Remove the guess work on overtraining

It’s been tough, really tough, but you are super motivated. You have hired a coach or you have built the ultimate training plan. You got up early, morning after morning and worked out late every evening. You have ridden, run and raced countless miles. You even went to the gym and lifted weights! You have dialed in your nutrition. You got the right amount of sleep and minimized life stress the best you could. All to meet your goals.


You are tired, irritable, losing focus and having doubts about why you started this athletic journey. Do you need more sleep? Better food? Supplements? Maybe it’s time to see a doctor and get blood work. Maybe you just need a week or more off from training?

Or you may be cooked!

Every athlete goes through the above. Maybe not all at once but it will happen. Once the above concerns go more than a week long the next thought is, Have I Over Trained. How do I know and what do I do now and in the future to make sure it doesn’t happen again?

Over Training
Over training syndrome, (OTS) as it is referred to in the medical literature, as a serious problem marked most noticeably by a decrease in performance (strength, speed, endurance, or other), increased fatigue, persistent muscle soreness, mood disturbances, and feeling “burnt out” or “stale.

Overreaching is an accumulation of training and/or non-training stress resulting in a short-term decrease in performance sometimes accompanied by some physiological and psychological stress. Once an athlete is over trained, restoration of performance capacity may take several days to several weeks.

Why we may want to overreach
We may not want an athlete to overreach. Overreaching or approaching overreaching followed by a greater amount of recovery has lead to athletes making bigger and sometimes faster adaptations. The problem with doing this with motivated athletes is that they can try to replicate the effect repeatedly leading to over training. Repeated overreaching will often lead to several plateaus often confounding athletes who just can’t seem to progress. Utilizing a periodized training plan often negates the need for overreaching. However, if a scheduled peak needs to be rescheduled overreaching can be used to manage when peak fitness occurs. This is more art than science and is easy to get wrong!

Some of the most common symptoms of over training

  • Feeling weak, tired, drained, lack of energy
  • Leg soreness, general aches, and pains
  • Pain in muscles and joints
  • Sudden drops in performance
  • Insomnia
  • Difficulties falling a sleep
  • Headaches
  • Decreased immunity (increased number of colds, and sore throats)
  • Decrease in training capacity/intensity
  • Moodiness and irritability
  • Depression
  • Loss of enthusiasm for the sport
  • Decreased appetite
  • Increased incidence of injuries.
  • A compulsive need to exercise

How to confirm you are over trained

There are several ways to determine if you are over trained or approaching over training.

On a weekend of a rest, take your resting heart rate (HR) upon waking. Then document this HR and subsequent days in a log or diary. Any increase in the waking HR may indicate an early sign of over training.

A Sports Science Researcher, Heikki Rusko, created an orthostatic heart rate test for Cross Country Skiers to determine if they were over training.

  • Lay down and rest comfortably for 10 minutes the same time each day (morning is best).
  • At the end of 10 minutes, record your heart rate in beats per minute.
  • Then stand up
  • After 15 seconds, take a second heart rate in beats per minute.
  • After 90 seconds, take a third heart rate in beats per minute.
  • After 120 seconds, take a fourth heart rate in beats per minute.

A well rested athlete will show no difference between measures in the orthostatic heart rate test. Those athletes approaching over training and not fully recovered may see an HR 10 beats higher in the 120-second measure.

Heart Rate Variability as an Over Training measure

Heart rate variability (HRV) describes the way your heart beat varies – both at rest and during exercise. Contrary to popular belief, the healthy heart does not beat like a metronome but is constantly changing the time between beats in a rhythmic way. These changes are driven by the nervous system, trying to find the most efficient way for the body to operate. The fact that the nervous system makes itself visible through HRV makes the heart a wonderful barometer of how hard your body is trying to preserve its equilibrium.

Well trained (Not Over Trained) athletes exhibit greater variability between heartbeats than those who are stressed mentally and physically. During exercise, HRV decreases as heart rate and exercise intensity increase. Comparing an athlete’s HRV at a given pace and heart rate can give us information about training load and stress and show us sooner if an athlete is approaching Over Training.

