple short session of moderate hill repeats or short intervals (think 5 x 1:00 run at 5k pace) to see if their legs feel rested and get better as they move through the work out or if there is still significant sluggishness and increasing pain as they progress through the workout. Based on how they feel we adapt the plan and either slow down or press on with regularly scheduled training.

The bottom line: Know and listen to your body.

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