How To Avoid Overtraining Or Runner’s Burn Out

Running Injury & Recovery

Running and exercise can be an addictive pastime and with that comes a danger of doing too much and overtraining. Burnout or overtraining syndrome can seriously impact on your exercise regime and day-to-day life.

Overtraining syndrome is characterized by a number of symptoms including feeling rundown, not being able to complete your usual workouts, constantly catching colds, aches and pains becoming the norm, poor motivation, fitness declining or being stuck on a plateau.

If you share some of these symptoms, then it’s possible you may just be slightly under the weather, but it is possible that you are suffering from workout burnout or overtraining syndrome. The problem when these symptoms arise is that people tend to push harder rather than back off, in an attempt to make up for the loss in performance, which only compounds the issue.

Overtraining not just for athletes

Now before you protest that you ‘only’ go to the gym for an hour a time or only run five days a week so you can’t possibly be overtraining, bear in mind that this is not a problem exclusive to elite athletes. Yes, their overall training volume is far higher than yours, but not only are such athletes genetically gifted, they also schedule ‘down time’ into their programs.

Cause and effect of overtraining

Overtraining is usually caused by training errors, despite the media frenzy over exercise ‘addiction’. The most common mistake is a badly devised program, such as one which includes too rapid progression, or inadequate recovery and rest. Every person has their own physical and psychological limits to the amount of training they can tolerate. Step over this threshold, and you may enter the realms of overtraining.

Overtraining is usually caused by training errors, despite the media frenzy over exercise ‘addiction’.

And don’t be fooled by thinking ‘I could cope before, so why not now?’. You may have been laying the foundations of overtraining for some time. And besides, your capacity to train isn’t set in concrete. Five training sessions a week might be okay for you most of the time, but it can become too much if the kids are at home for the summer holidays, if work is particularly stressful, or if you’re sleeping badly.

Keeping a training log is one way of tracking any mood disturbances or physical changes that may be the first signs. You also have to listen to, and respect, your body’s opinion. Okay, so your schedule might require a threshold run or a spinning class tonight, but if your body is screaming ‘no way!’ you would be wise to heed its advice. One clue of burnout is a resting heart rate that is consistently five beats higher than normal, so you could note that in your training log, too.

Running on empty

Poor diet, particularly inadequate calorie intake, and insufficient carbohydrate and water consumption, is another important factor. Many exercisers don’t cater for the demands that intensive training puts on the system and end up lacking energy for the next session.

Even if you are trying to lose weight, you need to keep your body adequately fuelled and hydrated. Many experts also now recommend that heavy exercisers take an antioxidant supplement to support the immune system.

Tips to avoid overtraining syndrome

The warning signs of overtraining can be physical or psychological. Read through the following statements and tick those that you think apply to you.

List 1:

  1. My normal sleep pattern has changed recently. 

List 2:

  1. My resting heart rate has increased noticeably (by five beats or more, consistently).

Don’t fret about the sessions you are missing – why not focus on improving your mobility and flexibility…

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