Intensity Factors and Training Stress Scores © – Andrew R. Coggan, Ph.D.

Intensity Factor is calculated as Normalized Power/Threshold Power= Intensity Factor. For an easier understanding of the concept, the table below outlines Intensity Factor matched against respective wattage numbers.

Training Stress Score (TSS) is a composite number that takes into account the duration and intensity of a workout to arrive at a single estimate of the overall training load and physiological stress created by that training session. By definition, one hour spent at Functional Threshold Power (FTP) is equal to 100 points.

Running Training Stress Score (rTSS) is similar to Training Stress Score (TSS), but instead of being power meter based, it is based on pace.  Since running pace is a function of power, and for most runners, speed or pace is the measure of greatest interest, we can use the same principles applied in the TSS system to quantify training stress in running.

Swim Training Stress Score (sTSS) is based on your functional threshold swim pace, total distance covered, and total moving duration (duration not including rest periods).

Heart Rate Training Stress Score (hrTSS) is based on time in heart rate zones (based on users lactate threshold heart rate), and is not as accurate as Powermeter based TSS or running pace based rTSS.

Typical IF values for various training sessions or races are as follows:

  • Less than 0.75 recovery rides
  • 0.75-0.85 endurance-paced training rides
  • 0.85-0.95 tempo rides, aerobic and anaerobic interval workouts (work and rest periods combined), longer (>2.5 h) road races
  • 0.95-1.05 lactate threshold intervals (work period only), shorter (<2.5 h) road races, criteriums, circuit races, longer (e.g., 40 km) TTs
  • 1.05-1.15 shorter (e.g., 15 km) TTs, track points race
  • Greater than 1.15 prologue TT, track pursuit, track miss-and-out

The following scale can be used as an approximate guide:

  • Less than 150 – low (recovery generally complete by following day)
  • 150-300 – medium (some residual fatigue may be present the next day, but gone by 2nd day)
  • 300-450 – high (some residual fatigue may be present even after 2 days)
  • Greater than 450 – very high (residual fatigue lasting several days likely)

What to do if over trained
Take a break immediately! Stop training, see a doctor and have blood work done to see how over trained you are. Blood tests can look for tell tale signs of decreases in various hormones, iron and or magnesium depletion to confirm that you are spent. Just make sure that if your doctor recommends a course of medications that none of them are banned by your sports governing body. Many doctors without backgrounds in sports science or sports medicine do not know the rules. If the doctor still strongly recommends a banned med check to see if there is a therapeutic exemption. Make sure the doctor fills out ALL therapeutic exemption paper work and it has been submitted and accepted before taking ANY banned substance. Failure to do so will mean public sanctions. No the rules!

How to  make sure I don’t over train again

  • For athletes younger than 30 I recommend at least one day off every other week and one active recovery week after 3-4 weeks of hard training.
  • For athletes in their 50s to 30s I recommend I day off from all training for passive recovery and at least one additional day a week of active recovery. I also recommend one active recovery week for every 2 hard weeks of training.
  • For athletes in their 60s or older I recommend 2 days off from all training for passive recovery and at least one additional day a week of active recovery. I also recommend one active recovery week for every 2 hard weeks of training. It may even be necessary for even older athletes to have an every other active week of recovery.
  • All athletes should have transition weeks between each major training phase in the off season where the focus is active recovery and cross training. The transition week should also immediately follow a peak week.
  • All athletes should only increase the volume of training in any given phase by 10-15% and each new season should only increase annual training volume by no more than 20%.

 Links that may further shed light on measuring OTS:


I hope you have found the article helpful. I also hope that you are able to apply some of this new found knowledge to your training. If you are self-coached take the time to learn how to build a periodized plan and be consistent in its application! This will the be the easiest way to combat OTS. Have questions just leave a comment!

Until next time,

Train Smarter Not Harder,

Coach Rob

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