If you love to run, chances are, you’ve experienced a bout of Overtraining Syndrome (OTS) at some stage or another. In fact, researchers estimate that around 61% of all serious runners will go through a period of overtraining at least once in their running career. And like with many things, the Covid-19 pandemic may have exacerbated this.
Here’s the scenario… During level 5 lockdown, you spent over a month locked up at home, running laps around your garden – and then had to consider stringent exercise curfews for another month on level 4, before having the freedom to run as far or as often as you wanted to.
Then, when curfews lifted, the flood gates opened, and you may have taken to the streets, along with every other runner in SA – for consecutive days, even weeks, of endless training. While the freedom to run is truly exhilarating, “Overtraining Syndrome can quickly set in if you suddenly increase the load, intensity and duration of your runs or training sessions, without following a structured program,” says Biokineticist and Sports Scientist, Steve Bendall.
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What Causes Overtraining Syndrome?
Believe it or not, you can exercise straight for 7 days without actually overtraining, explains Steve. It’s what you choose to do every day that counts. Running involves a repetitive motion and more impact than some other sports, which means it’s important to incorporate active recovery days into your weekly program.
These could include some mobility exercises, rehabilitation, stretching, cross training and activities such as yoga or Pilates. “A key issue which leads to overtraining is not having a clear-cut plan and training hard all the time. Easy days need to be easy and hard days must be hard,” says Steve.
Other causes of overtraining include:
What does Overtraining Syndrome feel like?
Although each person is different, Steve highlights a few common signs of Overtraining Syndrome, which could include:
Some less-common signs:
To prevent this, it’s really important to listen to your body and recognise these signs and symptoms early, says Steve. It’s also critical to be aware of how your body responds to new blocks of training and to take active steps to pull back if fatigue sets in.
How to Prevent and Treat Overtraining Syndrome
If you do start to experience any of the symptoms mentioned, Steve says that rest is your first port of call. A few days off is always better than a few weeks or months off.
“It’s better to be slightly undertrained than over trained and sit with an injury. I’m a big advocate of one full day off a week or every second week depending on your experience with running, the training phase you’re in, your type of profession and how fast you generally recover,” he adds.
Try these tips to speed up recovery:
Take an Epson Salt Bath. Just make sure you stay hydrated as this can dehydrate you.
Foam rolling and active stretching is effective for reducing trigger points and tightspots on your back and legs (calves, quads, glutes and hamstrings).
Sports massages are also great to iron out any issues or identify problem areas. Sports massages help your muscles recovery, as well as loosen up and function as economically as possible, so you don't have to work harder than necessary on your runs.
Try compression clothing. Although the jury isn't out on this one, some specialists and athletes swear by compression clothing to speed up recovery. "I really find that it works for me, especially after a hard session and I need to recover quickly for the next session" says Steve.
Post Run Nutrition
How you re-fuel after a run is something to consider. The quicker you put back the right combination of nutrients, the sooner your body can start to recover. Try these small meals/snacks:
Steps to reduce the risk of injury
Unfortunately, running injuries often go together with Overtraining Syndrome. But the good news is, there’s a lot you can do to prevent and manage common running injuries before they become chronic.
Step 1: Have a biomechanical evaluation
Before you start a big block of training or structured training programme, it’s a good idea to see a biokineticist and have a biomechanical evaluation. This involves a full body assessment to determine how your muscles and joints work together and whether there are any weaknesses or imbalances, explains Steve.
Step 2: Incorporate active stretches and strength training in your routine
Steve maintains that doing some form of strength training is better than nothing. You don’t need to be lifting heavy weights to prevent injuries. Body weight exercises are just as effective. “Remember the main aim of strength training for running is to help your body cope with the demands of regular training. Strength training should not put your body under extra strain,” he says.
Step 3: Invest in the right running shoes
Being fitted with the correct shoes is very important for runners, says Steve. When you start feeling slight niggles especially in your knees, always look at your shoes first. Most running shoes have a 600km – 800km life span. (But this also depends on your weight and running style.) Running shoes lose cushioning over time.
So, even though they may still look okay, their shock absorption ability has been compromised. The longer you push your body in worn shoes, the greater chance you have of becoming injured. A good fitted running shoe will help your body cope with the intensity and/or the endurance of running. Prevention is better than cure, so rather spend the money on a good pair of shoes, than hundreds more on seeing specialists down the road.
Step 4: Practice these dynamic exercises
Dynamic exercises, where joints and muscles ago through a full range of motion, are key prior to any form of exercises to prepare your body to run. They also help prevent injuries and reduce post-workout soreness.
Below are some great exercises to incorporate into your running program to prevent injuries and complement your running.
Single leg work offers training balance between limbs and requires mobility and stability of the hip, knee and ankle. The more mobility you develop, the more stability and strength you’ll have to control larger ranges of motion.
Single Leg Glute Bridge
This exercise targets all three glute muscles – the maximus, medius and minimus, the hamstrings, the core muscles and the lower back. Control and stability are key here. Remember to alternate legs. Side plank with hip abduction
Use bent or straight legs for this move, depending on your level of strength. This exercise works the upper and lower back muscles more than 40% of their maximum, oblique muscles, and rectus abdominis.
With this move, the gluteus medius, gluteus minimus and tensor facis late (TFL) are also activated. The helps with running stride and posture.
Leg Sit To Stands
The quads, hamstrings, glutes and core are activated here. You can use a cushion or block to elevate yourself to start, then slowly progress lower.
Lateral band walk
This is a great warm-up exercise to activate the glutes prior to running and gets these power-house muscles moving. This exercise also strengthens the glutes, stabilises the knees and hips as well as prevents injury.
Side Plank With Hip Abduction On Bench
Use bent or straight legs depending on your level of strength. This exercise works the hip adductors and oblique muscles which are important for stabilisation and mobility. Strong adductors help to improve stability and running efficiency.
Dynamic Hip Flexor Rotation
This is a dynamic activation stretch that strengthens the quads, hips and lengthens the psoas muscle – which is located in the lower region of the spine.
This exercise targets the running muscles, primarily the quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves. Step ups will improve your strength and resilience for running.
This upper body exercise is paramount to good running form. Push-ups require core stability and full-body control which translates into good posture for more economical running.
A Closer Look At Sports Injuries
Are you currently sitting with a niggle or injury? Use this guide to determine what the problem is and how best to approach it:
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