Overtraining: How to Spot It

author : mtimoney
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What is Overtraining in Triathlon?

It happens to almost all athletes- we get super excited about an event or an outcome and we go 1000 percent in. Sometimes athletes become consumed with their race or event goals and start overtraining. As a coach, there are lots of checks and balances to help your athletes train safely without becoming burned out, injured, and fatigued. I've seen this a few times, especially with college students who are not getting enough sleep as it is. I've seen it with Iron Distance athletes who are in the Competition phase of training and they start to give me signs that they are fatigued beyond a healthy tired.

I am sharing this list with you via my own experiences and from criteria set by Ironman University. I hope this helps coaches recognize the signs of overtraining so that they can help their athletes return to an injury free and healthy event preparation, and help athletes recognize these behaviors in themselves.


Loss of Hunger


Sometimes athletes will stop eating enough calories- not intentionally but because they are stressed and tired. This is definitely not safe considering the many hours of training required for Iron Distance racing.


Excessive fatigue


The athlete will feel like they just can't rejuvenate either physically or emotionally. They will be tired all of the time, and can't seem to recover.


Difficulty sleeping


Sometimes athletes will have interrupted sleep due to anxiety about the race or the training. This might include excessive sweating at night as well. When we are behind on sleep, everything suffers from there.


Elevated morning heart rate


This is a good indicator that an athlete could be over training- I always have my athletes record their HR upon waking for 2-3 mornings in a row and use that as a baseline. 


Slowing in progression


A good example of this would be a significant drop in stroke rate when swimming, or slower times during an interval workout at the track. Sometimes an athlete will take longer to recover from hard workouts when they are overtraining. A good way to tell if something is wrong is to look at an athletes TSS (training stress score). This measures intensity and duration of a workout and if this number is too high then it's time to pull back a little. I also look at the same workout a few weeks back and if there is noticeable change in pace or HR I need to investigate further.


Persistent illness and injury


This is a red flag especially when an athlete can't seem to overcome being sick for weeks in a row. 


Anxiety and depression


I've been so stressed about a race that the smallest things would send me into a crying episode. The best thing you can do to prevent anxiety and depression for your athletes is to pave the road for great communication. They should feel like they can confide in you and you will not be judgmental. The more conversations the better.


Unusual muscle soreness


It's normal to be a little sore after a hard workout, but chronic soreness could mean overtraining. 


Higher rate of Perceived Exertion


When the same workout feels a lot harder than it did before, this means the athlete is working harder for the same result. If this is happening consistently, it's probably time to pull back.


Apathy toward training


I've seen this happen a few times. This is when an athlete changes their attitude about the race and the training, probably because they feel they are losing control over the situation. This is definitely a red flag and means time to re-evaluate the training load.

The best way to evaluate performance is to TRACK an athlete's workouts and see if they are performing consistently over time. Look at the trends in performance for similar or same workouts. If there is a noticeable drop in speed, HR, TSS etc then this could mean an athlete is overtraining.


There are also PHYSICAL SIGNS when an athlete is overtraining.



  1. Sunken eyes.

  2. Gaunt look. 

  3. Poor posture.

  4. A quiet or solemn demeanor, not their usual self.

  5. Lateness/laziness and apathy about the workout.

  6. Physical performance is not up to par; higher stroke rate in the pool, slower times at the track etc.


Coaches need to keep on top of the gathering and analyzing of an athlete's data so that modifications can be made before it's too late. Like I mentioned before, COMMUNICATION is key and setting the tone for good dialogue will serve everyone in the long run.




Mary Timoney
Ironman University Certified Coach
USAT Level 1 Certified Coach
ACSM Personal Trainer
571-236-1521 
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date: July 24, 2019

mtimoney

Ironman University Certified Coach
USA Triathlon Level 1 Certified Coach

avatarmtimoney

Ironman University Certified Coach
USA Triathlon Level 1 Certified Coach

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