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Overtraining and Running: Signs and Symptoms to Look Out For

We runners love to run. Most of us don’t quite feel complete if we miss our daily run.

On top of that, it can be especially hard to remember to rest and recover when we’re training for a big event!

But this kind of dedication can become detrimental if we don’t take time to recover between sessions. Pushing ourselves too hard and not allowing our body time to bounce back can easily lead to overtraining.

Here are some signs and symptoms to look out for. We’ve also got some advice on what to do and how to prevent it from happening in the future.

What Does It Mean to Overtrain?

Overtraining doesn’t necessarily mean you run too often. It’s more about how much you push your body when it comes to your fitness.

Many of us go too easy on our training. It’s important to have a degree of intensity in your workouts. But it can also go the other way – too intense.

When you constantly push yourself too hard, eventually your body just can’t carry on. It can lead to a variety of unpleasant consequences and may even require you to take some time off to recover properly.

It’s very easy to accidentally overtrain, as well. When you’re feeling great and strong while you’re working out, it can be so tempting to add an extra set, an extra mile, or something else to your workout.

But if you’ve worked out hard, pushed yourself, and done an effective job of your training, that extra little bit may be the one thing that pushes you over the edge.

Take note that overtraining isn’t just about how hard you train, though. It’s also about how effectively you recover.

Recovery entails taking regular rest days, using tools such as foam rollers and compression gear, and warming up and cooling down properly.

Why Shouldn’t You Overtrain?

Overtraining isn’t exactly desirable for anybody. When you reach this point, the only way to get your body back to a healthy, strong state is to rest until you’re back to full force.

Overtraining can set you back in both time and performance. If you’re training for a specific race or event, this can make you lose valuable time! Even if you aren’t, it’s demotivating to be forced to take a longer break than usual.

That could be from a few days to a few weeks, depending on you. When you do get back into it, you may need to scale back on the intensity, mileage, or pace for a bit until you can work your way back up safely.

Of course, overtraining can also put you at risk of developing worse injuries. If you overdo it slightly and head back into training before you’re 100%, your muscles, joints, and organs may be at higher risk of getting hurt, especially if you inadvertently do it again.

Common Causes of Overtraining

Like we mentioned before, overtraining isn’t just about going for a run on too many days of the week. In most cases, how often you run isn’t actually the culprit.

Mileage Increase

One of the common causes of overtraining is increasing your mileage too fast. The sweet spot is to increase it by between 5-10% every week.

To make sure you don’t cross into overtraining territory, we strongly recommend that you increase by 5% and stick with it for a few weeks until you feel absolutely comfortable to up it again.

Too Little Recovery Time

Another common reason for suffering from overtraining symptoms is not allowing yourself to have enough recovery time in between runs.

It can be tricky to find a happy medium between run training and cross-training, so you may need to experiment to find the appropriate amount of rest for you.

However, you should be getting at least one full rest day per week, with other days alternating between resting from running and resting from cross-training.

Not Strength Training

Another mistake is not cross-training! You need some form of strength training to build muscle, which helps to power your run and stabilize joints, reducing the chance of injury.

It may sound counterintuitive, to tell you to add more training to prevent overtraining. But while running is excellent cardio, it doesn’t do much for muscle building.

Not Warming Up or Cooling Down

Failing to warm up before you exercise can leave you open to overtraining injuries. The same goes for failing to cool down, which is the first part of your recovery strategy.

You should be incorporating dynamic stretches and yoga as your warm-up and cool-down, as well as techniques like foam rolling and compression gear.

Symptoms of Overtraining

Pay attention to your body when you’re training, as well as when you’re recovering in between runs. If you have any of the following symptoms, you may be overtraining!

Injuries or Lingering Soreness

If you find yourself prone to injuries, then overtraining could be the reason. This is particularly true for muscles and joints that are directly involved in running, like the feet, ankles, knees, and hips.

Common injuries that pop up as a result of overtraining include shin splints, tendonitis, metatarsalgia, and joint pain.

But acute injuries aren’t the only sign of overtraining. If you feel sore and stiff for days after your training, especially when you’re already used to running, it could be a sign that you’re pushing yourself too far.

Frequent Illness

Overreaching doesn’t just affect your joints and muscles. If you push yourself too far, your immune system can also take a knock.

This can leave you open to illness! It may be something as small as a recurring cold that you can’t seem to shake, or it could be something bigger, like chronic fatigue.

Either way, nobody wants their beloved sport to make them feel unwell! Also, if left untreated or if you continue to train through the illness, it could lead to bigger issues.

