Training for endurance events takes some serious dedication. There are long days on the bike, along with consistent time spent running and in the water. Like most things, though, too much can be a bad thing—especially true when it comes to training.
Overtraining is easy to do for highly motivated athletes—so just about all triathletes. Once you reach an overtrained state, excess fatigue, plateaus in strength, and decreased motivation will all follow. Below, I break overtraining down, discuss the most common ways to reach this state, and how to prevent it.
There are three stages of overtraining. Each stage is defined by certain levels of fatigue and recovery time.
1. Functional overreaching is the first stage of overtraining, and is actually one of the the main goals in training for a triathlon. Functional overreaching is basically training really hard and pushing your limits to the point where you experience greater levels of fatigue. Your body then adapts, and you get stronger and faster.
Symptoms: Higher rates of perceived exertion, a hard time elevating heart rate past zone 2, slight irritability and a decrease in motivation are all signs of an overreached state.
Recovery: You can recover from this stage of overtraining within seven to 14 days. This is what makes it functional. Learning how hard you need to push to reach this state, while keeping the recovery period short, takes practice.
2. Non-functional overreaching happens when you pushed just a little too hard with training, and symptoms last for more than two weeks.
Symptoms: This is technically the second stage of overtraining and is defined by the same symptoms as the first stage. (Subpar power, general overall irritability and the inability to complete workouts without experiencing high perceived exertion.) It's critical to realize when higher levels of fatigue persist and recovery is taking longer than a few weeks from your last hard block of training.
Recovery: This state takes a longer recovery period: expect it to take two to four weeks before motivation and power outputs return.