Being a masters or age-group cyclist is hard work. It requires a cunning ability to juggle long days at the office and busy schedules with intense workouts. Balanced with days off, this type of busy schedule can be sustained in a way that produces great fitness and lets busy people do big events or simply be competitive on a Saturday group ride.
Here are a few factors to consider that will help you avoid overtraining:
MOTIVATION, MOOD, SORENESS AND FATIGUE
There are many ways to assess your recovery, some are high tech, but how you feel is often the most accurate and easy to use — and it’s often overlooked. You could use one of the surveys and questionnaires used in research studies (like the POMS and DALDA and Hooper Mackinnon) but all these ‘tests’ do is look for disruptions in your normal feelings.
To get in tune with your body, simply record how you feel when you wake up. Common areas to record are muscle soreness, sickness, injury, irritability, mood, motivation and/or sleep. The simplest approach is words — like “worse,” “normal” and “better” — but you can also use a scale of 1—10 and watch for a trend where your cycling is not very good, if your sleep is very bad or if you are not motivated. Record your ranking in a journal or online training log like MyFitnessPal.
HRV AND RESTING HEART RATE
I really like the HRV4Training App because it allows athletes to capture a resting heart rate, Heart Rate Variability and the subjective measures (feeling, soreness etc.). It captures all this data using a smartphone camera and allows you (or your coach) to analyze the historical data. The important thing with metrics and heart rate is to establish your own baseline and then watch for disruptions from the norm. My experience is that this can help add some objective warning signs if I am not sure if I, or a client, are adapting well to the current training load. A simple morning assessment of heart rate with a stopwatch, a heart rate monitor or fingertip pulse oximeter are other common ways to capture this data.
Simply rating your daily rides in terms of how you felt and how you did (wattage, results, distance, speed, meters climbed, etc.) can help assess if you are getting tired, if you are getting faster or if you are getting slower. This can be done in very general terms or in more formal ways. If you finish the ride and you felt great and did what you set out to do, then rank the ride as good or great. If you get home and it went poorly then rate it as bad. If you have more than one bad day in a row then it is time to recover for a day or two and then get back at it.
Conversely, if you feel good each day make sure the next week has a couple hard days that push you so you are tired on one or two days as well. Feeling OK every day isn’t necessarily good because we want to work hard and get tired so we can recover and gain fitness on rest days. To help head off the need for extra recovery and make sure you can push hard on your hard days you should plan at least one complete day off and several easy days each week to help ensure you are recovered before the next hard training day.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU’VE OVERTRAINED
If you are training really hard and having many bad days with fatigue and low motivation on and off the bike then it is time to take a complete week off. You can do a bit of ‘normal person activity’ but really take it easy.
During this week consider getting in for a physical and some blood work. If at the end of that week your daily energy, mood and motivation have improved, then you can try easing back into training, ideally with the help of a coach or doctor who can guide your return objectively. If you are still not quite normal then it is time to follow up with your doctor, a nutritionist and other professionals as appropriate.
Balancing fatigue with improving fitness is a double-edged sword. We need to make ourselves tired to get faster, but going too deep or being deep for too long can result in illness, injury or the host of symptoms associated with overtraining. Keeping an eye on how you feel and how you perform each day helps you catch a string of bad days that indicate you need some extra rest before it becomes a bigger issue.