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How to Spot & Prevent Overtraining When Running

Keeping a regular running routine will help you lose weight, boost fitness level, and get into the best shape of your life. But it’s possible to have too much of a good thing.

And one of the biggest risks, besides the injuries, is the burnout.

Therefore, today I’m sharing with you some of my go-to tactics that can help you gauge and handle overtraining right.

So if you have been running a lot lately, this post is perfect for you.

Nevertheless, if you are a beginner runner, this post will also teach you a lot on overtraining and to handle things so once you decide to up the ante.

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Image Credit  – Chris Nuzzaco via Flickr

How to Spot & Prevent Overtraining When Running

Overtraining happens when you engage in extended periods of intense exercise without sufficient rest or appropriate training periodization. If you kept on working out in an overtrained state, then you end up injured, exhausted or even sick.

In other words, overtraining takes place when you log in too many miles too quickly without letting your body recover and/or properly adapt to the training stimulus.

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Image Credit – The CUT method via Flickr

The Signs of Overtraining

Keep a keen eye on your body and pay attention to early warning signs of overtraining to gauge when to keep going forward and when to back off by learning to recognize these common overtraining warning signs.

Chronic Illness. Overtraining can interfere with your immune system, which leaves you more susceptible to chronic illnesses—especially upper respiratory tract infections, like the common cold, flue, coughing, congestion, etc.

Stalled performance. A burnout can also greatly hamper power, endurance, strength and/or speed during your workouts.

Elevated heart rate. If your restring heart rate (RHR) is higher than usual for more than a few days, then this is a sure-fire sign of overtraining. Keep tabs on your RHR each morning as soon as you wake up and start charting it out from week to week.

Persistent fatigue. Overtraining can increase the release of the stress hormone and the span of time it takes for your body to recover between runs. So if you feel drowsy and dozy all day long—even after a good night of sleep, then that’s a clear sign that you might be doing too much

Undesired weight loss. If you start noticing the scale tipping down while you are still on the same diet and training program and you have no intentions to lose weight, then this is maybe another sign of overtraining.

Mood Swings. This is a no-brainer. An overtrained runner is easily tetchy and loses temper faster than usual. Why? Pushing the envelope too much can hamper the production of catecholamine, which is hormone that influences the sympathetic nervous system.

Dehydration. The clearest sign of dehydration, no pun intended, is pee color. So if your urine color is dark yellow, then you are dehydrated and could be another sign of overtraining.

Insomnia. Overtraining interferes with your body’s circadian rhythms, which can compromise sleep quality. This also can limit the release of growth hormones—key for recovery.

Persistent pain and/or Injury. Another natural process that overtraining messes with your body’s recovery process, which can set the stage for persistent aches and injuries.

Measure it Up

This is where the rubber meets the road, sort of speak.

Now that you have, hopefully, a clear understanding of the red flags. Next thing to do is start counting them to gauge where you are at.

GREEN LIGHT: 0-2

No reason to panic here. You are safe to push it a bit further.

CAUTION: 3-4

You can go ahead with your running program, but bring it down a notch until some of the red flags subside.

DANGER ZONE: 5-9

This is where you risk hurting yourself if you keep it up without taking the right recovery measures.

As a result, if you tally more than 5 red flags, then it may be time to take a step back from your running routine, recover, and take a close look at the volume and intensity of workload, and put into practice some of the measures I’m sharing with you below.

Preventing Overtraining

Here are some of the best strategies I know of to help you handle overtraining.

For more strategies, check out my in-depth post on recovery principles here.

1. Rest

The exact amount of time you need to fully recover from an overtraining episode depends on how severe your symptoms are and how quickly your body can bounce back.

But as a general guidelines, I urge you to take as many recovery days or weeks as you need before you start running again.

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Image Credit – Kchwaz via Flickr

If you are severely overtrained, then take at least 4 to 6 weeks of complete rest before you even think about running again. Of course, during this time, you can choose to cross train by doing low impact activities, such as walking, low intensity biking, swimming, and yoga.

Here are some crosstraining routines that can help:

6 Bodyweight Glute Exercises For Runners
The 9 Yoga Poses Every Runner Should Do
Top 7 Yoga Core Poses for Runners
The Seven Best Strength Training Exercises For Runners
8 Standing Post-Run Stretches For Runners

2. Better Sleep

The better you sleep, the better you will perform in all areas of life.

Proper sleep ensures that nature is taking its natural course and that your body is releasing the key hormones for recovery and growth.

So get at least 8 hours of high quality sleep during the night’s time. You can also add naps to your schedule if that suits you.

3. Nutritious Diet

Your body needs the right amounts of complex carbohydrates, lean protein, and healthy fats to ensure proper recovery between workouts. So make sure to replenish your tanks immediately after a run by opting for a post-workout meal of a 2:1 ratio of carbs to protein to speed up muscle recovery and reduce tenderness.

And as a general eating guideline, aim to eat plenty of lean protein, fresh fruit, complex carbs, vegetables, and healthy fats to provide your body with the right mix of nutrients.

That’s, after all, the building blocks of a healthy and nutritious diet.

4. Drink Plenty of Water

Make proper hydration a priority during training and non-training days alike. Drink plenty of water before you run, during your runs (if you are planning to go for more than 45-minute), and immediately following a workout.

My best advice here is to build the habit of drinking water throughout the day. There is no way around it.

5. Have a Recovery Day

Space out your hard training days with at least one day of full recovery. You can choose to do nothing that day, or do some form of active recovery—light exercise during the recovery phase—is also vital. Some of the best active recovery activities for runners include walking, low intensity biking, light jogging, swimming and my favorite, yoga.

Check my recovery yoga routine at:

6. Add a Recovery Week

Periodize your running program by introducing a lower-intensity, lower-duration week—also known as recovery week—into your training program every third or fourth week. During that week, aim to significantly reduce your running in terms of intensity and volume so that your body can bounce back and adapt better. This will help you increase your performance without running the risk of injury or burnout.

Conclusion

Here you have it!

The above measures can help you handle overtraining without going crazy. Nonetheless, if you want more, then you should check my indepth guide on proper recovery practices.

In the meantime, thank you for reading my post.

Feel free to leave your comments and questions below.

David D.

Featured Image Credit – Juan Ortiz via Flickr

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David Dack

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