Mental Factors

You may be surprised to learn that physical overtraining can lead to mental burnout! When your body isn’t performing at its best, the mind takes a hit as well.

It can start small. Perhaps you aren’t sleeping too well or feeling a little more tired during the day than usual.

But this can quickly escalate into persistent, draining fatigue, irritability, and consistent bad moods, demotivation, a decreased or increased appetite, difficulty concentrating, and struggling to get your mind in the game.

These can affect every aspect of life, not just your running. Work, relationships, and family can all suffer when you overtrain.

Training Performance

Obviously, if you’re overtraining, your performance suffers. Doing too much, too fast doesn’t get you ahead. In fact, it does the opposite.

When you hit that overtraining feeling, normal workouts suddenly feel so much harder. You can’t run as far as usual or as fast as usual.

You may find that lower efforts cause your heart rate to spike as if you’re doing a much more intense workout. Or, your resting heart rate is elevated. This could be a telltale sign that your body is trying hard to recover!

Treatment

The first step to countering overtraining is to take a break. Stop your training (all forms of it) for at least 2 days. Depending on how bad your overtraining is, you can rest completely for up to a week.

Listen to your body! Rather take a full week off and prevent worse injuries than take 2 days and get back into it too soon.

When you do get back into it, start at a slower pace and less mileage than you were doing when you stopped. Avoid doing speedwork, tempo runs, and interval training for the next week or two, until you’re back into it comfortably.

Make sure to incorporate a dynamic stretching warm-up routine. Also, prioritize recovery. Foam roll, wear compression gear, try heat or cold therapy, and make sure you get enough sleep and keep your diet on point.

To boost your immune system and body, you could increase your sleep and caloric intake for a few days. Sleep is where healing takes place, and what we take into our body can either help or hinder that.

Prevention

First prize would be to prevent overtraining in the first place. To do so, you’ll need to train, eat, and progress thoughtfully.

Pay Attention

It’s essential to listen to your body. Most of us are in the habit of simply pushing through and not even noticing when something is a little off. Or, ignoring little niggles and thinking they’ll just go away.

It’s a great idea to take stock of how you’re feeling before and after every training session. Do you have any achy spots? Any tight muscles? How’s your stomach feeling, and how are you feeling mentally?

Get into the habit of paying attention to how your body feels. When you notice little things that don’t quite feel right, you can start treating them early, which can help to prevent full-blown overtraining.

Don’t Compare

Comparison can cause us to push too hard to match others. Whether it’s a running buddy or a rival, try not to compare yourself and push yourself based on that.

Be logical about your progression. If you’re making good progress and getting closer to your goals, then you’re doing well.

Also, keep in mind – that guy or girl you’re comparing yourself to may be overtraining themselves! You don’t want to follow them down that path.

Stick to your training and only compare yourself to who you were last week.

Strength Training

We can’t emphasize strength training enough. Building muscle not only increases your strength and allows you to run further, faster, and or longer, but more muscle helps to stabilize your joints and decrease the chance of injury.

Your cross-training should include a form of strength training. Weightlifting and calisthenics are both excellent ways to build muscle and strength. But take care to do them with perfect form!

You should be doing strength training at least 2 to 3 times a week, on top of your running training.

Prioritize Recovery

Don’t let recovery fall by the wayside. It should be an active thing, not a passive one. You should be taking at least one full recovery day per week.

Set up a recovery schedule. It should include:

  • Warming up and cooling down effectively
  • Foam rolling after a session or in the evenings
  • Wearing compression gear for problem areas
  • Yoga for mobility and flexibility
  • Heat therapy to improve blood flow
  • Message for improving circulation and working out knots

Eat & Drink Healthily

Poor diet and hydration can hamper your performance and increase the chance of overtraining. If you aren’t feeding your body the right amount of healthy, wholesome, nutrient-rich food, it may not have the required energy to push through your workout sessions.

The same goes for staying hydrated. Dehydration can lead to a bunch of nasty symptoms, and it can have a severe negative effect on your training, as well as how you feel when you’re not training.

Check Your Metrics

If you have a smartwatch or fitness tracker, get in the habit of checking your metrics after each run. Has your pace dropped? Has your heart rate increased?

Small deviations in your metrics are quite normal. But if there are drastic changes, especially in performance or your heart rate, it could be a sign that overtraining is imminent.

Once you notice these signs, you can begin to tailor your workouts differently to prevent hitting that wall.

The Wired Runner
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