Top Ten Ways to Avoid Over Training

By Rick Morris

Training to reach your peak potential as a distance runner is like walking a fine line between just enough training and too much training. If you don’t train with enough quality and quantity you will end up under reaching and you won’t achieve your peak potential. If you train with too much intensity or distance you could over reach and end up with over training problems that will decrease your performance levels. The trick is to train just enough to reach new levels of fitness and performance without crossing that line into the over training realm.

Here are our top ten ways to walk that fine line and avoid over training and over training syndrome.

Give it a Break

The first and foremost way to avoid over training is sufficient rest. Hard training doesn’t build you up, it breaks you down. It’s during your recovery from a hard workout that your body builds itself up to new levels of strength and fitness. Make sure your allowing sufficient time between hard workouts for your body to fully or nearly full recover and strengthen.

Get Sack Time

You can also help yourself avoid over training by getting enough sleep. When you’re sleeping your body releases a chemical cocktail, including human growth hormone, that go to work strengthening your muscles and repairing micro trauma caused by your workouts. If you don’t get enough sleep these compounds don’t have a sufficient amount of time to complete their job. Try to get 8 to 10 hours of sleep during periods of heavy training to keep your body strong and your mind sharp.

Eat Up

In order to properly operate, recover and strengthen your body and muscles need a steady supply of high quality carbohydrates, protein and essential fats. Trying to strengthen and recover without those compounds is like trying to build a house without wood, brick and mortar. Make sure you eat a sufficient amount of high quality, preferably organic and natural foods every day.

Go Hard Go Easy

Most distance runners like to train hard. That trait is a double edged sword. The hard and long training runs definitely improve your fitness and running performance, but not without the recovery time that allows the strengthening to take place. You can perform back to back hard workouts on occasion. There are even times when two or three hard workouts in a row can be beneficial. But for the vast majority of your training schedule be sure to follow a hard workout with an easy day to give your body and muscles the time they need to recover and strengthen.

Mix it Up

One of the causes of over training is performing an excessive number of similar workouts or training runs that target a specific pace or phase of your training. Many periodization schemes are guilty of that training sin. For example many programs call for weeks of training that are dedicated only to long endurance runs or tempo runs. Those weeks of heavy emphasis on one phase of training can place excessive stress on your muscles and also on the physiological processes that take place. Not only can your muscles react negatively to the excessive stress, but your central nervous system can also rebel. Follow a year round multi-pace training plan that mixes up your workouts and distributes the stress and training load more equally among all phases of training to help you avoid over training.

Listen to Your Body

Before you become over trained your body will let you know. Your job is to listen to your body. Watch out for the signs of excessive stress in your body including; heavy legs, elevated resting heart rate, excessive muscle soreness, excessive fatigue and increased sense of effort. When you feel the effects of stress take a couple of days off and consider temporarily reducing your training volume and intensity. The brief break will ward off the dangers of over training.

Listen to Your Mind

No all indicators of over training are physical. There are many signs of over training that are mental or psychological in nature. One of the first signs is a decreased enjoyment from your running. If your running and training becomes to feel like a miserable chore rather than a fun activity it may be time to back off a bit. Other psychological indicators include depression, moodiness, and inability to relax.

Be Flexible

Some distance runners think their training program is carved in stone. No training program should be considered that inflexible. You need to adjust your program according to your progress, your fitness level and your health. Adjust your program as you progress through it. If you notice signs of over training, take time off to recover. Don’t blindly follow your program no matter what. You can always make later adjustments to catch up.

Ten Percent Rule

I’m not a big believer in rules and the ten percent rule is no exception. The ten percent rule is generic training rule that says you shouldn’t make more than a 10 percent increase in training load in any one workout. While I don’t like the word rule, this is a good guideline to follow to avoid over training. If you regularly make big jumps in training load you are setting your training table for a possible visit from the over training monster. So, for the most part, you should keep your increases in training volume to less than 10 percent. There are even some that recommend less than 5 percent increases. Use your own judgment based on how you react to training increases and try to make all increases in training load consistently but gradually.

Ice it Down

One of the responses to hard training is inflammation. In fact, one of the more popular theories on over training suggests that over training syndrome is caused by a system wide inflammation. I think you already know that one of best ways to fight inflammation is with ice or hydrotherapy. You can always apply ice directly to a small area, but how about larger or system wide inflammation? Try hydrotherapy. Athletes have been using ice baths or hydrotherapy to assist with recovery for years and I think they are on to something. Fill your tub with cold water, throw in some ice and dive right in. Stay in the tub for as long as you can stand it, but no more than five minutes. You don’t want to add hypothermia to your injury list. The ice baths will help with daily recovery and will also help ward off over training.