For the weekend warrior, motivation to train with intensity is rarely an issue. Whether you’re a runner, tri-athlete, prepping for a Tough Mudder, or just a gym rat, you’re willing to give 100% each and every time in order to achieve elite levels of fitness and athleticism. Most of us have been taught that there is a price for greatness. We’re conditioned to think that more is better and that we need to train harder, faster, longer, in order to reach the elusive “next level.” We hear it with terms like, “Beast Mode” or “No Pain No Gain” or “There is no off-season.” And for many of us who are avid exercisers it’s easy to get consumed in the madness of it all. Now, I’m not opposed to a little blood, sweat, and tears when it comes to training. In fact, it is a critical component to the process but we have to remember…so is recovery. The body needs to recuperate from the demands that are placed on it. By continuing to keep the foot on the accelerator without any breaks we can actually reach a point to where we start losing results…our bodies can only keep up for so long. Specifically what I am talking about is “overtraining.” Overtraining is defined as, “the syndrome that results when an excessive, usually physical, overload on an athlete occurs without adequate rest, resulting in a decrease in performance and the inability to train,” or “the point where the athlete starts to experience physiological maladaptations and chronic performance decrements.” Even though these definitions are specific to an “athlete” they very much apply even to the weekend warrior who trains as such. Simply put, overtraining is usually a result from a combination of inadequate recovery, excessive amounts of high intensity training, and/or a sudden increase in training load. In general, signs of overtraining come with feelings of staleness, burnout, chronic fatigue, stagnation, overwork or run down. More specifically, prominent features of overtraining include heavy legs, prolonged muscle soreness, high resting heart rate, poor motivation, sleep disturbances, low libido, frequent sickness or infection, weight loss, mood swings, depression, increased rating of perceived exertion, and overuse injury.
Rather than pushing to the point of no return, it is best to prevent overtraining before it begins. Outlined below are some methods to ensure you are getting optimal recovery while still reaping the benefits of all of your hard work.
“Unload” every 4-6 weeks: The old rule of thumb is that you should switch up your workouts every 4-6 weeks for continued results. This should also be the time that you “unload” with a lighter workout week. It’s during this period that our body finally gets a chance to play catch up and physically adapt to the training demands we place on it. Otherwise known as “supercompensation,” this is where we experience increases in strength and endurance as we carry over into the next 4-6 week training block. You can unload by cutting your workout times in half, decreasing your intensity, or simply just participating in recreational activity that in not specific to your training goals. After a week of unloading you should feel physically and mentally refreshed, with a heightened motivation to get back into training.
Get rejuvenated: Recovery should extend beyond just simply training less. Including rejuvenation techniques like massage, hydrotherapy, chiropractic care, adequate sleep, and meditation are very effective in accelerating recovery, preventing overtraining and reducing risk of injury. Use any combination of these techniques that best suit your personal needs to enhance recovery and aid in performance.
Include weekly recovery workouts: Even if you are in the middle of an intense training block you should still include at least 1-2 lighter workout days per week. This can range from low intensity aerobic training (40-60% of max heart rate), restorative yoga, or recreational activities outside of normal activity/training. Personally I recommend an off-day followed by a recovery workout to end a training week. You’ll come back refreshed and ready to hit it hard the next week.
There is an “Off-Season”: For the fitness enthusiast the idea of taking 2-4 weeks off seems blasphemous if not downright frightening. There’s usually an intense paranoia that somehow you’re muscles will instantly wilt into puddy and your lung capacity will vanish. After training personally for 23 years now I promise you this won’t happen. I’m not suggesting that we cease all physical activity during this time. However, it should serve as an opportunity to let any nagging injuries heal, to mentally and physically recharge, and to take the opportunity to participate in other activities. Typically, I suggest taking 1-2 weeks of rest and recovery from a rewarding year of training, then follow it up with another 1-2 weeks of active rest. Go hiking, enjoy a round or two of golf, go to Jumptime with your kids, simply be active with no agenda. Remember the goal is longevity. Train smart and respect your body’s needs. By doing so you’re prime will last longer than you ever thought possible…