Most athletes train hard, whether your sport is dancing, running, football, or lacrosse to name a few. Many who wish to be in peak physical condition so they can stay on top of their game train 6 days a week. But does this training truly benefit you? How do we know if we’re training enough or if we’re overtraining?
There are several different markers to look at that can give you an indication of how your level of training is affecting you. The first is resting heart rate. It’s best to check you resting heart rate first thing in the morning as you rise. Many apps can help you do this and record it for your benefit. An elevated heart rate can be indicative of stress. The only problem is that we don’t know if that’s physiological stress or psychological stress. Keeping track of your resting heart rate at a regular time each day can help you determine this, as can looking at what you’ve done the day before and what stressors (exercise included) have been a part of your daily routine. If you’re tracking this, keep in mind that your resting heart rate will vary from day to day. Variation of 5% or less is normal. More than this could be due to stress.
The quality of your sleep is another marker. While we won’t spend too much time on this, as we covered it in last week’s post, we won’t overlook its importance. Tissue growth and repair occurs during stages 3 and 4 on non-REM sleep (Sleep Foundation). If your sleep quality is poor or the quantity is too short, you won’t maximize your body’s potential to repair itself after a hard workout.
Another important marker to use to assess your level of recovery is hydration. And the simplest way we know of to track hydration is through urine output (800-2000mL daily). Not only do we need to make sure we’re hydrated enough to produce enough urine throughout the day, we also need to be mindful of its concentration. This is something that can be gauged through color (see color chart here). If your urine is pale yellow or more clear, you’re well hydrated. If it’s dark, maybe even a little brownish, you’re in need of some water. Being dehydrated as little as 2% can effect your endurance and performance, and past that, cognitive functions can be impaired (Susan Barr). Please keep in mind that food intake can also affect color. So if you notice some pink in your urine, for example, it could be due to a urinary tract infection, or it could be from beets or something you ate with food dye in it. For days that you’re not working out or dancing, your intake of water should be about half of your body weight in ounces. One of the tricks I use to make sure my water intake is adequate on a regular basis is to drink a glass of water (12-16 ounces) immediately upon waking. This allows you to start your day hydrated, and is easy to incorporate into your daily routine. In summer, if you’re in a hot or humid environment, or when you’re sweating more (exercising), your intake should increase to match your output.
As dancers, we often experience muscle soreness after class or rehearsal, more so with the onset of new choreography or after being off for any length of time. Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) can also occur with greater frequency with eccentric training, something dancers do regularly. Expecting some soreness once you return to class after winter break is normal. But based on article by Chueng et al, “DOMS can affect athletic performance by causing a reduction in joint range of motion, shock attenuation and peak torque. Alterations in muscle sequencing and recruitment patterns may also occur, causing unaccustomed stress to be placed on muscle ligaments and tendons. These compensatory mechanisms may increase the risk of further injury if a premature return to sport is attempted.” What does this mean for us? While some soreness for a few days after a hard class is normal, chronic pain and soreness is not. You have to know your body, and need to be aware of what’s normal for you, and what isn’t. If you’re constantly sore and aching, you may be overtraining, and may even be suffering from overtraining syndrome (OTS).
Your appetite can also give you feedback on your state of recovery, as a poor appetite and weight loss have been linked to overtraining, poor recovery, and OTS (Richard Budgett). Poor intake of food can obviously affect the body’s ability to repair itself, as this will inevitably decrease the amount of nutrients your body has for such functions. Please also keep in mind that those on a ketogenic diet may feel fatigued as the body is transitioning form burning primarily carbohydrates to primarily fat as a fuel source. Another thing to note here is to be mindful of your carbohydrate intake. Some benefit from alternating cycles of a ketogenic diet and one with a moderate carbohydrate intake. Some may also not feel well on a ketogenic diet, and may prefer a moderate to higher carbohydrate diet based on their genetic make-up, type of sport or exercise, and individual needs.
Another element to OTS (and another useful marker) is being aware of your own energy and motivation levels. Sometimes, pushing through when you’re tired can lead you through a great workout to feeling refreshed afterwards. Sometimes, you can feel worse than when you started. The trick is knowing the difference between “I’m tired and I don’t feel like it” versus “I’m tired and my body needs to rest or I might injury myself.” To differentiate between those two contexts, you must first be self-aware, and you must also be honest with yourself. There are some links between energy and motivation levels and other physiological markers that we’ve already discussed, such as HR, soreness, appetite, and sleep. Keep the big picture in mind when judging your energy and motivation, and see how what your feeling subjectively links with some of the other markers here. That may help guide you in your decision to push through or take it easy and rest.
If you feel like your body is run down and that you may be coming down with something, you may be overtraining. Of course, you may actually be getting sick, but many elite athletes can feel this way in periods of intense training. Exercise should boost your immune system. If you notice that you’re training hard and are having trouble staying healthy, it might be time for a break (Richard Budgett).
Another marker is body mass index. While this one is not my favorite, if you’re training hard with a goal in mind, it can be beneficial for you. If you’re monitoring your BMI, you’ll need to weight yourself daily (which is one reason this isn’t my favorite method), preferably around the same time every day (for instance, before breakfast). Your body will experience fluctuations daily and throughout the day in weight, but these should result in changes in BMI of less than 2%. More than that could indicate that certain things in your body are breaking down without the ability to restore itself. In other words, your body hasn’t had the resources and/or time yet to repair itself from your most recent workout or training session. Keep riding that wave by pouring another intense workout on top of that, and your body will continue to break down, leading to chronic fatigue and injury.
Our final marker of overtraining versus being recovered is your own performance. How was your class yesterday? How about your run the other day? Everyone has an off day now and again. But if you feel like you’re underperforming on a regular basis, you may be overtraining. Overtraining often results in chronic underperformance (Budgett et al). If you feel like your performance is failing or decreasing despite training and effort, it may not just be a plateau. You may be overreaching, and your body is trying to tell you it needs to stop and recover. Please heed its warnings to reduce risk of injury.
It’s worthy to note here that there are some programs and apps that can help you track these markers. HeartMath is a wonderful tool that can help you track heart rate variability, which is not only helpful for learning if you’re overtraining or recovered, but also beneficial for overall stress management. Sleep cycle is another app that can help track your sleep patterns and assess the quality of your sleep. If you want to track several of these markers in one place, I highly recommend RestWise (for 10% off, click here), which offers software utilized by many elite athletes to do just that.
Next up, we’ll dive into the specifics of the ankle joint (potential for injury and what to do to recover). Stay tuned!
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