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Physical Tracking of Possible Signs of Overtraining
By C. W. Schurman, CSCS
If you are deep into your spring training routine and wondering if (or when!) it might be a good idea to back off of your training slightly, read on.
Overtraining results from either overload (i.e., using too heavy a pack, following too challenging a workout, or lifting too much weight) or overuse (i.e., running too many days in a row or returning to the gym too soon after a race or injury). Any time you experience whole-body stagnation or decreased performance over several successive workouts, take a few days off with active recovery to allow your body to rest and to regain your enthusiasm for training.
Physical Baseline Tracking
Two measurements you can take on a regular basis to physically chart whether you may be verging on overtraining are resting heart rate and basal temperature.
Resting Heart Rate (RHR)
To determine your resting heart rate (RHR), or the number of times your heart beats per minute while you are resting, lie flat in a comfortable position for at least 3 to 5 minutes. Test yourself when you are healthy, have emptied your bladder, and are at least an hour from any meal or exercise. Your true RHR, taken first thing in the morning, will be roughly 15 to 20 beats lower than what it is when you are sitting in the middle of the day. Track your RHR for 3 days and record the numbers in a training log.
The lowest number you see on any given day is your RHR. Fit athletes may see numbers as low as 30 to 50 beats per minute; 55 to 80 beats per minute is common for many adults. As your cardiovascular fitness improves, your RHR will gradually decrease. If your RHR strays up or down any more than 10 beats from your norm, your body may be working harder than normal to help you heal from a hard workout, recover from illness, cope with additional stress, or fend off something. A change in RHR can signal the need for a change in intensity and / or duration in your workout.
Basal Temperature (Temp)
Similarly, while you are assessing RHR, take your waking body temperature at the same time for 3 days and chart your average and record your norm. Any time you find that your temperature has changed by more than .5 to 1 degree Fahrenheit (.28-.55 C), you may want to reduce the duration or intensity of your scheduled workout until you return to baseline.
Other physical indicators that could signal overtraining include the following:
- Reduced performance, including slower performance times, weakness, muscle soreness beyond the typical 1 to 2 days of DOMS, injury, increased recovery time
- Altered scientific measurements, including weight fluctuation, increased RHR of 10 or more beats per minute, increased blood pressure
- Poorer health, including slow-healing cuts or bruises, headaches, colds, prolonged illness
Additional behavioral indicators that could signal overtraining include the following:
- Mood changes, including apathy, anxiety, depression, lethargy, irritability, nervousness, lack of motivation
- Altered brain function, including loss of ability to concentrate, sluggishness
- Unusual habits, including new sleep patterns, increased thirst, sugar cravings, reduced appetite
Experiencing any single indicator by itself does not necessarily mean you are overdoing your training. You may experience a combination of symptoms. Keep an eye open for clues that might tell you that you are not getting enough rest. If you experience several of these indicators at the same time, reduce exercise frequency, intensity, time, or workload to see if symptoms diminish. Once they disappear and you are well rested, you should feel a desire to train again and start to see an increase in your overall performance again.