Avoiding overtraining

Avoiding overtraining

Gabe Mirkin

One of the most serious problems in training for athletic competition is to know when you are training too much. You make a muscle stronger only by stressing that muscle, feeling sore on the next day, and taking easy workouts or days off until the soreness goes away. Then you are supposed to take a hard workout again. If you do not feel soreness on the day after a hard workout, you have not injured your muscles, and they will not become stronger.

Every athlete knows that sometimes your muscles still feel little sore several days after a hard workout. You may think that you have recovered from your previous hard workout and you think you are ready to stress your muscles again. So you go ahead and try to run very fast and you start to feel sore all the time. You joints, muscles and tendons ache. You feel tired. You can still run with the soreness in your muscles and tendons, but the soreness prevents you from running fast. Each succeeding day, the soreness increases and you think that you are sick.

You order a complete blood count, liver tests, a BUN and creatinine. You check your urine. You do a throat culture and all the tests come back normal. You find that you can’t run your intervals as fast as you could. You used to be able to run 10 quarters in 65 seconds and now you can’t get through more than three of them without your muscles feeling very sore. So you try running your quarters in 75 seconds and find that it hurts just as much to run 75 seconds as the 65-second quarters did. You know something is wrong, so you ask your friend who is a researcher at the local university to test you. He tells you that you have impaired anaerobic lactacid performance and a reduced time-to-exhaustion in standardized high-intensity endurance exercise. He tells you that your maximum heart rate is now 180, 10 beats lower than normal. He tells you that your lactate levels are lowered during sub-maximal performance. You have a reduced respiratory exchange ratio during exercise. You are quite depressed now and you get f urther tests only to find that you have normal blood urea nitrogen, uric acid, ammonia, creatine kinase and ratio between (free) serum testosterone and cortisol. Your nocturnal urinary catecholamine excretion is down and there is a decrease in the maximum exercise-induced rise in pituitary hormones, especially adrenocorticotropic hormone and growth hormone, and, to a lesser degree, in cortisol and free plasma catecholamines. So you decide that you have a hidden lymphoma, but a complete diagnostic workup is normal and you are stuck with a diagnosis of training too much.

You have to go back to background training. Jog on the days that you can. Take days off when you feel sore. After several weeks, you are able to start jogging again and your muscles start to feel fresh again. You are ready to start training again, but first you must promise yourself that you will never try to run fast when you feel soreness in your muscles and tendons. You will set up a schedule in which you take a hard-fast workout, feel sore on the next day, and then go at an easy pace in your workouts until the soreness has completely disappeared. You may set up a schedule to try to take a hard workout every third of fourth day, but you will skip a hard workout on days that you feel sore.

Most runners plan to run very fast once a week and long once a week. You recover faster from a hard workout by doing nothing, but jogging slowly on recovery days causes more fibrous tissue to form in your muscles so that they are more resistant to injury. Don’t calculate total miles per week in your diary. That will encourage you to pile up junk miles and prevent you from learning how to run fast. You can run in races only as fast as your fastest workout intervals. Set up a program in which you run very fast on Wednesdays and long and brisk on Sundays and all your other workouts are easy recovery ones.

Take one day a week to learn how to run fast. Most people do it in the middle of the week on Wednesdays. Most marathon runners cannot run fast for more than 100 yards, so you should not run 200 yard intervals until you can run 100 yard intervals at a very fast pace. Mark the track in quarters: in the middle of the goal posts and fifty-yard lines. Then alternate running 110 yards fast and comfortably, and jogging 110 yards until your legs start to feel heavy and stiff. Don’t try to run through the stiffness or you will take weeks to recover. If your legs are exceptionally sore, take the next day off. If they are not sore, jog slowly until you start to feel tired. Jog easily within yourself on the next two or three days.

On Sunday, you’re going to try to gain endurance. Your endurance day should be quite fast, but not as fast as your interval day. Each Sunday, try to work up to where you can run fairly fast, but within yourself for up to two hours. Of course, you may have to start out with a long run of only 30 minutes, but be patient. Lack of patience causes overuse syndrome. As for your Wednesday workout, when you can run at last 20 repetitions of 110 yards fairly fast, try do repeat 220s, and as the weeks progress, work up to repeat half miles.

Actually, there is little need for running intervals that take much longer than two minutes each, because running very fast for two minutes builds up so much lactic acid that it will force you to run too slow when you try to run longer than that. So your Wednesday workouts eventually will be repeat half miles very fast on one week and repeat 110s very fast on the next. You will try to run brisk and hard for up to two hours on a Sunday. Running longer than that will cause you to run too slow. The key to avoiding overtraining syndrome is to skip your fast and long days whenever your muscles and tendons feel sore. Those of you who think that this program is too easy are either running too slowly on your hard days or are regular sufferers of the overtraining syndrome.


Urhausen, A, Kindermann, W, Urhausen A, Univ Saarland, Fac Clin Mcd, Inst Sports & Prcvcnt Med, D-66041 Saarbrucken, GERMANY “Diagnosis of overtraining–What tools do we have?” Sports Medicine, Vol 32, Iss 2, pp 95-102., 2002.

COPYRIGHT 2002 American Running & Fitness Association

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