Mountain bike over training: Spot it and avoid it

The main worry of any off-road cyclist as they begin their competitive season is not injury but over training. They are not worried about pulled muscles, stress fractures or crashing, but fatigue and exhaustion and that "out of gas feeling" in the closing stretch of a race.

Most experienced coaches and mountain bike competitors know that often times, the race is lost by training too much rather than too little And instead of building and pacing training; they go too far with the adage, "What doesn't kill me, makes me stronger."

In training, it is an essential and difficult task to find your optimum training thresholds and not to transgress the limits of your stress and adaptation capacities.

Because of the scope of this topic, no attempt will be made to cover all the factors and possible mechanisms thought to contribute to over training. However, evidence will be presented which implicates specific physiological and psychological alterations that have been shown to be related to the deterioration of athlete performance due to over training.

In his book, The Lore of Running, Dr. Tim Noakes gives examples of several nationally-ranked athletes with over training symptoms. One athlete exhibited the classic physical and psychological signs when he complained that he was lethargic, sleeping poorly, his morning pulse had increased by 10 beats and had less enthusiasm for training and particularly competition. He expressed concern that his legs felt "sore" and "heavy" and that the feeling had lasted for several training sessions.

Another athlete reported that three weeks after an marathon he was still sleeping poorly, had a persistent sore throat and had a feeling of low energy levels. These two athletes were exhibiting the classic signs and symptoms of over training, and were in urgent need of complete rest from hard training.

The symptoms of over training may be seen in any off-road cyclist who is eager to excel, and begins to train frequently and intensely. At first, the athlete improves, but after a while their times become stationary and below their set goals. Anxious to pass the dead point, the athlete begins to train even harder. Instead of improving, their times become worse and senses of inadequacy and frustration develop. Besides declines in performance, some changes in personality and behavior are detected. The athlete has developed a state of staleness, chronic fatigue or over training.

Physiological indicators to monitor

In the early 1980's, Dick Brown, who at the time was an administrator/physiologist of Athletics West (a world-class running club), conducted a project on athletes to try and identify potential indicators of over training.

Of the several dozen indicators monitored, three were found to be of use to the athletes in their daily training and could be recorded in their training diaries without expensive laboratory monitoring equipment. These were: morning body weight, morning heart rate and hours of sleep.

His research pointed out that the athlete's body may not recovered from the previous hard workout if any of the following symptoms were found:

  • A morning heart rate 10 percent higher than the athlete's normal, resting heart rate
  • Receiving 10 percent less sleep than normal
  • A body weight that is down by 3 percent or more

    Another reason for these symptoms could be that some form of illness is plaguing the athlete.

    Brown's research points out that an athlete should cut back on his day's workout if they are abnormal in two indicators and it may be best to take the day off if they register in the red in all three indicators. It may be best to take an hour off that training time and instead, take a nap.

    If the signs of staleness or over training are present, you may have to suspend training for several days or decrease the intensity and duration of the training sessions. If strong signs or symptoms prevail, it is possible that you will have to spend days or weeks at a decreased level of training before you recover and can return to hard training sessions.

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