7 Ways Runners Can Avoid Overtraining

If you feel like you’re taking one step forward and two steps back with every run, it’s probably because you’re overtraining. When you are training too often and too hard that your body does not have a change to recover in between sessions, your body starts to rebel against you. Not only can you start to see your muscles atrophy, you may actually feel less motivated to train, see a dip in your immune system, and you might start gaining fat. All of these are your body’s attempts to get you to take it easy, though the most determined runners among us will continue to push through, further worsening the problem.

If you are experiencing the negative symptoms of overtraining, it’s time to take some measures to avoid this regressive and sometimes dangerous practice. Here are seven ways you can prevent overtraining:

1. Get enough carbs.

How many carbohydrates you get is directly related to how likely you are to over train. Your body needs carbohydrates not just to burn as energy during your run, but also for muscle recovery. If you aren’t eating enough carbs, your body might not have the necessary energy to power through your training session or to recover afterwards. While you might have the mental stamina to push through, you are overtaxing your body to the point that it will start to rebel. Make sure you are getting enough carbs for your body weight and activity level, especially before a run.

 Pasta - one of the preffered carbohydrates of most runners.

2. Don’t neglect the easy runs.

Motivated runners might cut the easy runs out of their workout, believing the only way to continually improve is to be continually running harder and longer. That just isn’t true. An easy run is a great way to maintain the progress you’ve made, without pushing your body beyond its limits. Your training plan should include easy runs and those runs should not be treated like hard runs. Maintain your base mileage, stay limber, but give your body a rest.

 Jogging will not decrease your performance - sometimes it's the best thing for you.

3. Get enough rest.

Runners are notorious for refusing to take a day off. We get it, you want to maintain your progress. The truth is that running every single day of every single week can push your body way too hard. Rest allows your body to repair your muscles, build energy for further training, and heal any injuries you might have gotten during training. If you don’t rest, you’re setting yourself for the pains of overtraining.

 Get enough rest to let your muscles repair the workout damage.

4. Vary your workouts.

Don’t do five days of hard training, and then give yourself an easy run as a reward. As with any kind of exercise, varying your intensity from day to day can help to confuse your body and give it time to relax and repair for future training sessions. If you feel like you are pushing yourself too hard, you probably are. Intermingle easy run days with hard training days to avoid overtraining.

 Mix easy runs with hard trainings.

5. Don’t neglect your cross training.

Some runners just run. They don’t lift weights, they don’t swim, they don’t cycle. This can be extremely taxing on your body and frankly isn’t the best way to improve your stamina. Taking one of your run days and turning it into a cycling, swimming, rowing, or elliptical day can prevent overtraining. It allows you to work out other muscles that running often neglects, which ensures that you aren’t overusing some muscle groups and letting others atrophy. Pick an aerobic exercise that you like just as much as running, but that doesn’t use the same muscle groups.

 Swimming is one of the best cross training sports you can do.

6. Get enough sleep.

Yes, sleep is different from rest. Not only does getting enough sleep ward off the fatigue that can make training impossible, it is also the prime time for your body to repair itself. Don’t skimp on sleep. How much you need depends on you personally, but you can tell you’re not getting enough sleep if you are waking up just as tired as you went to bed. No matter the actually cause of your sleeplessness is, you might need to dial back your running until you’ve straightened out your sleep schedule.

 Woman sleeping. Get enough sleep to ward off the fatigue that can make training impossible.

7. Pay attention to what your body is telling you.

The best way to avoid overtraining is to listen to the signals your body is sending you. If you start to notice that you are less motivated to train and that you are losing muscle mass or maybe even gaining fat, it’s probably because you have been pushing yourself too hard, not because you are not pushing yourself hard enough. Pay attention and you can prevent overtraining from happening, instead of having to deal with the symptoms once they begin.

Use these seven tips and you can avoid overtraining altogether!

The Science Behind Overtraining

Running is a game of adaptation and stress. Training stresses your body simply by challenging the limits of its endurance and speed. The key to successful training is to apply the right amount of stress with the right frequency, and the body will answer to this stress – adapting in such a manner that it will better handle the same stress next time.

Let’s see a short example. A long workout will deplete your muscle glycogen fuel stores, and the genes responsible for controlling your muscles’ glycogen stores are immediately stimulated after a workout – your endurance increases due to larger glycogen stores.

However, if you subject your body to too much running stress, it will quickly cause negative adaptations in your bones and muscles. Since each and every workout alters a certain amount of muscle tissue, the inflammation reponse is triggered to repair the damage. Given enough time, the inflammation will heal the workout damage and ‘alter’ your muscles in such a manner that they will become more resistant to damage in future runs.

Too many hard workouts will result in out-of-control inflammation, so pay huge attention to how your body reacts.

Are you overtraining?

 Balance is everything when it comes to running. Understand overtraining and listen to the signals your body sends to you.
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