Overtraining – could we actually call it “under-recovering”?
For those of you training towards Busselton in December, your training will be approaching the hardest stages over the next few weeks. This means LONG rides, brick runs, open water swims, and usually a lot more intensity. For each athlete, the risk of overuse injuries is often higher at this stage of the season, and we commonly blame “overtraining”. But is this a misleading description?
Assuming you are following the plan your coach gave you, then you have been increasing both your intensity and distance consistently and in small increments to allow your body to gradually prepare for the rigours of race day. So either your coach has stuffed up, or you are actually “just-enough-training”… Certainly compared to an elite athlete putting in 30+ hours a week of training, you aren’t.
The unknown variable in the training equation for every athlete is recovery. I can’t stress how important this is, especially for triathlon, with its high training load. You are forcing your body to adapt to three sports at once, remember!
A lot of athletes give me a funny look when I ask them about this stuff, but it can be the thing that makes of breaks your race, and certainly the thing that may mean we see a lot more of each other if it isn’t done well!
What can we do to enhance recovery?
- SLEEP – the #1. Get enough (you need more than someone who just sits at a desk and goes for a 30min walk each day), and make sure it is quality. Dark, cool bedroom. Stop reading triathlete.com until 11pm and put the bloody iPad away. And if you are training at 5.30am, you just have to go to bed early…..
- Lots of fruit, veg and protein. And the big one, get enough calories. This may mean eating some junk food as well, especially after hard or long workouts. Just get the quality stuff too. (Additional – 6 weeks out from race day isn’t a good time to start the latest Instagram diet or keto-plan. Keep it simple and wholesome).
- Self-care. Massage/roller/trigger ball/stretch/hydrotherapy/etc – basically show your body some love. Never to the point of pain – a mild discomfort (3/10 on the pain scale) is the most you want.
- Take 5-10mins a day to meditate/deep breathe/read a book/lie down. The more we can stimulate the “Rest and Digest” system, the better your body will repair itself.
What prevents recovery?
- NOT ENOUGH SLEEP. Worth mentioning twice!
- Stress – work, family and general life stress can have a huge impact on your recovery, by keeping your body in “Flight or Fight” mode, and therefore dampening the rest and digest bit. Try to limit this as much as you can, and if you can’t (eg work), allow for more of the above points.
- Not going easy enough in easy sessions. Yes, 130bpm heart rate still counts as training. Learn to back off when you need to.
- Previous injuries/illness – these may mean that the area (eg an arthritic knee) or your immune system as a whole may need more time.
- Age – sorry, but this is a big one. A 45year old athlete needs more time between key sessions than a 25year old athlete. Your coach will allow for this, but its one reason why comparing training to your teammates can be a bad idea, especially if you are competitive.
So ultimately, the take home message is simple:
Quality Training + Good recovery – Factors Impeding Recovery = Your Performance
Maximise the first two (notice I said quality training, not MORE training) and limit the last one, and you’ll avoid coming to see me, and have a great race day.
Neil is a Physiotherapist and Triathlon Coach, as well as a multiple Ironman finisher. He specialises in blending Physio treatment with coaching advice to deliver optimal outcomes for his clients, and through his competitive background he understands the importance of the “big picture” in managing injuries effectively. He consults from Fieldwork Health in Inglewood and the Perth CBD, and is always happy to answer questions via email.