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What is Overtraining Syndrome and how to avoid it?

Overtraining Syndrome is a condition that should be avoided at all costs. It is a result of a long-term accumulation of unplanned, extra load in workouts without sufficient recovery. It can take a long time to recover from this condition if severe.

It is common for Endurance athletes to push themselves and get fitter. The mentality of more is good is not true after a certain point. Unchecked Increase in volume and intensity for long periods of time and insufficient recovery is a recipe for disaster.

This is why periodization exists. Careful planning of workouts according to volume, intensity and/or TSS(total stress score) is important. This is where a coach is necessary.

Careful planning of a macrocycle (6-12 months), mesocycles (3-4 weeks) within it , microcycle (1 week) and the individual workouts in them is key!

What you should know about is the General Adaptation Syndrome(GAS) and the Fitness -Fatigue paradigm.

These two generally states that, after the rise in fatigue after a workout, there is short term decrease in fitness due to this. Sufficient recovery post this will result in a higher baseline fitness. This ideal scenario done many times back to back results in improved fitness. An upwards trajectory.

But if the recovery is insufficient, a overall downward trajectory happens. Beyond a certain point you reach the overtraining zone.

There is something called functional overreaching which is a planned fatigue inducing workouts or series of workouts that is MEANT to fatigue you and push you. It is carefully planned such that even after a period of fatiguing days or week, you have sufficient recovery planned for this. This is something necessary or adaptation.

Non functional overreaching is when you start straying into the danger zone where these workouts have too much fatigue and less recovery planned for them.

When you keep non functional overreaching for a considerable amount of time, you reach the overtraining zone. Keep in mind that to get to this point, you need a long time of doing unplanned workouts that hard too hard, too long with little rest.

The use of the word recovery mentioned above includes, sleep, nutrition, rest days, training load.

Signs to look out for and when to pull back training are :

Physical signs -

1. Loss of hunger despite high training load

2. Unusually sore muscles or sharp pains

3. Suppressed or elevated morning HR

4. Broken sleep and/or night sweats

5. Sunken eyes or fatigue around the eyes (bags)

6. Poor posture/slumped shoulders

1. General apathy about training

3. Lack of confidence

4. Unusually quiet/depressed

Workout signs -

1. Dropped stroke rate during swim sessions

2. Suppressed HR even with high effort in combination with high RPE

3. High RPE during easy workouts

4. Increases HR for sub maximal effort(more that normal)

5. High RPE during easy rides/workouts

6. Reduction in power in interval efforts(lesser than usual) with high RPE

7. Lazy flip turns or reaching for equipment in the pool

Listening to the body is key.

Some pointers to note if you are using training peaks are -

1. Plan your ATP (annual training program) in TrainingPeaks which will help periodize the training and give you a framework of volume/TSS to abide by

2. Do not let the weekly CTL (form) be less than -30 for more than a couple weeks. This is a general rule you can follow to be on the safe side. Again this is highly individualistic.

3. Make sure you either have 3 load week + 1 deload week or 2 load weeks + 1 deload week

4. Take easy workouts easy and hard workouts hard ! Easy workouts are meant for recovery or base building.

5. Do not do extra sessions or longer than planned workouts just because you feel good.

6. Communicate with the coach.

7. Eat enough calories to support training

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