You’re Not Overtraining, You’re Under Recovering

Updated: Mar 11

That’s like when the bike shop says you’re gonna need a new cassette. Yea shot mate, I’ll sort that out ASAP 😒.


The end goal drives the plan.


Your goal is, or at least should be, to improve in training and be at your best on race day. Fundamentally, more is better. Greater stress means greater adaptation. However, we need more rest to match the increased stress. We often see this written as;


Stress + rest = adaptation (fitness)


However, I propose the formula should look more like;


1 < stress / rest > 1



WTF, Will, seriously? Yes, hear me out.

What is stress and what is rest for you?


In our podcast with Olympian Kevin Van Hoovels (Episode 70), Kevin talked about making massive leaps in his performance when he quite his job and went full-time training. He didn’t train more, he recovered more and improved the quality of his training.


Kevin added rest, not stress. Kevin’s Stress/Rest sum was greater than one (>1)


In fact, not only did Kevin increase his rest he also removed stress in the form of work and time.

Our physical body sees stress as the same, independent of what’s causing it. The body’s catecholaminergic response to stress triggers stimulation and suppression of hormones such as cortisol, serotonin, epinephrine, dopamine, and other neurotransmitters.

We can try to “bio-hack” our way out of the negative impacts of excessive stress by taking stimulants or sedatives but all we do is introduce a further imbalance in our hormonal system.


With such chronic imbalances, you’ll inevitably end up overtrained, injured, or both!


What’s the answer?


Stop training for a couple of weeks,😂. That’s like when the bike shop says you’re gonna need a new cassette. Yea shot mate, I’ll sort that out ASAP 😒.

Not gonna happen. Not until your bike stops working or your leg falls off.


Monitor your training.


Using your fancy GPS device you can measure your stress, rest, and performance relationship. Yep, those things do more than upload to Strava 😱.


Running 5 hrs a week means very little on its own. You may have run 5x 1 hr all-out or you may run 3x 1 hr easy and 2 hrs steady.

Training stress is best measured in relation to your personal limits (threshold); pace, power, and heart rate.

As an example, run for 60min at your “threshold” and you’ll get 100 stress units. Jog for 60min and you’ll get 60 stress units. Both runs were 60min but one was much harder than the other, and as such, gets more training stress units.


After time, you’ll build up a database of your weekly training stress and you can compare that with your performances. Generally, if you’re improving your training stress is good, and if you’re on a plateau or regressing, your training stress is too high.

If your training stress is too high, you have a few options;


  1. Take a break

  2. Remove other stressors/increase rest (socialising, diet, work, late nights)

  3. Reduce your weekly training stress

  4. Rearrange your weekly training schedule to distribute your training stress more appropriately.


Monitor Your Sleep.


Alongside training stress, you can measure your sleep. You can compare your sleep duration and quality with your training stress and performances. You can use a sports watch or fitness tracker or you can use a simple subjective rating scale. 😞😕😐😊😁


All modern fitness watches will track your training, sleep and heart rate. All you need to do is find a platform or app to curate all the information for you. Understanding and utilizing your training data is where coaches can be valuable.


Getting Professional Help - Coaching


Coaches can prescribe you training based on your personal thresholds and limitations. Coaches can also keep you accountable if you’re inclined to do too much.

Some coaches, like myself, will offer more indepth progress tracking of your metrics in conjunction with regular contact to ensure you’re always training effectively.


If you’re wanting to track your metrics, I recommend using a dedicated software like TrainingPeaks which provide you with the ability to graph and analyse your data.


Need help with your training?


Check out my coaching support services.


Dr Will O'Connor

Educating and inspiring athletes to train smarter

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