Richard Rafoth MD. from roadcycling.com
The feeling of
fatigue that follows a good ride or workout tells us
that we are pushing our physical limits, and is a
necessary part of improving our personal
performance. However, in certain circumstances,
fatigue may also be our only warning that we are
pushing too hard and indicating a need to back off
or risk a deterioration in our abilities. This is a
common dilemma in a personal training program: Hard
work makes us faster, but how much is too much?
Four levels of
fatigue are experienced by the regular cyclist.
- The fatigue (or
bonk) which accompanies muscle glycogen
depletion develops 1 to 2 hours into a ride
unless we use glucose supplements to extend our
internal muscle glycogen stores.
- The normal post
exercise fatigue which tells us we are pushing
our normal training limits and will lead to
improved performance the next time out.
- The fatigue we
feel at the end of a particularly hard week of
riding ( really an extension of #2) that, with
recovery, will also make us faster and stronger.
Exercise physiologists refer to this as
- The debilitating
and long term (often lasting weeks and months)
fatigue which degrades performance and is the
most common symptom of overtraining.
Your challenge is
finding your own individual boundary between
overreaching and overtraining.
PRONE TO THE RISKS OF OVERTRAINING?
Cyclists seem to be one of the few groups of
athletes capable of reaching the over trained level
of fatigue. It has been speculated that this is due
to the way cycling stresses the body with a
concentration of muscle activity in a single muscle
group - the quadriceps. And it isn't necessary to
undertake an extensive training program to be at
risk. In fact it may be those working out
sporadically and with light training schedules that
are most at risk. While a professional cyclist might
consider a 50 mile ride as part of a light recovery
week, your 20 mile ride could produce all the
symptoms of overtraining.
And several studies
have suggested that overtraining may be associated
with other health issues above and beyond a
deterioration in physical performance. One study of
Harvard alumni found a lower death rate (mortality)
among men expending as few as 200 Calories per week
in exercise versus those leading sedentary
lifestyles, but when they routinely spent over 4000
Calories on exercise per week the death rate began
to rise again. And two different studies have
suggested a decrease in immune system competence
with intense training (cycling 300 miles per week
for 6 months or 2 intensive sessions of running per
day for 6 days). But before you give up exercising
completely, there is plenty of evidence that a
moderate cycling program will actually stimulate and
improve your immune system. The key is planning your
own personal training program to occasionally
overreach but not overtrain.
How do you know when you are in danger of
overtraining? The following are clues which could
suggest that an extra day or two of rest is in
- Resting heart
rate. A resting pulse rate is done on awakening
in the morning and before getting out of bed. An
increase of 10% or 10 beats per minute for
several days in a row is accepted by most
coaches as a sign to slow down.
While your personal demeanor is more difficult
to quantify, it may be the most sensitive and
reliable indicator of overtraining. Anger,
depression, and a decrease in your sense of
vigor have all been reported. You won't need a
psychologist to help you with this one. Your
family and significant others are usually the
first to point these symptoms out to you.
- Performance. A
short, standardized time trial every week is
another helpful tool. And the changes will
usually be in minutes, not seconds. If you see a
deterioration, take some time off and consider
switching to another aerobic activity, keeping
your heart rate below 70% of maximum. (A drop in
your time trial maximum heart rate of 10 beats
per minute can also be a sign of overtraining.)
- General fatigue.
Ongoing daily lethargy is a clue that it's time
to slow down.
- General physical
complaints. Sore throat, sore muscles, and
chronic diarrhea all may indicate the chronic
stress of overtraining.
- Disruption of your
normal sleep cycle. Falling asleep easily,
awakening abruptly, and then feeling like you
need a nap at 10 AM all can reflect the change
in your normal sleep cycle associated with
CAN YOU DO?
Most training programs include at least one (and
sometimes two) rest days per week as well as a day
or two of easy spinning. This reflects the practical
experience of coaches who have had to deal with the
results of pushing too hard for too long.
Over reaching is a
normal part of the training cycle, but if your
performance is not improving after a few days of
recovery, it's time to switch to other aerobic
activities which will keep you at 70% of your max.
heart rate (to maintain your level of fitness) or
risk entering the zone of overtraining which may
take a month or two to recover.
How long do you need
to rest? Studies have indicated that recovery from
overreaching (and again this means keeping your
general level of aerobic activity at 70% max. heart
rate, not complete inactivity) may take up to two
weeks with performance improving daily. The
implication of this observation is that a 1 to 2 day
taper before a big event may not be enough to
perform at your personal best.
As in all aspects of
personal training programs there is individual
variability, so it is up to you to decide where to
draw your own line. But remember that rest is a key
part of any training program and may be the toughest
training choice you'll have to make.
And finally, don't
forget to pay particular attention to post exercise
carbohydrate replacement. Part of the fatigue of
overtraining may be related to chronically
inadequate muscle glycogen stores from poor post
training ride dietary habits.