Sometimes the hardest part of any training plan in the lead up to a race, challenge or event is listening to our own bodies and knowing when to take it easy and when to push on.
Juggling life, work, training and responsibilities is a fine balancing act and judging when we need to take it easier in training can be a minefield when we want to compete well or complete a session on a training plan.
How do we know when we are genuinely doing a bit too much compared with that feeling of ‘kind of want to go for a run, kind of want to stay in bed’?
Training places stressors on the body, this is not a bad thing because it is through this training load that the body learns to adapt. The problem comes with too much of a good thing.
Our bodies are actually pretty clever machines.The stress from training sessions stimulates the body to strengthen muscles and bones when the body is at rest.
This is the key takeaway – it is in rest and recovery that the performance gains can be found.
So really, overtraining is more often a problem of not enough rest rather than too much exercise.
Does this scene sound familiar, even on rest days?
You wake up, work, train, look after the kids or family members, cook dinner, walk the dog, do the shopping then fall into bed before getting up to do the same thing all over again. It is this repetitive cycle without adequate recovery time that can have an impact on our training.
Look out for these 3 key signs that you might be training too hard;
Overtraining significantly affects your stress hormones. It is this hormonal imbalance that can cause mood swings and unusual feelings of irritability.
If you feel more irritable than usual and these feelings stick around for hours or perhaps days (and can’t be attributed to something your partner has done!) then this is a psychological indicator that you need to slow things down.
We love that runners high feeling, that endorphin rush that comes with running or riding but when your mood isn’t elevated after a training session by the release of those feel-good hormones, it is a sign that it is time to back off.
Extensive research written by Adam Tzur and Brandon Roberts, published in 2016 brings together a number of studies looking at the science behind overtraining and why things like irritability, low mood and depression can be warning signs that you are training to hard.
Keeping tabs on your mood is much easier than measuring hormonal imbalances or heading to the lab to get tested so taking note of how you are feeling in things like training diaries and journals is a good way to track your mood and can help identify when things are veering off track beyond just recording mile splits and statistics.
Elevated Resting Heart Rate
Too much training and not enough rest and recovery results in an increase in the human stress hormone cortisol and a rise in sympathetic activity which can raise resting heart rates. The sympathetic nervous system switches on in response to dangerous or stressful situations and to the body, running is a stressful situation!
But if your heart rate is elevated even at rest, this is usually a sign of overtraining or illness.
It is easy to monitor this yourself by measuring your resting heart rate first thing in the morning and monitoring it regularly for fluctuations.
Rate of Perceived Exertion, commonly known as RPE, was first developed by Swedish sports scientist Gunner Borg back in the 1980’s to monitor and guide exercise intensity based on how participants feel. The Borg scale originally used a 6-20 scale but the revised (and probably much easier?!) scale uses a 1-10 rating. RPE allows you to tap in to how you feel during a session and adjust your effort depending on what type of training you are doing.
Check out our YouTube video on RPE that explains how to use the scale in your own training sessions.
How can you use RPE to tell if you are over doing it?
If you notice that the pace you usually hit for easy runs feels markedly harder – a 5 feels more like an 8 – you know that something is off and taking a rest day or two may actually be more beneficial. Sure, we’ve all experienced those days when we can’t catch the rhythm on the run, breathing feels more laboured than usual and we just feel out of sync, that is totally normally.
It is when this is happening consecutively and consistently that you need to adjust your training.
There are many factors involved that will affect how you feel in any one training session. Maybe you’ve had a tough day at work, had a terrible nights sleep or didn’t manage to eat dinner until late the night before a long run. All of these very every-day things will have an impact on how we feel in training. And that is just life!
Watching out for and taking note of these three signs can help you get the right balance in training. Knowing when to ease off will reduce the risk of injuries and actually improve performance, so taking recovery as seriously as we do our training is a win win.
Listening to your own body and being attuned to how you feel on a daily basis can help support a healthy, and more enjoyable, relationship with your training, ultimately leading to longevity and achieving some of those goals you’ve set yourself to achieve.
For more on recovery, take a look at our blog on Five Of The Best Recovery Techniques in our Real Women Review series.