There is no such thing as overtraining

Another Take It And Run post from our friends at Runner’s Lounge

If you think statements like the one in the title of this post are true, you might just be my old baseball coach.  Who is, quite possibly, one of the biggest morons I have ever met… by the way…  How does “You can’t get a drink until you puke” sound as a way to “train” his young recruits in the 105 degree heat and humidity of an Oklahoma summer?

The problem with this is that it was and is still, to a certain extent, the pervasive way of thinking.  The “If you ain’t passin’ out, you ain’t trainin” mentality.  And since we “experienced” (read: old) runners grew up in that era, we have been ingrained with this philosophy.  But I hope you really see it for the bad habit it is…  But I think that it is a habit that is very difficult to break.  Having “trained” for many years in sports and then taken over my own training to get back in shape and become a runner, I’m going to offer up several things I said to myself or did during my training that were obviously pushing too hard or “overtraining” in the hopes that you don’t make my mistakes.  But my guess is that you will mostly just grin sheepishly and nod as you read this and mark most of them off as “been there, done that” experiences.  Use these examples to start to build a roadmap of what NOT to do and you won’t overtrain:

  • When I missed a day of training (sick, busy, etc.) I would do a “two-a-day” the next day to make it up.  It didn’t help at all.  In fact, I found that the second workout of the day nearly always ended with me getting hurt.  SOLUTION: If you miss a day, forget about it and just stick to your schedule.
  • I set unrealistic goals such as I had never run a marathon before but my initial goal was sub 3:30.  I nearly killed myself trying to make the times my program said I should run. SOLUTION: Set small, attainable goals and adjust them as you see your ability.  The first goal should simply have been to run a marathon (AND FINISH).  Then I would KNOW where I sat.
  • When I didn’t lose weight initially during the beginning of my intense training, I cut WAY back on my intake…  and then wondered why my performance (especially on long runs) suffered.  SOLUTION:  Studies show that you may actually GAIN weight for the first several months of your training due to fat being converted to heavier muscle.  Check your weight by the fit of your pants, not the scale and EAT (properly… of course). Your body with thank you for it by giving you cravings for things like ice cream or pizza and you can afford it!
  • When you add cross training to “help get over the hump” in a training plateau, it should be Mountain biking OR running, tennis OR running… not AND.  This crucial little conjunction will keep you from sliding further instead of getting better.
  • WHEN you get hurt (and you will) take time to heal.  NO, you cannot start running again 3 weeks after you get diagnosed with shin splints.  Remember, short term gain, long term loss.  Come back too early and you will go right back out again.  Only this time for much longer.  Ask me how I know…
  • There is no such thing as “re-doubling your efforts”.  Whether it be in a last week of training push to get a PR or to lose that last 5 pounds.  You will see little to no significant improvement in your race times by killing yourself in training the last few weeks before the race.  That’s why people taper.  What you might see, however, is a poorer result than you expected or, worse yet, the lovely smiling face of your doctor (as you watch your entry fee fly out the window).

So how do we fix it all…

  • Set a schedule and stick to it
  • Eat right and get sleep
  • Take days off
  • Crosstrain a bit to give the major muscles a break
  • When you get hurt, let yourself heal completely
  • Taper
  • Have fun and realize that although only 1 person can win the race, anybody who overtrains will lose it, no matter how fast they are.
  • Be realistic and honest with yourself about how you feel and what you think you can do

If all these sound like me talking about things I’ve done… It’s because I have.  And I find that the more of these mistakes I make, the harder it is to get back to where I was before.  Don’t be me.


7 Responses to There is no such thing as overtraining

  1. Betsy says:

    Your baseball coach reminds me of my high school cross country coach, who wouldn’t let us drink water during workouts because “You can’t drink water during a race.” In hot, humid weather, it’s a wonder none of us got hurt.

    Good advice here, thanks!

  2. heatherdaniel says:

    great post. I have been guilty of not doing enough cross training and not allowing for enough rest after hard races. Thanks for the tips!

  3. Milanorunner says:

    great tips! boo on your coach.

  4. Felice says:

    Your last bullet: “Be realistic and honest with yourself about how you feel and what you think you can do” is so important — and yet so hard for runners to follow!

    Good reminders!

  5. Nat says:

    Great post! I too forget that in order to get better I need to rest.

  6. AK says:

    Great tips. I liked the comment about ice cream cravings. I had to get a cone after work today… Although I was good and only ate about a third of the small cone. 🙂 Running will do that to you.

  7. Bob Allen says:

    My basketball coach was pretty much the same way. “Drinking water will make you sick.”

    Good post — great reminders.


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