Fitness Junkies, Are You Overtraining?

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Fitness Junkies, Are You Overtraining?

Pat Barber, Katie Hogan, and Mark Sisson explain some of the tell-tale signs of overtraining.
With the advent of 2013 CrossFit Games Open, many athletes — newbies and some veterans — may think that getting in that one extra workout is a key part of preparation. But ask yourself this first: Are your training sessions productive? Do you feel like your fitness is progressing steadily from one week to the next? Are you programming enough rest into your training? If you are answering “no” to any of the above questions, it is a good time to consider whether or not you are overtraining.

Is Your Performance Improving or Declining?

If you are hitting it hard every day, but your numbers aren’t going in the positive direction, it is very possible that you are overtraining, or under-recovering. Pat Barber of NorCal CrossFit recently posted an article discussing the effects of overtraining:

Overtraining was defined to me as retrograde in performance, and that made sense to me. If you are training so often that your weight lifting numbers and workout times (your performance) are getting worse, then you are overtraining.
It’s important to understand what your limits are and how to stay pushing them but also how to not destroy yourself. When figuring this out, make sure you look at the fact that you are NOT Rich Froning or Jason Khalipa — I guarantee you that you do not recover the same way they do. If for some reason you think you can, you will most definitely be over training.

Overtraining was defined to me as retrograde in performance, and that made sense to me. If you are training so often that your weight lifting numbers and workout times (your performance) are getting worse, then you are overtraining. It’s as simple as that. If you spend a week or two kinda feeling crappy and not being able to do what you normally can but are still coming to the gym everyday and the rest of your life is what it normally is, then you may be overtraining.

Don't ignore the warning signs

Mark Sisson emphasizes the same point:

I’m talking failure to lift the weights you usually lift, run the hill sprints you usually run, and complete the hike you normally complete.

Regression. If you’re actively getting weaker, slower, and your stamina is deteriorating despite regular exercise, you’re probably training too much. Note, though, that this isn’t the same as deloading.
Pushing yourself to higher weights and failing at those is a normal part of progression, but if you’re unable to lift weights that you formerly handled with relative ease, you may be overtrained.

But guess what? The solution to this is simple: REST. No, that does not equate to coming in to do skill practice or to do a few 500m rows. It means take an actual break from the gym or the box so your body can recover as needed.

The odd genetic freak could conceivably lift heavy, sprint fast, and engage in metabolic conditioning nearly every day of the week and adequately recover, without suffering ill effects. Chances are, however, you are not a genetic freak with Wolverine’s healing factor.
Rest is an absolute key to doing what we do effectively. When you train you break your body down, and it is in the rebuilding and rest that we see our gains made. Some people need to rest more than others, and you will have to figure out how much you personally need… Just look at your numbers: if they are stagnant or going down, you may need to throw in some more rest. If everything is still going up and you are feeling great, just keep doing what you’re doing.

As Pat says, remind yourself all the time that you are not Rich or Jason — that is, you are not “the odd genetic freak,” as Mark Sisson describes here:

The odd genetic freak could conceivably lift heavy, sprint fast, and engage in metabolic conditioning nearly every day of the week and adequately recover, without suffering ill effects. Chances are, however, you are not a genetic freak with Wolverine’s healing factor. Most people who maintain such a hectic physical schedule will not recover (especially if they have a family and/or a job).

Pat Barber published “Coach Pat on Overtraining” on January 21, 2013. Read the full article here.

Are You Constantly Injured or in Pain?

You shouldn't have to accept pain

Katie Hogan of Valley CrossFit points out that this is also a measuring stick of whether or not you are overtraining. Feeling pain during every workout and/or beyond regular soreness is not supposed to be “normal.”

Listening to your body and making a well thought out plan for training will help you avoid taking steps back and keep you moving forward.
Are you hurt or are you injured? It’s a serious question and one that some athletes struggle with on a daily basis. While injuring yourself can take weeks or even years to recover from, if your training is such that you routinely fall into the “hurt” category, you should re-evaluate things.

Overtraining and not training smart are two of the reasons I see athletes hurt themselves. You have to consider things like increasing your work output over time. If your work output is super high, to the point of overtraining, and you find yourself hurt or injured because of it, then your output drops. That is a loss in fitness. And CrossFitters never want to lose out on some fitness!

To stay on top of things and continue progressing, athletes (and their coaches) need to know when to push and when to ease back a bit. Listening to your body and making a well thought out plan for training will help you avoid taking steps back and keep you moving forward….

Ultimately, walking the line between a challenging, all-inclusive training regime and overtraining can be difficult to manage. Take a close look at your own (or your athletes’) hurt and injury record for a real assessment.

Pay attention to your athletes' performance

Mark Sisson agrees; constantly being in pain is not supposed to a side effect of training smart:

With regard to endurance training, if you creak, you wince at every step, and you dread staircases, it may be that you’ve run too far or too hard for too long. The danger here is that your daily endorphin high has over-ridden your natural pain receptors.
I’m unaware of any clinical tests that can identify overuse injuries specifically caused by overtraining, but don’t you think that pain in your knee might be an indication that you should reassess how you exercise that knee? In the lifts, limb pain can either be DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) or it can indicate poor technique or improper form; DOMS is a natural response that should go away in a day or two, while poor form is more serious and can be linked to overuse or overtraining. With regard to endurance training, if you creak, you wince at every step, and you dread staircases, it may be that you’ve run too far or too hard for too long. The danger here is that your daily endorphin high has over-ridden your natural pain receptors. You should probably listen to them more acutely.

Katie Hogan published “CrossFit Programming To Avoid Overtraining And Injury” on September 6, 2012. Read the full article here.

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