Let’s talk about the elephant in the room: over training and the subsequent training burnout among endurance athletes.
Throughout my training and coaching career, I’ve seen fitness seekers and aspiring athletes, such as runners, come and go for numerous reasons. One of the more obvious reasons is a lack of training focus, and inevitable boredom. These people aren’t exactly sure what they are doing, they don’t see immediate results, enthusiasm wanes quickly, and they quit.
But more often than not, I see people fall off of the training wagon for the exact opposite reason: over enthusiasm that leads to training burnout. This second group often sets too large or too many goals that they are bound and determined to accomplish as soon as possible. Unfortunately, this overreaching attitude often leads to over training, physical and even more so mental exhaustion. That in turn leads to a lack of enthusiasm, which leads to…you guessed it…quitting.
Now let’s face it, training for a long distance race, such as a marathon or ultramarathon, can be very time consuming. Not to mention, physically and mentally exhausting. But when balanced correctly, the training doesn’t have to lead to that undesirable stage of mental burnout.
6 Ways to Avoid Training Burnout
While this particular post is mostly geared towards runners, the advice can be applied to any sport or fitness activity.
Have a Plan
A pre-designed training plan, created by a running coach or other fitness professional, will ensure that your training contains adequate cycles of both building mileage, as well as recovery. Further, the plans will ensure that you are building your running distance and/or weight training at a slow, safe rate, to help prevent overuse injuries.
A proper training plan will also balance and add variety to your workouts. For example, instead of simply running 6 out of 7 days a week, you will likely incorporate long runs, short runs, speed work, strength training, and more. The variety will help prevent injury, improve your running, and prevent boredom. Having a training plan will also take the guesswork out of your training. And, the accountability can help prevent those “I don’t know what I should do in the gym/on the road today, so maybe I’ll just stay on the couch” types of days.
Cross training with activities other than running will allow an athlete to build their cardiovascular endurance and muscular strength while allowing the muscles and joints to recover from the movements associated with running. Activities like cycling and swimming challenge the cardiovascular system in the same fashion as running, while putting less impact on the lower body.
Additionally, resistance training will also help strengthen the muscles required for endurance running, which will aid in increasing running strength and volume. Lastly, the change in routine from your normal activity, such as running, to another form of training will help break any monotony or boredom felt in your day to day routine.
Not a runner? The concept remains the same. Take days off from your typical training activity by incorporating activities that challenge your body in a different way. For example, if you are an avid cyclist, try cross country skiing. A fitness seeker in general? Stray from your normal routine and try a new class, such as Pilates or Zumba.
Rest and Recovery
This is easily the most obvious suggestion, but also the most widely ignored one as well. In a training program, rest days are equally as important as long runs or speed workouts. Yes, they can be hard to take when you are excited, motivated, and thoroughly in the “training zone”, but they are absolutely imperative. For my clients, rest days are non-negotiable. Proper rest and recovery gives your body time to heal and recover from all of your workouts. Further, periods of rest allow time for your body to develop muscular gains.
Lastly, get some sleep! And more than “some” sleep…make sure you are getting enough. Easier said than done for some, especially the mom & dad crowd. Not only will sufficient sleep help you feel mentally rejuvenated, but it’s been shown that your muscles need it. Human growth hormone, which is largely responsible for tissue growth and repair, is mainly released during sleep.
Drink up! Water aides many of your bodily functions, including healing muscles and body tissue. Proper hydration is imperative in preventing illness. And, a hydrated body feels less lethargic. This is another obvious, simple suggestion, but another one so many people accidentally overlook. The act of running can easily dehydrate an athlete. Drinking plenty of fluids before, during, and after a run will ensure you maintain a healthy hydration status, as well as assist in muscle recovery.
You’ve heard the comparison before: your body is the machine with which you complete your training runs and races. Thus, you must fuel your “machine” properly. None of us are perfect, of course, but eating a diet rich in whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains, as often as possible will better help fuel your body than a diet of junk food void in proper nutrition. Further, refueling and replacing calories spent after a longer workout will help aid your bodies repair and recovery.
Post run, refueling with carbohydrates will replenish depleted stores of muscle and liver glycogen that were utilized during your run. Further, consuming protein will help repair damaged muscle cells, and aid in recovery. A 4:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio is ideal in post long run snacks.
Training doesn’t have to be serious business ALL of the time. Unless of course you are headed to the Olympics or paying your bills with podium earnings. In that case, I advise you take the advice of your coach and not this blog post, haha.
But for the rest of you: don’t be afraid to have a little fun from time to time. Run with a group. Try a new class. Sign up for a “fun run” such as a color run or a beginner mud or obstacle course race. If you feel that mental fatigue or boredom beginning to set in, do not be afraid to swap out a training date with something “fun”. One day of missed training won’t hurt your end goal, and if anything, the mental break may exactly what you need to continue on towards your end goal.
Athletes often walk a fine line between pushing themselves to become stronger, and pushing to the point of over training. Training burnout, while very common, can certainly be avoided by taking the proper preventative measures to keeping your body and mind healthy.