Monday, June 30, 2014

Over training & Over reaching

This is a sensitive subject because we want to think we are strong. We want to think that we'll know when there is a problem. Sometimes we don't know until we are sidelined or until something happens.

It's easy to point the finger at someone and say, "They are clearly overtraining."

But are we willing to analyze ourselves so critically; especially when we have a big race coming up?

Recently, Precision Nutrition wrote an article about this very topic. Quite honestly, I know what the symptoms of over training are, but I had never heard of the term over reaching. I'm going to bring up a few things directly from the article. I strongly recommend that you read the article. I'm just going to summarize a few things.

First of all, we should define a couple of things. We all know what training is. We put in the work. Then, there are rest days and recovery days. These are different.

Rest means rest. It's a day off.

Recovery means a lower level of intensity and duration, active recovery.

Our muscles grow, and we become stronger when our bodies have the opportunity to recovery from the stress of training.

If you read this blog post, you understand that based on our abilities, ages and genders, we all have different requirements for recovery and intense training. When our training exceeds our abilites or we aren't providing enough calories to support our level of training, we fall into body debt.

Precision Nutrition defined over training and over reaching as such:

Overtraining is the most serious version of this “body debt”, and it happens often to bodybuilders and other athletes who reduce their calories too drastically while training heavily and frequently.
Overtraining can involve:
  • serious loss of strength and fitness
  • significant and chronic joint and muscle pain
  • serious changes in mood, such as major depression or other psychiatric issues
  • significant sleep disruption
  • major immunity problems — frequent and serious illnesses (e.g. bacterial/viral infections, etc.)
  • hormonal suppression (e.g. low thyroid, low sex hormones, amenorrhea or irregular periods in women, etc.)
Over-reaching — the milder version of overtraining — is a far more common and insidious problem for recreational exercisers.
Over-reaching can involve:
  • low energy and mojo
  • persistently “meh” workouts; not really feeling into training
  • feeling sore and achey all the time
  • feeling mildly irritable, moody, or anxious
  • minor, nagging injuries
  • not feeling 100% — catching minor bugs, feeling run-down
Basically, in both cases, you feel like crap.

The problem with understanding the definitions is that we then have to apply them to ourselves. If you are a woman or man over 45, that's not easy to do.

I am the perfect example of this. For a few years, I was having the worst sleep ever. I started monitoring my sleep. I was moody alot. Although, I rarely get sick and hadn't been injured, I often felt like "meh" and had low energy. And, my performance was suffering. I am too young to be slowing down.

The problem comes in with the fact that these are the same symptoms of perimenopause. I assumed that's what it was. I tried everything possible to counteract the "hormonal issue" I was going through. For 3 months, I tried a hormone cream, but that didn't work. I switched to non-processed & organic foods. I did everything, but I still had problems.

Then, I was "forced" to take a week off from training....not because of sickness or injury but for other reasons.

That week, I slept better than I had in the previous years.

I realized that I had been on the verge of over training/reaching for a long time. Now, I know that I was probably bouncing back and forth between over training and over reaching. I could see it in my races: my 5k speeds had slowed. I could see it in my lack of sleep. I could see it in my moodiness. I had virtually every single symptom.

Hindsight is always 20/20. I didn't want to think that I was over training or over reaching. I wanted to blame something else. It's always easy to blame aging or hormones. It's harder to look at ourselves and admit that we have to back off or change something.

As I mentioned, I was forced into taking action. Otherwise, I would have kept plugging forward. At the time, I was upset about being forced to stop training. Now, I look back, and I think it was the best possible outcome for me. (I'm using the word "forced" because that's how it felt. I didn't want to stop. I wanted to keep going.)

The good news in all of this (for me) is that now that I am sleeping well, my hormones are better regulated. I don't have any of the symptoms that I had before. When I do have sleep problems or mood swings, they are short lived, and they follow a cycle. That's how I know they truly are "hormonal". I just need to wade through a day or two of feeling "meh" to get back to my normal mode of operandi.

The reason I wrote this post today is because I see many many friends who post these symptoms. Hormones (whether you are +50, in your 30's or female or male) regulate every aspect of our lives. They are responsible for our hunger & appetite. They are responsible for managing stress. They build our strength and allow us to get sleep.

Many of my friends are experiencing these problems because over reaching will put stress on your system causing hormones to back fire in all bad ways possible. BUT THIS IS NOT A HORMONAL PROBLEM IN MANY CASES. IT IS AN ISSUE OF OVER REACHING. 

If you are experiencing these symptoms, and you are blaming hormones, I highly recommend that you take a week off from training and see how you feel. If nothing else, it will reset your body. If it is truly a hormonal issue, it won't necessarily be fixed in the week. If it is a training issue, it will likely be fixed in the week. That's your opportunity to make changes.

Then, get with your Coach to come up with a plan that works specifically for you.

And read this article, it's short but it has some great insight.