10/19/14

Avoid overtraining and burnout



As a coach, I find that my hardest job is telling athletes to rest. Certainly, my athletes are not seeking an expert to tell them how to take a day off from training but instead, to give well-designed, challenging and well-placed workouts in a periodized, individualized training plan in order to take their fitness to the next level. 

When an athlete begins to adapt to training stress, the consistency in training can be very motivating. 
Athletes know that to improve fitness, there must be a consistent load placed on the body and often with intensity and at an uncomfortable volume. 

So in addition to rest and recovery days, I now have a great respect for rest in the off-season. 

And this doesn't mean a few weeks of swim,bike, run workouts without gadgets or group workouts "just for fun."

For the past 6-weeks I have done minimal exercising. Less than an hour a day and much of it was not related to swim, bike and run. 

Lucky for me, I had a partner in crime for our extreme, but needed, lazy routine
Karel joined me on this 6-week off-season break. 

After IMWI, I thought that 4-weeks was enough to properly recover from the race but also from competing (and racing) in 4 Ironman distance triathlons in the past 14 months. 

But then I started thinking that perhaps  I needed more time, like 6 or 8 weeks. 
Never have I taken more than 4 weeks off from structure before (but even if week 5 was still light it was still structured in some way) so I wasn't sure what I was expecting in this LOOONGG off season break.
(really, it wasn't all that long as we have been super busy with our coaching and nutrition business)

We will not be returning to hard-core training tomorrow but instead, following our very structured foundation plan (which will be available for purchase here in a few weeks). Our big race isn't for another year so certainly there is a lot more skill/strength/drill work to do now (as oppose to bricks and long runs and bike workouts) as we do not need to be building a base without the foundation in place.
And just like 2014, we do not plan on racing any running races in 2015 but instead, dedicating all of our training and focus to our key triathlon races. 

As for what is happening starting tomorrow.....
First will be two weeks of intro which we will transition from our non-athlete lifestyle to athletes again. That means more attention to our diet, sleep habits, stretching and anything else that can contribute to consistency with training. This new lifestyle will take some time for our bodies to get use to, even though our minds are really ready to return to structured training.
We are involving a few new experts to assist in our personal Kona 2015 journey this season so we are both super excited about what's to come. 

But first we must slowly re-introduce training stress as our bodies are a bit out of shape....
 but that was our entire plan. 

I remember when I started training for endurance sports. Everything was so fun and new and it seemed to come so naturally to my body. My body had only years of competitive swimming behind me so the introduction of bike and run training was very welcomed. 

I can honestly say that I have never experienced burnt out since becoming an endurance athlete and over the past 1.5 years I had no injuries that created any setbacks for me.
I love training and racing just the same now as I did when I started training/racing although now my priorities often change as I have a lot more to balance on my life-plate. 

So as a coach and athlete, I like to be proactive. And 6-weeks was the appropriate amount of time to ensure that mentally and physically, I would be setting myself up for a great 2015 season. Even though I felt very recovered about a week after IMWI (and certainly on a high knowing that Karel and I were going to both be racing in the 2015 IM World Championship), little did I know how run-down, mentally and physically exhausted and tired I was in the inside. 

And the only way I discovered that was giving my body more rest than it needed. 

Getting fitter, faster, stronger and more powerful is simply the result of a training stimulus. 
It's very easy to fail to consistently perform to our best ability, when we do not have a body that can adapt well to training stress.
And thus, the training may still be checked off the daily to-do list but sadly our risk for burnout, injury and sickness increases and we reduce the many opportunities to achieve peak fitness. 

Little does a competitive athlete recognize the continued fatigue that lingers around week after week, month after month and even year after year. Although athletes may perhaps feel as if they are fresh and healthy here or there throughout the season (better think twice if one or two days off a month is really "recovery"), it is extremely hard to know if your body/mind is truly recovered if you don't give it more rest than you think it needs. 

Not too much rest that you get sick and unhealthy but enough rest that you lose a little fitness to adapt quickly to training stress and you can train consistently with more intense motivation and excitement. 

