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Are you running too much? Tips to prevent overtraining.

Are you running too much?

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You train hard with the best of intentions, but too much running can actually lead to a drop in performance. Andrew Cate looks at the warning signs of overtraining, and what you can do to prevent it.

What is overtraining?
Regular running training can do a lot to boost your health, but there's a limit. Overtraining (also called Unexplained Underperformance Syndrome) could be described as the point where your training program goes beyond the body's ability to recover. This can be hard for some runners to grasp, who figure that if some exercise is good, more must be better. Whether you run too hard, too often, or for too long, or a combination of all three, there is not enough time for recuperation. This can wear your body down, and injury problems can begin to occur. Distance runners are thought to be an at-risk group for overtraining.

Warning signs of overtraining
It’s sometimes difficult for an enthusiastic runner who enjoys intense training to acknowledge that they are doing too much. So, it’s important to be aware of the physical and emotional signs of overtraining before problems arise. The warning signs of overtraining include:

  • a drop in your physical performance
  • soreness in your muscles or joints that doesn’t dissipate after 48 hours.
  • increases in resting heart rate and resting blood pressure
  • difficulty sleeping or feeling unrefreshed after a full night’s sleep
  • loss of coordination
  • headaches
  • increased incidence of colds and infection
  • irritability
  • general fatigue
  • reduced sex drive

Basic steps to prevent overtraining

  • Listen to your body – If you notice any of the warning signs of overtraining, ease up on your training load. Don’t wait for an injury to convince you that you need to slow down. Imagine the frustration of an injury, and how it would bring your training to a halt. Focus on the big picture.
  • Have rest days - Physical activity places stress on your body, damaging your muscle tissue, skeleton and cardiovascular system. This damage is at a cellular level, and is part of the way your body adapts and prepares itself to perform at a higher level in the future. Your body actually gets stronger, denser and fitter during recovery, not when you’re exercising. That’s why rest, adequate sleep and proper nutrition is so important.
  • Cross train – Recuperation doesn't always have to mean complete rest. You can alternate between a hard day of running with an easy day walking. You could also alternate between activities that still boost your fitness, but that target other muscle groups and joints not involved in running, such as swimming, boxing classes or paddling.
  • Speak to your doctor – It’s hard to recognise overtraining in yourself, so seek out the opinion of a doctor, who can examine symptoms like you blood pressure, and make an informed assessment.
  • Don’t compare - Don't expect to exercise for two hours a day just because your fit friend does. Everybody is different, and it’s important to work at your own pace. The body needs time to adjust, adapt and recuperate.
  • Cycle your training – Include different phases of intensity in the months leading up to a competitive event. Include bursts of high intensity training, with longer, slower runs, and make sure to taper back your training in the week or two leading up to an event. This is sometimes referred to as periodisation.