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Q. I'm not sure if I am over training, and if so, what to do about it. Help?

Background Information:

I’m Tired:

First off, if you don’t have an “all” to give today, don't feel guilty! Rest and recovery is not the same as skipping a workout. Successful athletes and fitness enthusiasts on every level build this crucial component into their training programmes.

While effort is 50 percent of the training equation, restoration and recovery is the other important half. To see results, you have to work out at a level of effort that challenges your body, whether you're doing cardio, strength or flexibility training. However, this does not mean that you have to hurt your body or always work out harder to get results!

A myth of strength training is that you have to “break down the muscle and then rebuild it” to get stronger. This implies that damage to the muscle is the stimulus for change. The truth is that the process of "hypertrophy" (increasing lean muscle size) is directly related to the "synthesis" (putting together) of cellular material. The word synthesis means that strength training is a positive building process, rather than a negative breaking down process. The bottom line is that you need to work out hard enough to overload your body positively, but not so hard you do damage.

  • Positive overloads cause the body to respond with increases in strength, cardiovascular capacity and flexibility. This positive overload, balanced with rest and recovery is the optimal training formula.
  • If you attempt maximum effort workouts every day, you risk overtraining. This can lead to staleness, exhaustion and injury. Rest and recovery, built into your workout programme, will keep your workouts productive and your body healthy.
  • An athlete with an effective recovery program in place can actually train harder and train more often as the natural process of recovery is enhanced.
  • The challenge is to find ways to train athletes (and if you are working out 6 days a week, you ARE an athlete!) to achieve their maximum potential without pushing them “over the edge” into an overtrained or over reached situation with the subsequent health issues.

 Over-reaching vs. Over-training:

Over-reaching - Overreaching occurs when full recovery is not achieved for an extended time period and fatigue builds up. This usually occurs slowly over the course of a month or two, but it can happen much quicker in the face of a dramatic increase in training volume and/ or intensity.

Those of you who have overreached may also notice an increased resting heart rate, premature fatigue during training, decrease in work capacity, increased heart rate during submax loads and an increased thirst, especially at night.

If you do overreach and do not allow for a period or two of lower intensity levels the fatigue will continue to accumulate and your body will force you to take a rest by becoming injured or overtrained. True overtraining takes several months to set in but once it does you will have to dramatically decrease your workload anywhere from several weeks to several months in order to fully restore all bodily systems. During this period it is very difficult to even maintain current fitness levels, much less improve them, and a decrease is usually expected. This is why true overtraining is to be avoided at all costs.

Over-training - True overtraining takes several months to set in but once it does you will have to dramatically decrease your workload anywhere from several weeks to several months in order to fully restore all bodily systems. During this period it is very difficult to even maintain current fitness levels, much less improve them, and a decrease is usually expected. This is why true overtraining is to be avoided at all costs.

 OK, so how do I recover from this state?

Active Rest:

Ways to vary the standard BFL workouts to promote active rest include:

         Do not engage in explosive movements without first establishing a training base and building your tendon strength.

         Avoid excessive use of eccentrics and/ or exaggerated eccentric rep tempo. This doesn’t mean not to use these methods, it simply means to vary your rep tempos, mixing in periods where the eccentric portion is actually de-emphasized. A change from a 3-1-1-0 tempo to a 2-0-x-0 tempo would be an example of this.

         Use care when stretching so as not to over-stretch and damage the tendons.

         Use a proper warm-up and cool-down.

         Allow for periods of lower intensity training. Remember that your muscles will gain strength much faster than your tendons will. Failure to observe this fact will lead to tendons that are weak in comparison to the muscles they are attached to. This will lead to a very real possibility of a major injury to those tendons.

         Supplement with glucosamine. Supplying your body with this important building block of connective tissue will help ensure that tendons will recover as quickly as possible.

If later on that day you still feel stiff, a warm bath or shower, followed by some gentle stretching will help. Other sessions that will help are swimming, walking or “running” in water (pool or sea), cycling etc.

Passive Rest:

  • Lots of sleep - and try for good sleep. I don't recommend this all the time, but if you're feeling EXTREME exertion, you may want to consider a sleeping aid for a night or two. I've used Valerian when I get there and really NEED nice deep sleep.
  • Other examples of passive rest are sitting, reading, watching TV etc. Just relaxing and giving your body and mind a break from training can be HUGELY helpful.

Nutrition:

  • Remember also that diet on a recovery day is important. If you feel very tired and jaded, you may need to replenish your energy stores and meals with high carbohydrate content are important, for example pasta, cereals, fruit etc.
  • For the short term – until you feel more fit, right after you work out (INSIDE the first hour; aim for within 30-45 minutes) try to intake a  high-protein high carbohydrate shake – this will help replenish glycogen stores and protein balance. While it means that your body will metabolize the shake BEFORE it goes after stored fat, it means that you won’t loose additional muscle because your body is too exhausted to be bothered breaking down fat. (Details: after training, protein synthesis tends to go down in endurance trainees while it may stay the same or minimially increase in weight trainees. However in both types of athletes, protein breakdown goes way up, thus creating a negative protein balance and a good potential for muscle loss. Although this eventually rebounds and the body goes into an anabolic state, in the time immediately following training, muscle can be lost. Since no athlete can afford muscle loss, this is an important focus for recovery and subsequent muscle gain.)
  • You could add some creatine to your pre-work out methodology - High starting levels of muscle creatine before the exercise bout may be beneficial in preventing the overwhelming of the system and therefore the ATP loss, so you can build more muscle with less “work” from your system.

Other things to track ongoing:

Here is a list of bodily functions that can be observed in order to gain some insight as to the completeness of recovery:

  • Sleep patterns – a sudden decrease in the amount and/ or quality of sleep is usually an early indicator of overreaching/ overtraining. (Covered above in passive rest)
  • Bodyweight fluctuations – a decrease of more than 2 pounds in one day is usually an indicator the training load is too high and recovery will be delayed. (Addressed below in detail)
  • Morning heart rate – take your heart rate every morning before getting out of bed. A large (3 beats or more) increase is an indicator of overreaching/ overtraining. (Addressed below in detail)
  • Appetite – a decrease in appetite is another sign of overreaching/ overtraining

Resting Heart rate - count the number of beats you feel on your carotid artery or wrist in the morning for 30 seconds then double that number to get BPM – Beats per minute.  As athletes get fitter and stronger from training, their RHR should get lower and slower. This basically means the heart is getting more efficient at doing what it has to do. Fit athleses will have a consistent RHR every morning that will not vary more than a beat or two.

However, if athletes are training too hard and not getting enough rest, their resting heart rate will actually increase. It is not uncommon for someone training too hard to experience increases in their resting heart rate of 5-15 beats per minute.

Sudden Weight Loss - However, sudden weight loss over a 24 hour period can mean one of three things:

          Athletes are dehydrated

          Athletes are fatigued and their body is struggling to maintain normal functions

          Both of the above.

Resources:

http://www.time-to-run.com/training/articles/recovery.htm

http://www.soccerfitness.net/recovery.html

http://www.swimmingcoach.org/articles/JL10302002c.asp

http://www.johnberardi.com/articles/training/recovery.htm

http://www.protraineronline.com/past/june1/restandrecovery2.cfm

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