A Guide to Overtraining and Recovery for Cyclists

Training hard doesn’t always correlate to better race day performance. Pair hard training with inadequate rest and recovery and you might actually lose fitness instead of gaining it. Here’s how you can spot the symptoms of overtraining and address it before before you get slower.

Effects of Overtraining 

Overtraining can have negative consequences for fitness, causing performance to plateau or even decline. Going to hard, too long with too little rest not only affects our musculoskeletal system causing soreness, pain, and increased likelihood for injury; it also affects the endocrine system which is responsible for delivering the hormones which govern mood, repair, and growth.

Overtraining can even be harmful to our general health. Spending too much energy on training can weaken the immune system and left untreated, overtraining can become chronic and detrimental to fitness and health for months or years.

Symptoms of Overtraining and How to Recognize Them

Overtraining doesn’t always present in predictable ways. If you experience any or several of the following, it might be time to make an adjustment.

Lowered Performance Despite Training

If you’re training consistently yet your performance is in decline, suspect overtraining.

Generalized or Training Apathy

If you have to work hard to motivate yourself to train, you might be overtrained. If you’re normally enthusiastic about getting on the bike, but find yourself struggling to get out for your Sunday ride, you’re likely experiencing chronic fatigue.

Nagging Want to Quit

Are you experiencing a strong desire to turn around early during a training ride? If you’re lethargic, tired and feel like taking the shortcut you normally wouldn’t take, you’re overtrained.

Irritable and Unproductive

Well balanced training pays back dividends in balancing your mood and productivity at work and home. If family members are noticing you’re not your normal happy-go-lucky self, you’re likely overtrained. If your work isn’t getting done, take note.

Sleep is Disrupted

Feeling really sleepy around 2-3pm, but waking up and rolling around throughout the night? Having a hard time falling asleep despite being tired? These are classic signs of fatigue and sure signs of overtraining.

More Quick Signs of Overtraining

  1. Muscle tightness, soreness or pain that won’t go away
  2. Feeling fatigued throughout the day
  3. Loss of appetite
  4. Loss of libido
  5. Restlessness
  6. Higher heart-rate – during exercise and at rest
  7. Lower heart-rate-variability
  8. Persistent injuries
  9. Disruption of menstrual cycle or loss of period
  10. Lack of concentration

What To Do If You’re Overtraining

If you’re checking off symptoms above, you’re overtrained, now it’s time do something about it.

Take a Break

Take a real break. Prescribe the break and don’t break it. Consider taking at least a full week off, preferably two. Don’t supplement your “lost” time on the bike with a renewed interest in running or weight lifting either. Rest.

Eat Well

I recently spent a week on vacation in Mexico eating high-carb meals and came back to absolutely crush a gravel race a week later. Replenishing your body assist in recovery and preps it for hardwork.

Combat Stress

Identify stressors in your life, whether it’s work or family. Work on self-care techniques to reduce your stress. I love box breathing after a tough meeting. Do some yoga, play a video-game, take a bath, read a book. Find the thing that works for you and stick with it just like you would training.

Adjust Your Training

Don’t jump back into the plan that left you overtrained. Plan rest weeks every 4-6 weeks. Don’t stack heavy training days back to back. Be realistic about the stress of work and family life – mowing the grass after a hard training ride isn’t a path to performance.

Monitor Your Body

My heart-rate-variability drops a few days before I start to feel the symptoms of overtraining. Learning to understand your biometrics and how you feel allows a reduction in training before you start losing ground.

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