Rider Q&A: How to Deal with Overtraining

Overtraining is a funny thing – either you never have to worry about it because you are too lazy to work that hard (nothing wrong with that in some respects) or you seem to be in a constant battle with it as you try to balance your desire to do more and work harder with the reality that you can’t physically handle everything you think you need to do. Some riders need a kick in the pants and some, like the rider in this Rider Q&A blog post, need to be told it is alright to back off a bit every now and then.

Q: I have been working hard for the last 6 months training and riding and I am starting to get burned out. It has been months since I was able to go for a ride without my legs being sore in the last week I don’t want to train or ride. I am frustrated that I am going to lose some of my fitness if I stop training but I don’t know what to do – your advise would be greatly appreciated.

You need to be consistent with your training but flexible with the day to day plan to account for the realities of life.

A:Welcome to part of the training process – you now know that “too much” looks and feels like and you can avoid it in the future. The main thing that you need to take from this is to not push too hard for too long and to listen to your body. Somewhere between starting to get sore last a few months ago and being crippled today we should have backed way off of something.

I have two suggestions. First, take a week off of training. if you want to go for an easy to moderate ride for fun then fine but don’t do anything “because you should” for the next week. You aren’t going to lose fitness and you will actually come out of the break in better shape and more mentally into the process again.

You also need to have a “back off” week every 4-6 weeks as well. The easiest way to do this is to cut back your sets by 1/3 – 1/2. Don’t look to “workout” as much as just move and get some active recovery.

My second suggestion would be to stop being so rigid with how you follow the Weekly Training Plan and learn to listen to your body and plan accordingly. If you are stressed out and exhausted and you have a Hard Workout planned you are not doing yourself any good by just doing it anyways. The you need to be consistent with your training but flexible with the day to day plan to account for the realities of life.

Training is about applying the right amount of stress at the right time, not mindlessly following a rigid training plan. I walk a fine line making the Weekly Training Plans available but I also know that people need a concrete example of how to put the workouts together. However, one of my favorite quotes from the Book of Five Rings tells us the true value of words…

“Words can lead you to the start of the path but they can not walk the path for you.”

In other words, while the Weekly Training Plans play an important role in getting you started you ultimately need to learn how to walk your training path yourself and that includes being able to make audibles based on where you are at on a given day.

This is why I use the BioForce HRV monitor and I think that you are too the point where you would really benefit from investing in it or – while I haven’t personally tried it – the Ithlete HRV monitoring system. This tool has been invaluable in saving me from myself and not training harder than I should.

I would also – or at least – use the Recovery Tracker linked to from the Bonuses tab on the Personal Coaching Website. If your HRV is Orange and/ or your Recovery Score is less than 5.5 then you shouldn’t do a Hard Workout or go for a hard training ride. You if you need to do a light workout instead and save your hard effort for when your HRV/ Recovery Score is higher. Too many weeks of training hard when we should have backed off a bit will lead to overtraining, which is what you are experiencing now.

The truth is that you can not ride hard and train hard at the same time. You have to learn to back off of one while focusing on the other. And the ultimate indicator of that is how well you are recovering from your rides and workouts. More/ Harder isn’t always better, better is better.

Some riders need a kick in the pants to train harder and some – like you – are internally motivated and need to keep things in check. This usually entails training less than they think they should. This makes and objective measurement of recovery essential.

-James Wilson-

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  1. Bryan Wood says:

    Anybody who is struggling with overtraining,if you are just training for the long haul and fitness, or really just anybody who’s reading this site I would really recommend that you read at least one of Phil Maffetone’s books. I read his “Big Book of Endurance Training” and it was invaluable. He’s been doing this for a very long time with a lot of very high performing athletes. One of his big ideas is “slow down to go faster”. And he spends a lot of time talking about how many athletes are very “fit” but not very “healthy” and a lot of that comes from the overtraining syndrome. Also if you have chronic aches and pains his method is really helpful.

    I’m in the process of doing exactly what James is talking about and customizing what he does with many of Phil’s principles. As a matter of fact I’ve just gone through a 3 month base training phase where I haven’t touched a weight or exercised over 140 beats/min and now I’m going to start working James’ resistance training back in. I feel like Phil’s training is a little light on anaerobic training for our style of riding. But still really important for the basis of a good training program.

    James, if you’re familiar with Maffetone I’d love to know what your thoughts are on his principles and how to fit your programs in with his. And if you haven’t read any of his work it might be something to look at.


    Reply • February 25 at 7:15 am
  2. Mike says:

    Great article. I used to push through my workouts too since I only had limited time and when I had an opening, I took advantage of it whether I was stress out or lacking sleep (usually both). Not the best idea but it worked for a while until I knew I had to take off way more time to recover.

    Since hearing about HRV from you, I was looking for a cheaper option. If you have an iphone or android, there is an app called Stress Check by Azumio for $1.99. I’ve used it on my iphone for almost a month now and it has worked surprisingly well. It is written for the general public so it gives the result in percentage only (no resting HR, no export function) and a place to add comments. I had an infection in my knee due to a crash and my HRV skyrocketed when it happened and I was able to see it go down as the antibiotics worked. The percentage also correlates with my work stress and amount of sleep I get. It doesn’t seem affected by my Time Crunched Trail Rider workout but my HRV goes up after big rides. I’ve just been more conscious to take it easy on high percentage days and get more sleep that night if possible. I think I may get the ithlete HRV with the new finger measuring device (coming out soon) since I want more data but the Stress Check was a good way to see if I was actually going to take daily measurements and see if this works. Being $2, there is virtually no risk and it works to give you the data you need (although basic). I have no affiliation with them.

    Reply • February 25 at 9:00 am
  3. Scott B says:

    The HRV monitor from ithlete is better product for cyclists and a much better deal than Bioforce. Ithlete makes the Bioforce dongle you just pay more via Bioforce. The new finger tip monitor simplifies things as you don’t need to find you hr strap and their protocol is only about 55 seconds vs the longer Bioforce protocol. I used both and the ithlete products are superior for use and value. http://Www.myithlete.com

    Reply • March 12 at 6:17 am

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