Listening to your body and understanding your limits can be a difficult thing to recognize for athletes at any level. Most athletes who exercise regularly have no problem taking rest days to recover; however some athletes who train too frequently for specific athletic events, may see signs of overtraining syndrome. Proper rest and active recovery days can benefit your body to repair muscle fibers that are often fatigued and stressed during constant training. Common symptoms of overtraining syndrome include: washed-out feeling, tired, drained, lack of energy, mild leg soreness, general aches and pains, pain in muscles and joints, sudden drop in performance, insomnia, headaches, decreased immunity and damage to the central nervous system over time.
Over the past ten years, I have trained for various athletic events and experienced several of these symptoms from over training syndrome. I began to notice I would often get sick while training for events. It wasn’t until I started to have dedicated rest/active recovery days that my decreased immunity to basic colds, went away. Another common issue amongst athletes who do not incorporate proper recovery techniques in their training plans is insomnia. Insomnia can put your body at a higher risk for musculoskeletal injuries. Some athletes avoid the common symptoms of over training by, using cross training activities, getting a sport massage, and most importantly, ensuring plenty of rest and recovery.
Rest and recovery should be as important after a major athletic event as it is before the event.
Many athletes do not allow enough recovery time after a major athletic event that has taken a toll on the body, weather they know it or not. Recently, I had a conversation with a friend who was the first place winner of the Ultimate Suck for the female division. After completing the Ultimate Suck event, she ran a 7 mile savage race the following weekend and got a stress fracture in her ankle one mile in. She was able to finish the race, but the lasting impacts of the stress fracture have subsequently taken her out of several future events. In Vermont she was unable to compete in the Ultra Beast because of the injury, even though she had been anticipating a strong finish a. Last year, I had the same issue after completing the South Carolina Spartan Beast. I felt resilient post-race day, and decided to continue training without rest at my usual fitness level. One week later while on a run I tore my calf muscle. Not only was the injury painful, my doctor told me I was out of training for 6 weeks. From my personal experiences, I have learned that taking a few days off from a major event is a smart choice that can help reduce many symptoms of over training. Rest days also allow me to be able to get back out on the trail or in the gym with a fresh mind and reduce the feeling of being “burnt out.”
My recommendations to reduce some of the effects of over training syndrome and help to maintain fitness levels would be to: train smarter, modify your training program and keep a training log of your daily feelings in regard to work outs.
Doing the same workout everyday can cause not only boredom, but can make some feel like they are stuck in limbo with their improvements. Train smart by focusing on variation in exercises. For example, if you are training for a marathon try subsisting one of your low mileage days with a strength training work out to reduce boredom and can help tame the feeling of redundancy in your training program.
Another method to reduce effects of overtraining syndrome is to change your training program or modify it significantly every 6 months. Changing my training program every six months has helped me personally because I do not lose interest in the continually new routine I create for myself. I often change my training program during the winter months from running to strength training, as I prefer running outside during the warmer months. However, every athlete is different and should devise a program that best suits their individual needs.
The last suggestion I have is to keep a training log of how you feel about your work outs and progression. I personally use this log to track my progress and records, but a training log can also help you if you’re beginning to lose progress and enthusiasm. Allowing time to review past workouts and feelings can help motivate athletes to strive for new goals and successes, along with noticing patterns in personal achievements. Reviewing my training log often reveals that some of my best workouts or events are often preceded by active rest days. Overall rest and recovery can be difficult for some of us who enjoy our workouts, which are often the highlight of the day; however, to ensure lifelong success in any form of athletic activity, it is critical to listen to your body and give rest and recovery when and where needed.
This is a guest post by Brandon Seale, a VPX sponsored athlete. He trains for Elite Spartan Races, Ultra Marathons, and various Endurance events. He enjoys training on the trails behind his home in Arlington Virginia. In order to reach his goal of training for extreme elevation and weather conditions, he is preparing for the 2014 Death Race!