Overtraining is a common problem, especially with endurance and speed-based cycling. It occurs when the intensity and volume of your rides become excessive and there is insufficient rest and recovery planned into your training programme. If spotted in the early stages it can be rectified within two weeks. However, if left undetected, it may take six months or even over a year before you are over the symptoms and able to resume regular training.
What contributes to overtraining?
- Excessive training volume and/or intensity
- Fatigue and staleness
- Physiological issues such as stress from your training and lifestyle
- Poor diet
- Travel (e.g. jet lag)
- Failure to recover adequately from training
A combination of one or more of the above factors will contribute to overtraining, but other factors such as your chosen discipline, your stage of development (years of experience), and personal qualities are equally influential.
Research into overtraining has found that it's not just elite riders who are susceptible to the condition. Highly motivated and competitive cyclists suffer it more than others due to their desire to train hard and frequently (and it may be more noticeable in their performances) but the 'exercise junkie' who rides long and hard every day will be just as prone to overtraining as those performing at a higher level.
Most cases of overtraining are not detected until there has been a decrease in the athlete's ability to perform. This can either appear in training or during races. The decline in physical performance is often accompanied by other symptoms:
A decline in physical performance is often accompanied by other symptoms
- Sleep disturbances
- Elevated resting heart rate
- Head colds and allergic reactions
- Muscle tenderness
- General fatigue
- Decreased appetite
- Weight loss
Unfortunately overtraining is highly idiosyncratic, and so it's very difficult to detect. Any number of the above symptoms could be an indicator, but in some instances the individual could show none of the above signs yet still be at risk.
How do you detect overtraining?
There are a number of symptoms that indicate when a cyclist is overtrained, however, the best way to check if overtraining is taking place is to monitor performance through testing. This will reveal whether a decrease or stagnation of performance has occurred. Take a ride when you know you are feeling strong. Monitor your heart rate, time taken and speed. Repeat this same ride when you feel you may be overtrained, and compare the results.
Suspect you're overtrained? Stop cycling!
Keep a training diary. This will indicate downturns in performance, and may also provide clues to the reasons behind overtraining
Honestly, a complete break of two weeks (if you can't manage that, at least avoid any races or events and additional mileage). Start back gradually, have some easy rides initially and then you can add in a few 30 second sprints over alternate days to see if you're feeling stronger again. Monitor your mood, your resting heart rate and sleeping patterns. If you are improving you should be feeling good, your resting pulse rate will be normal and you will be sleeping well.
It will only be a matter of weeks before you can build your training back up to a manageable level. If not, then stay away from your bike for another two weeks and in the meantime, speak to a coach who will be able to help you plan your rest and recovery as well as your return to performance riding.