Overtraining and Overreaching are Different
Overreaching is caused by several days of training beyond your power to recover by the next day’s ride. This is easily reversible with a few days rest. Carefully planned overreaching is necessary for top riders to reach the elite level.
Overtraining, on the other hand, develops after weeks or months of hard workouts with inadequate recovery. It creates a negative training adaptation — you get worse rather than better from hard training. And it takes months to recover.
Interestingly, Wilbur contends that elite athletes often have to sacrifice one season to overtraining so they can recognize it and avoid it in the future. This lost season is often their first year as a senior rider.
According to Wilbur, 28% of the athletes who competed in the 1996 Olympics reported that they had overtrained for the event and their overtraining had a negative impact on their performance. They identified the need to taper, rest, travel less and stay healthy as the changes they would make if they could prepare again for the Olympics.
Symptoms of overtraining are immunological, biochemical and physiological. A decrease in performance compared to earlier in the season or at the same time last season is one of the most important signs — and it’s easy to recognize.
Some overtraining symptoms are psychological, too, and Wilbur says the key symptom of this type is a fear of competition. If you dread racing or even trying to keep up with the local group ride, it’s a good sign that you’ve pushed the limits of recovery too many times.
Prevention of Overtraining
- Carefully control your training load. Regulate volume, intensity, recovery and amount of competition so you’re fresh. Your recovery days, Wilbur says, are the most important training days of the week.
- Pay attention to your overall lifestyle. Get enough sleep and eat well. Don’t try to cram too many activities into 24 hours. Proper nutrition is especially important because a key contributor to overtraining is chronically low glycogen levels. Be sure to eat enough carbohydrate in every meal, and eat a small meal or take a recovery beverage immediately after training.
- Take care of your health. Avoid colds as best your can and don’t train with a fever. Seek medical care if you become ill.
- Work to create the best training environment. Be sure your family supports your cycling. If you have roommates, let them know that you need quiet sleep conditions. Look for supportive teammates and a coach. A job with a sympathetic employer is a big plus.
Learn more about recovery and cycling performance:
Coach Fred Matheny is an RBR co-founder who has four decades of road cycling and coaching experience. He has written 14 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach Fred Matheny, including the classic Complete Book of Road Bike Training, which includes 4 eBooks comprising 250 pages of timeless, detailed advice and training plans. The Complete Book is one of the many perks of an RBR Premium Membership. Click to read Fred's full bio.