Overtraining is an interesting concept. The natural instinct is to say it’s impossible to cycle too much. If the weather is good and you’re really hammering the weekly miles, surely that’s a great thing!
So how do you know when you’ve over done things? What are the drawbacks and is there any long-term damage you’re doing to yourself?
Physical Effects of Overtraining
It feels like a paradox, but sometimes the more you’ve trained the worse you can feel on a bike. Sometimes overtraining can actually ruin an entire block of training. It’s hard to overstate the benefits of rest on allowing your body to adapt to the strenuous efforts you’ve been putting in.
There are a few early warning signs that you might be over doing things.
- Generally feeling tired and grumpy
- Mood swings
- Feeling run down
- Decreased appetite
- Creaks and pains leading to injuries
- Plus a drop in performance
Riders suffering the last point can get stuck in a cycle of training more to make up for the perceived drop in performance. Only to then find they’re just overtraining more. It’s not necessarily the easiest skill, but being self-reflective and recognising the cycle can have long-term benefits.
The introduction of platforms like Zwift also can play a part in overtraining. The fun of racing mixed with the endless opportunities to do it can create problems. Being able to race, push hard and get results without necessarily doing big mileage can feel like we need to ride more to achieve a set number of miles per week. Whereas actually the high-intensity workout is doing a great job for your training.
Particularly in the lead-up to important races, giving the body a chance to recover will help you perform your best on race day. Tapering off the training should help prevent any last-minute colds, snuffles and niggles too.
Tools to help
I keep track of my training and intensity through Intervals.icu which is a free browser-based app that links to your Strava account. In many ways, it’s similar to the popular TrainingPeaks site that I’ve used in the past too. By tracking your rides, it makes it easier to stick to patterns of periodisation. The concept of 3 weeks of training and 1 easier week should prevent you from doing too much on the bike.
Mental Effects of Overtraining
This side happens particularly if you’re trying to stick to a training plan or workouts prescribed by a coach. The switch can flip from riding because it’s fun to riding because you have to. Heading out on a ride with that mindset can create negative feelings and suck the enjoyment from riding.
Some of this fits in with the list of physical symptoms above. That irritability and a general downturn in mood plays on your mind and it’s the riding that suffers. At this point, it’s time to take a break or return to ‘just riding’ for a little bit. If you’re constantly worrying about your power zones on a ride, just heading out for a coffee and cafe stop somewhere could feel liberating.
Ultimately, recognising mental overtraining is tough. Again it requires self-reflection and an awareness that you’re beating yourself up for not riding. If you’re not overtraining, you’re probably in a better place to be able to re-frame the situation and seek the positives.
Mindfulness for cyclists specifically is a thing. From articles like this one on Mindspace to books such as Mindful Thoughts for Cyclists. Some of the famous cycling quotes can help to put things into perspective as well.