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Monday, September 12, 2016

How to tell if you’re overtraining

It takes a special kind train circus arts.  An emotional talent is demanded, an ability to continue on a path through which achieving mastery seems unlikely on most days and laughable on your worst days.  This talent will allow you to see such an environment, measure it’s volition, and walk steadfastly through it regardless of the certainty of emotional and physical struggle.  And yet, here we are.  Congratulations, for it seems you too must have this talent; this odd, at times Sisyphean, predilection for sustained effort in the absence of instant gratification.

With this talent for abuse hard work comes an adjoining talent for ignoring the body’s clues that you are in fact, pushing too hard, past the black of beneficial efforts and into the red of actual physical harm.  These clues include anything from sharp pain to dull pain to chronic exhaustion and bouts of dizziness, all things your coach might tell you to ignore.  You’re only too happy to oblige.

I’m not about to go up against your gung-ho spirit animal of a battleaxe here, so instead, I will give you some science,  and if you don’t like it then you can take it up with science.

How to tell if you're overtraining...the science way:

Step 1:  Establish a Baseline

Otherwise known as your Resting Heart Rate, or RHR for lazy people.

  1. Have an analog clock by your bedside or within sight of your bed, with a second hand.
  2. Upon waking, before even sitting up, before sipping water, look at this second hand and take your pulse.  Count your heartbeats that occur within 10 seconds.  Repeat if you desire for consistency.  
  3. Multiply that number by 6.  So if you counted 12 beats in that 10 seconds, you get 72.  Whatever this number is, is the closest you can get to your resting heart rate while being conscious.  
  4. Write this number down.

Step 2:  Collect more data

Do this every morning.  If you observe your resting heart rate increase by a significant amount over time (significant being an increase of around 7 or more beats per minute), you are probably overtraining.  Your body is not recovering sufficiently to keep up with the demands you are placing on it.  A variant of around 4 beats per minute is normal and nothing to be alarmed by, but tracking your RHR over a long period of time can give us a conveniently black and white barometer of our overall fitness.  If your RHR begins to lower, it indicates you are getting even fitter, and recovering adequately, since your heart doesn’t have to work so hard.

Before you freak out, consider that some experts recommend taking a baseline of 2-3 weeks of data before coming to any conclusions.

Step 3:  Don't freak out

So what to do if you are, indeed, overtraining?

This doesn’t mean “take it easier” in the gym, since I think we’ve established that aerialists and other circus performers don’t have a clue how to actually do that, it means having the courage to take a few days off.  Super off.  No, this doesn’t mean going for a light 10k jog, it means actually resting.  You can do it.  The only thing harder than training is not training.  It does indeed take a soldier’s discipline.

So here’s to you and here’s to me, and here’s to that rest day where you lay around eating pudding once a week.  Or's your barbeque.

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