How to Tell When You're Over-Reaching or Over-Training

2. This inability to increase the pulse goes hand-in-hand with a muscular heaviness or overloaded feeling. Quite often there is a simultaneous tightness and stiffness in the joints. Regardless of the length of your warm-up, the muscles remain lethargic and heavy.

3. After a hard session the muscles can experience millions of micro-tears that can cause tenderness and soreness. The delayed onset of muscle soreness is a common symptom post-exercise (24 to 60 hours). However, if the muscles are sore for an extended period, even with light exercise, this can be a sign of over-reaching. In an effort to repair and rebuild the muscle damage, the muscle fills with water to flush out the by-products of exercise. This swelling can add to the heaviness described above.

4. A lack of sharpness during workouts as heart rate falls off for more than two days.

5. Eating habits are disrupted or compromised.

6. There is a decrease in your body weight.

If you have identified several of the above symptoms, and they last for three to five days or more, and if you ignore these symptoms, then you can push your body into a more severe state of fatigue called over-training.

Scheduling R & R to Avoid Over-training

Recognize that if over-reaching crops up several times during the year this is OK. However, if you experience a bout of over-reaching and the symptoms reoccur fewer than two weeks later (or linger, as described above), you need to modify your training workload.

Recovering from over-reaching requires four steps:

  1. Identify the symptoms.
  2. Take two full days of rest with no exercise.
  3. Take the following three days easy. No more than 50 minutes of exercise in one session. Do not attempt more than two of these easy sessions in one day.
  4. After this five-day period you can resume your normal training program.

However, note that the symptoms of over-reaching should dramatically reduce during the three easy days. If they do not, then you may be on the verge of over-training. If your sleep pattern, exercise load, or frequency of racing all dramatically increase and the ability to rebound diminishes, look out for over-training.

The symptoms of over-training can closely parallel over-reaching; however, without adequate recovery an over-trained athlete will quite often advance to a much deeper valley of fatigue. Over-trained athletes quite often have signs of improper hormone function, such as persistent colds, lack of sleep and muscular aches for several weeks.

In addition, repeated hard sessions with little or no rest can lead to chronic low levels of amino acids in the blood. As intensity increases amino acids are released to control muscle breakdown. Additionally, if the intake of carbohydrates and protein is low, particularly after exercise, then the rate of repair and protein synthesis can be delayed. This delay can, in turn, prevent the body from rebounding. Quite simply, the body never catches up to the ongoing demands placed upon it.

Over-training requires an extended recovery period of six to 12 weeks, and, in some cases, it may take several months to regain your prior fitness level. Here are the four key steps to help you recover from a bout of over-training:

  1. See a sports-medicine specialist. The protocol for evaluation will be determined by the specialist and should include a complete blood panel, muscle enzyme and hormone review.
  2. Rest. This may be total rest for several weeks or light activity as determined by your specialist, coach and yourself.
  3. Sleep. Increase the amount of sleep you get each night to ensure you rest for between seven and nine hours.
  4. Plot out a logical step-by-step increase in your training routine after a second evaluation. This gradual increase in your desired fitness level may take anywhere from six weeks to six months.

Over-reaching and over-training can be controlled by recognizing the early symptoms and required patterns of recovery. During a recovery day or week, you need to ensure your body is given enough time to rebuild. Never compromise proper recovery for another hard training session.

The key to improving is progression, overload and recovery. Use all three forms of training to maximize your training and racing potential. Recovery is not an excuse; it is a necessity.

To hear Dave Scott go more in-depth on over-reaching and over-training, watch the videos on these blog posts:

   • A Look at Over-Reaching in Your Training

   • The Physiology of Hard Workouts and Over-Training


Six-time Ironman World Champion Dave Scott lives in Boulder, Colo., and maintains a busy schedule running his own business as fitness and nutrition consultant, product marketing consultant and nationally recognized speaker. He also organizes or is the main keynote for fitness camps, clinics and races and is a regular columnist for many print and online sources. As an Active Expert, Dave utilizes his years of experience by offering unique and creative training plans for athletes of all abilities. Contact him at dave.scott@active.com.

Related Articles:

    •Examining Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

    •Training Q & A: How to Avoid Burnout

    •Dealing With Overtraining and Funky Diets

    •Breaking it Down: Physiology, Running and Recovery

Discuss This Article

Follow your passions

Connect with ACTIVE.COM