The Fit Student—How to Conquer Overtraining

Rocky Balboa loves to sweat.  He must’ve made millions dripping in his flicks.  But what if he burned out from overtraining?  Well, he’d miss out on surging energy, awesome sleeps, fun training, and a massive appetite.  Worse, he could get hit with an autoimmune disease, like I almost did.

During grad school, I exercised five hours most days.  Before bed, I’d punch my pillow due to lactic acid burning my legs.  When I had early morning classes, I’d catnap (more like crash) throughout the day.   For two days after those early mornings, I’d have no muster to study.  I’d do little but cry between catnaps—and workouts.

And then I came down with a vague bronchitis-pneumonia diagnosis.  Yet, I continued to ride my bike, snorting into soggy toilet paper at stop signs; cycling twice-a-day to the gym to weightlift, box, snoot, and cough.

Yes, I over-trained.  And then I quit.  During the next ten years of laziness, I grew sick.

To my joy, ten months ago, my doctor smartened me up.  She said, “Get fit or get sick.” Over the next ten months, my feeble body sprouted muscles.  Just last month, I finessed my fitness with high intensity interval training.   Plus, I added wind sprints, swimming—and glorious steam baths.

But I crashed.

Ten-hour sleeps no longer refreshed me.  I began trembling my first minute in the gym.  And while doing chin-ups, I feared my muscles might tear.  At bedtime, my body screamed for extra salmon, despite me having eaten a thousand more calories than burned.

Yes, I over-trained.  But, training is for life!

So, I refuse to quit.  Instead, I halved my training and took more rest days.  But I still felt tired and ill.  So, I pinpointed other culprits: excessive steam baths, toxic cinnamon intake, oversleeping, and overdoing high-intensity-interval-training.  I cut back one-at-a-time until I regained my mojo.

Sigh.  Elite athletes can train four or more hours a day.  Why can’t I?  Well, they’re youthful, so their bodies recover faster.  Plus, they have access to physiotherapists, sports coaches, and excess nutrition.  Michael Phelps, the swimming champ, ate between 8,000 to 10,000 calories a day at his peak.

I say, Bah-humbug to age!  Studies say that strength trainers in their 70s get similar results as those in their 40s.  And, hey, I’m not 70.  My guess is, neither are you.  So, let’s do bicep curls beyond our 90th birthday.

In other words, if you hit a training stump, don’t quit.  Instead, do what the pros do—modify.  Ben Shatto shows us how to conquer overtraining in his book Preventing and Treating Overtraining Syndrome:

  • If you’ve over-trained, see a sports doctor: “If you are experiencing chronic aches or pains or are struggling with an aspect of your training, seek help immediately …. This would include designing a new training … schedule to prevent OTS [overtraining syndrome] from recurring” (location 240, 44%).
  • And rest to conquer overtraining syndrome: “One of the first and primary treatments for OTS is to rest. More rest is required the longer the overtraining has occurred ….  If the overtraining has occurred for a short period of time (such as three to four weeks), then a brief three to five days of rest may be sufficient …” (location 196, 2%).
  • While recovering, train either less frequently or less intensely: “After the rest days, you must be slow and deliberate as you slowly taper back into training at a lower training volume until your recovery is complete. Typically, in mild cases, the intensity of training can be maintained as long as the volume is decreased” (location 196, 2%).
  • And get a massage for faster recovery: “Consider seeing a masseuse for regular body work. Use mobility tools or a foam roller after exercise to speed up recovery times and decrease the risk of muscle soreness or restriction” (location 226, 41%).
  • Consider acupuncture for OTS recovery, too: “During acupuncture sessions, you can take time to specifically work on intentional relaxation and meditation, which has the added benefit of addressing the nervous and hormonal systems” (location 240, 44%).
  • Cut out caffeine, too: “Decrease the stimulants … Intake of stimulants, such as caffeine, tend to worsen the condition” (location 240, 44%).
  • Eats lots of fats for OTS recovery: “Limit sugary food, and add more protein and healthy fat in your diet …. I encourage that you consume a higher fat diet to help your body’s hormonal system to re-regulate” (location 251, 44%).
  • Lastly, drink lots of water to prevent injury: “Dehydrated tissues are prone to injury as they struggle to gain needed nutrients to heal and repair. Dehydrated tissues are less flexible and tend to accumulate waste products.  Stay hydrated by drinking water” (location 273, 48%).

After stopping steam baths, my energy bounced back 90%.  My energy then leapt to 98% after I slept less and stopped consuming toxic cinnamon doses.

But I won’t skimp on high intensity interval training.  After all, Rocky went the distance.  Surely, we can, too.

Warning: Consult a doctor before taking on a new exercise program.  If your doctor pooh-poohs your fitness plan, get a second opinion from a sports medicine doctor.  In Alberta, health care will cover the cost.

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