As the sport of triathlon continues to grow in popularity in part because of the annual television broadcast of the Hawaiian Ironman shown every October, so too do the examples of triathletes being challenged by what’s known as Overtraining Syndrome. The cause of Overtraining Syndrome generally is the result of athletes, and triathletes in particular, who train beyond their body’s ability to recover.
Over the past twenty years or so as the sport of triathlon has grown by leaps and bounds so too have the levels of athletes, many of whom have never had a consistent training regimen in their lives. All of a sudden they’ve become bitten by the triathlon or bug and it’s full speed ahead. Pile on the miles, the yards, the hours spent training. More, more, more. But without adequate rest and recovery, these training regimens can backfire, and actually decrease performance.
What are some of the causes of Overtraining Syndrome?
The first reason is rather obvious. If you increase the high intensity training too early in the training cycle before you’ve adapted to stress of training you may see a pretty quick onset of this condition. In fact in general if you don’t ramp up with a pre-determined amount of gradual, sustained growth you will see this condition occur.
Which leads me to reason number two which really becomes the chief cause of overtraining syndrome; following a poorly conceived training program. For example, if your coach is giving you high-volume, and high-intensity training in January when the race your scheduled to do is in July, you’ll be bound to fail and develop this condition. The standard training protocol will have three weeks of gradual building of volume and intensity followed by a fourth recovery week which lets your body recover and repair itself.
There are other forms of training stresses that may lead to the development of overtraining syndrome.
- Poor Diet – Particularly when an athlete is dehydrated and short on carbohydrates. Intensive training will increase the daily caloric requirements the body needs to run efficiently. Snacking between training exercises is a great way to avoid this problem
- Environmental Stress Factors – Heat, humidity, wind, altitude can all contribute to more physical stress which can add to the risk of overtraining.
- Monotonous Training Workouts – Long, boring sets again and again may contribute to this condition, however, this could just be the result of failing to integrate rest days into high-intensity workouts (Kreider, Fry & O’Toole 1998).
- Frequent Racing – Triathletes tend to racing quite often, particularly sprint distance triathlons as they are plentiful. If too much racing is added to long, heavy, training weeks beware.
The bottom line is that every athlete is different. Your coach should be able to tell when to dial things back a bit. While failing to adapt to overload training is the main cause of Overtraining Syndrome, there are obviously other factors to consider as are mentioned above. If you train on your own using say an online coaching method or by reading the multitude of books on the market keep this in mind. When you have a rest day, or recover week, force yourself to follow the protocol. While it may seem too easy at the time and a waste of your time, your body will thank you later on when you need it most; the day of your race when you toe the starting line!