As an endurance athlete, I see my body as a bank. I am constantly making withdrawals and investments with every workout. I always strive to make more investments than withdrawals so that I can cash out on race day. But, there is always the appropriate time to make a few withdrawals that are well-timed and needed. 
Ultimately, I don't want to be broke and wishing I would have saved my money come race day and many times, athletes are very unwise when it comes to banking workouts with their body. 

The problem with many endurance athletes is that there are way too many withdrawals that are seen as necessary, normal and needed. But the truth is that the body can only tolerate so much training stress until it can no longer adapt. 

And then comes an even bigger issue of burnout and overtraining. 

BURNOUT
Burnout is not as serious as overtraining but it is certainly not something that a competitive endurance athlete wants to experience. 
When an athlete gets burnout, he/she lacks the motivation to train. He/she sees little satisfaction in continuing training or even racing and the previous excitement and focus for training is gone. 
Athletes who are burnt out may find themselves depressed, anxious or fatigued and a burnout athlete feels as if there is little purpose to training, often saying "I don't care anymore."
The positive to  burnout is many times an athlete just needs a break from training. Many times, volume or intensity is too high and the athlete just needs to rest. Perhaps the athlete needs a change of distance, scenery or schedule...just something to switch up the "routine" that has become stale. 

OVERTRAINING
Here lies the bigger issue which can occur if a burnout athlete continues to push because "no pain is no gain".
Overtraining may be common among the following athletes:

-Athletes who balance a lot on their plate (families, work, life, etc.)
-Athletes who are new to the sport and tend to do a lot of fear-based training (ex. worried that he/she is not ready for the distance so there is a rapid increase in volume in a short amount of time)
-Athletes who are obsessive with eating and exercising, often too rigid with structure and lack of flexibility as life changes
-Endurance athletes - the best reason I can make is that endurance athletes have to train with a higher training load than short distance athletes and on top of this, they are balancing a lot in life, may struggle with body composition issues and may underfuel
-Athletes who never (or rarely) take time off, down time or beaks in the season
-Athletes who race too much
-Athletes who do not follow a well-designed, periodized training plan and do not have a team (sport dietitian, coach, sport psychologist, massage therapist) to provide expert advice

Overtraining is serious and I feel many times it is so overlooked by athletes and coaches because as I mentioned before, dedicated athletes know they need to consistently train and are not afraid to take risks and to push the limits for performance gains. 

So what is overtraining? 
Well, beyond a decreased or impaired performance, there is also extreme fatigue that affects the athlete in life and in training. Unlike burnout when an athlete may just lose motivation and enthusiasm for training for a short period of time, there are many physiological, psychological, nutritional and immunological issues that can occur. 

-A rapid change in HR and blood pressure
-A change in reproductive hormones (estrogen, progesterone or resulting in amenorrhea) or a change in testosterone (for men)
-Headaches/nausea
-Changes in cortisol, thyroid, pituitary hormones
-GI issues
-A decrease in strength/power/speed
-Inability to perform or meet personal standards for the time/effort that is committed to training
-Insomnia
-Decrease/change in appetite
-Unintentional weight loss/gain
-Prolonged recovery, abnormal muscle soreness, joint aches
-Mood changes - depression, anxiety, exacerbated stress
-Decrease in motivation
-Decrease in self esteem and compassion for others
-Suppressed immune system - more frequent sickness or more time to recover from sickness
-Increased injuries
-Loss of enthusiasm for the sport and little desire to continue




For the respect of your one and only body, the worst thing you can do as an athlete is be motivated, passionate and hard working and not reach your goals because your training plan is not well-designed and your mind is not accepting of rest and recovery. 

So much time, energy, sacrifice and effort is needed, day in and day out, for you to peak appropriately at your key races but overtraining is not going to get you to where you want to be.  

The ultimate goal is not to seek ways to train harder or longer but instead, learn how to train smarter. 

Maybe you don't need 6-weeks like we did but I'm pretty sure that your body can benefit from a little time off from structure as you thank your body for what it allowed you to do last season. 

Happy training...and off-season!