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Coach Joe Friel discusses some early signs of overtraining.
© Joe Friel 2017
An excerpt from Joe Friel's book, The Cyclists's Training Bible, 5th Edition (Velo Press, 2018).
Even with sophisticated recovery-measuring devices, apps, and software it still comes down to paying close attention to how you are feeling. So far there is really no device that tops this. While the above tools could give you a fairly good idea of how fatigued you are, it's still important that you know how you are feeling based on the 0-to-10 fatigue scale every day.
This can be done by rating various indicators of overreaching, which are nothing more than the early warnings of overtraining. Do this at the start of every day. I call these "morning warnings" because it's when waking first thing in the morning that they are usually most obvious. Routinely paying attention to these indicators at the start of every day provides feedback on how your stress-recovery balance is going.
Occasionally you may realize that fatigue is high. This realization is due to several sensations. Some of these sensations are "warnings." But they aren't always actionable. You may have one or even two overreaching warnings even when things are going well with training and your life. That just comes with the athlete's lifestyle. It's the total weight of several warnings that tells you how great the fatigue is and that recovery is needed.
The accompanying table lists several common morning warnings. I'd suggest making a copy of this list and placing it by your bed. The first thing in the morning, before getting up, quickly scan the list and reply "yes" or "no" to each "Warning" question in the middle column. Don't pause to think about them. Just give each a quick and dirty evaluation.
We aren't talking about subtle nuances here, only that you're experiencing a fatigue-warning sensation (a "yes") or not (a "no"). Note the "Yes Score" every time you answer yes. Add up the yes scores for the day. If the total is less than 7 it's a normal training day ahead for you. But if the score is 7 or higher you need recovery. That could be an active (easy ride) or passive (day off) training day.
Morning Warning Table
|Indicators||Warnings (Yes or No)||Yes Score|
|Appetite||Very high or very low?||1|
|Enthusiasm||Just want to stay in bed?||1|
|Motivation to train||Low?||1|
|Overall feeling||Very fatigued; very stressed?||1|
|Training Stress Balance|
|Lower than -30?||1|
|Mood||Unusually grumpy; easily angered?||2|
|Sleep||Very poor quality and/or inadequate length?||2|
|Lying-standing heart rate comparison||High differential heart rate?||2|
|Health||Something not right with health?||2|
|Heart rate variability||Low?||2|
Again, any one of these warnings by itself is probably not enough to warrant a recovery day, unless it is extreme. For example, that could be the “Health” warning. If you awake with a sore throat, regardless of your total score, it’s probably a good idea to significantly lower the stress that day.
The warnings on this list may serve not only as indicators of your recovery, but also as a measure of your training load. If you seldom experience any of the warnings in the table and your score is nearly always less than 7, then your training is probably not hard enough. You could do more.
Frequently identifying warnings of fatigue with scores of 7 or higher every few days means you are doing something right in training. Frequent fatigue is normal for a serious athlete. That’s because fitness and fatigue go hand in hand. They trend in the same directions. When fatigue increases so does fitness. Conversely, if there is never fatigue, there is never fitness. So paying close attention to how fatigued you are on a daily basis serves a double role in your training.