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Overtraining: Don't Fall Victim

by Racer X Virtual Trainer


Too Much or Too Little?
The feeling of fatigue that follows a good practice session at the track or workout tells us that we are pushing our physical limits, and is a necessary part of improving our performance on race day. However, in certain circumstances, fatigue may also be our only warning that we are pushing too hard indicating a need to back off or risk being bumped from a podium position. You don't have to be a professional rider to overtrain either.  Weekend Warriors, especially those who like to do nothing but cardio, are at risk. Doing too much for too long is a common dilemma in a Weekend Warrior’s training program. Hard work makes us faster, but how much is too much?  If you're feeling the pain, it's time to do some analysis on your training program. Your challenge is finding your own individual boundary between overloading and overtraining.

Typical Signs of Overtraining
Insomnia or fatigue persisting more than 72 hours after a workout
Three days or more of achiness or pain in the muscles and/or joints
Elevated morning heart rate (Take your resting heart rate before you get 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.)
Sudden inability to complete workouts
Feeling unmotivated and lacking energy
Increased susceptibility to colds, sore throats and other illnesses
Loss in appetite
Menstrual cycle irregularities
Decrease in performance (at the gym or on the bike) for no apparent reason

If you experience any of these symptoms, it's a good idea to visit your doctor to make sure nothing more serious is going on. If it is simply overtraining, what causes it and what can you do to avoid it?

The Cause
The cause of overtraining is simple. You're not resting enough and/or you're doing the same exercise too much! Your body needs time to recover and, don't forget, your muscles will grow when you give them enough time. Doing the same workout day after day can also lead to overtraining, boredom and possible injury. If you've determined you're a candidate for overtraining, the good news is that once you accept that you are overdoing it, the solution is simple.

Doing too much too soon can also lead to overtraining and injuries. If you are just coming back to the sport of motocross or have let yourself go over the winter, don't attempt to do too much too soon. Start with a walking/running program and slowly build up your running time each week. If you decide to row, slowly build time in the saddle rather than trying to bust out an hour the first time on the machine. When strength training, start out with high reps/low weight and gradually increase the weights and lower the reps.

The Cure for Overtraining
Rest! Your body needs rest after training to allow your muscles to recover and grow. When strength training, don't work the same muscle group two days in a row. Allow at least one day of rest before working the same muscle group again. For cardio, you may be wondering if it's okay to do it every day. That will depend on your intensity and the activity you're doing. It's not a great idea to do the same workout everyday as that can lead to both overtraining and repetitive stress injuries. You also shouldn't do intense and difficult workouts every day of the week, since that will also eventually cause problems. If you want to exercise every day, go for it. Just remember to cross-train (bike, run, swim, row, play basketball, etc.) and make sure you schedule low-intensity “recovery” workouts as well. These recovery workouts will help you stay fresh and the cross-training will help you avoid injuries. The key is planning your own personal training program to occasionally overload but not overtrain.

Most training programs include at least one (and sometimes two) rest days per week as well as a day or two of lower intensity workouts. This reflects the practical experience of coaches who have had to deal with the results of pushing too hard for too long. Overloading 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 70-80% 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 overloading (and again this means keeping your general level of aerobic activity at 70-80% 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 dietary habits. Cytomax makes a great Recovery product which specifically addresses this issue.

Summary of Solutions
Cross Train - Don't be fooled into thinking there is only one way to train for motocross.
Schedule recovery days into your weekly routine. If you regularly race on Sunday, Monday should be a recovery day.
Fuel up after exercise. Your body needs energy to recover and that comes from food. A combination of carbs, protein and fat will give your body the energy it needs.
Stretch. Tight muscles can often cause other muscles of your body to overcompensate, which can cause injury over time.
Warm up before your workout. Proper warm-up can help prevent injuries.
Listen to your body. If you're 10 minutes into your workout and you're feeling tired and unmotivated, go back home and rest.
Get adequate sleep. Need I say more?

The most important thing you can do for yourself when you experience overtraining symptoms is to rest. It's better to take a week or so off from exercise and come back fresh than to permanently injure yourself! If you'd like to learn more, check out Gretchen Reynolds' interesting article on overtraining in the New York Times.

That's it for now, until next time, good luck with your training and remember, if you have a question, log on to the Virtual Trainer Expert Forum and have your question answered by a panel of experts. In addition, be sure and check out the Racer X Virtual Trainer archive section. Your complete one-stop information zone for motocross fitness. VT Signature

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