Cyclists are a hardworking bunch, but this strong work ethic can be both a blessing and a curse. It’s easy to get carried away and do too much too soon, which can lead to what’s called overtraining. This is a state where your body no longer reacts positively to training and your fitness and overall well-being start to decline.
We asked Tom Bell, an elite-level cyclist, how to spot the early signs of overtraining and how to get back on the path to consistent and manageable training.
Early Signs of Overtraining
1) Lacking Motivation
With an appropriate training load, you should feel motivated and eager to get out on your bike. This should even be true when it comes to the harder days.
Of course, motivation ebbs and flows to some degree. However, chronically low motivation and a lack of enthusiasm to ride can be an early sign of overtraining.
When this happens, cut back on your overall volume and try to ride more for fun than for serious training.
Generally after a few days, you should be able to rekindle your enthusiasm and get back in the groove.
You could also cross train and do some other sports for a little while to help get the hunger back.
2) Mood Swings
Cycling should leave you in a positive mental state, with a solid sense of achievement after your rides. However, another telling sign that you’re doing too much cycling though is irregular mood swings.
When your body slips into an overtrained state, it can really negatively affect your hormones. This can make your mood very up and down.
Not only that, but your ability to focus and concentrate is compromised, so all in all, it’s not a good place to be. It’s also likely that you’ll have trouble sleeping. This includes getting off to sleep initially, as well as staying asleep.
If you find yourself especially short-tempered or angry, it might be time to take a few days off. Your riding will then be of far higher quality, and if nothing else, you’ll be a much nicer person to be around!
Perhaps one of the more serious problems with overtraining is how it can suppress your immune system and your ability to recover from illness and injury.
This can obviously have a negative impact on your immediate cycling. It also allows little niggles to turn into more chronic problems.
As with any injury or illness, riding through pain and discomfort to try and stay “on plan” is largely a false economy. You’ll lose more fitness down the line as you struggle to shake off the issue.
The best approach is to take a few days off completely, and then build back up gradually with some nice easy riding.
4) Muscular Fatigue
Finally, and perhaps the easiest overtraining marker to identify, is sore, tender muscles. Obviously this is a regular part of cycling. It is something you’ll experience a lot if you’re training and trying to build fitness. There is a difference however between muscle soreness and longer term fatigue.
Athletes often misread their decreasing performance on too little training. Actually the problem is too much training for their body to handle.
If you have tenderness and a very heavy feeling in the legs that doesn’t go away with a few days of complete rest or riding very easily, you may have gone too far. Rather than “overreaching” (a necessary part of training), you could be overtraining.
As always, the remedy is more rest, as well as good recovery practices e.g. staying on top of your hydration and making sure you’re eating enough calories. You should then be able to get back on your game relatively soon!
About Tom Bell
Tom is an elite-level professional cyclist from the UK, specialising in cross-country mountain bike racing.
In addition to an international racing schedule, Tom also coaches athletes and creates content to help other cyclists and mountain bikers improve their training and race performances. This includes everything from podcasting, to YouTube videos and blog posts.
Tom’s athletic goals for the year include a podium finish at the UK National Championships, to represent Team GB at the UCI Mountain Bike Marathon World Championships, and to have a strong performance in the UCI Mountain Bike Cross-Country World Cup.
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