18 June 2008

What to do when overtrained?

training hard and strange things are happening to your motivation and mood. What can you do to get the ship back on course?

Before I look at this question, lets start by looking at the more common possibility – you aren’t really overtrained at all! I suspect that most climbers with symptoms of overtraining are not doing more volume than their bodies can handle. Instead they are often suffering from zero variety in training. Always training at the same wall, same rock type, same scene, same anything? If so, before taking action against overtraining that inevitably involves resting a bit, try just doing something different first. Think about any aspects of your climbing schedule that are constant and then try switching to something else for a bit. That is probably all that is required.

However, if you are really sure you have been doing everything right keep your body going through what you ask of it, perhaps you have simply added too much volume. This situation is extremely rare in amateur athletes. But there are three options:

1: keep looking for the ‘real’ cause of the overtraining symptoms such as not enough sleep, poor diet, poor variety of climbing stimulus, poor warm up etc etc. The mantra here is that if you are going to ask your body to handle more training than ever before, you need to take better care of it than ever before.

2: Introduce a short reduction in training load combined with some TLC for the body. What form this reduction takes depends totally on the individual. For one athlete it might be two or three days of complete rest, for another it might be dropping one part of the daily training sessions for a day or two. The big markers to measure whether it’s working are your performance on some reference climbs of exercises you have, muscle soreness, mood and motivation level and the speed at which you ‘bounce back’ after rest days. You might be frustrated at the vagueness of these markers. There are some accurate chemical markers, but you are unlikely to have access to them unless you are on a premier league football team! Using the self-measures well is possible if you follow them closely over time. You develop a bit of a sixth sense here. But it’s still one of the most difficult aspects of being an amateur athlete and the easiest to get wrong.

Remember that rest from training is only half the picture – don’t forget to reduce other inputs of physical and psychological stress, eat well, get a change of scenery and generally give your body a chance to get well.

3: Taper properly, and peak for a project. If you have been doing many weeks of uninterrupted hard training, you know you are very fit but also a little beaten up, perhaps your body is saying if this intensity carries on then problems are starting to happen. This is a great place to be! A few weeks of reduced training, with more rest days than normal, more variety and more emphasis on integrating the technical skills than pure physical training should bring about a good peak. The key mistake here is not to rest enough! You feel as though you will lose all the hard earned gains. But so long as the climbing is still regular, what is happening is that your body will recover from the depressed state of performance you have enforced by leaving it chronically in recovery from hard sessions, and it will shine. Time to go forth to your projects, get amongst, forget about training for a while and focus on ticking those lifetime projects!
Thanks to Tom for the question.