Under-Recovery is Real and Much More Common Than We Think
Updated: Feb 13, 2020
Many of us live crazy busy lives where everyday we are just trying to cram every little minute of the day with something. I am included in the above personality description. Little do we realize that this go-go-go mentality can prevent us from recovering from our training even if we are getting a good eight hours sleep at night. I learned this first hand leading up to the Paralympic Trials for cycling in 2016.
During this time, I was only training 12 hours per week with the majority of the training on the bike and some in the pool. I had fifteen years of training under my belt with many years at a much higher volume than this. At this time I was also working 25-30hrs per week to make ends meet financially which included commuting on the bus. As an individual that is blind I obviously cannot drive so I must get places by walking or public transportation. This all takes a great deal of time. I found out first hand that this type of lifestyle can slowly eat away at your body's recovery from training.
I knew something was wrong when I began feeling very dizzy often and I could wake up in the morning and my legs felt like they were paralyzed to the bed. I often noticed twitching in my legs at night especially after hard workouts. I noticed increased sweating when sleeping at night. My legs during the day would feel as though they were just going to give out. I could take days off but this would have no effect on how I felt.
I began speaking to the nutritionist at the USOC and she began having me track my resting heart rate when I woke up and the time it took to return to resting heart rate after activity. I knew my resting HR normally was 40-44bpm but during this time my resting HR when waking up was typically 55-60bpm. I would then get up and complete 10 squats, track my HR and time how long it took to return to resting HR. Following 10 squats my HR would rise to 90-100bpm and it would take 1:00-1:15 to return to resting HR. After a 30min aerobic ride on the trainer, it took nearly 20minutes to return to resting HR. All of the above signs raise red flags for either Over Training or Under Recovery. It can be difficult to determine whether you are Over Training or Under Recovering but the signs/symptoms are the same and the strategy for reversing the pattern of destruction is the same.
This article is meant to give an account of personal experience as well as share some signs to look out for while training and keeping up with our hectic lives. The resolution process is different for every person because we all live different lives but I wanted to give some tips to use if you find yourself experiencing some of the signs I listed above. If your resting HR is consistently 10-15bpm faster than your norm or if it takes > 30sec to return to resting HR following 10 squats these may be signs that your body is having to work much harder than it should to return to a resting state.
Rest days are very important but we all know that these are very difficult for endurance athletes to take. One would think that low intensity aerobic workouts would be better than any high intensity efforts to restore normal recovery to your body but this is not necessarily the case. Lower intensity workouts tend to be longer in duration than anaerobic efforts which tend to make it more difficult for the body to reverse the effects of Over Training and Under Recovery but still maintain adequate fitness.
My recommendation is to decrease training from 6 times per week to 3 times per week and on training days do 30-45min sessions that include short 30-60sec anaerobic efforts with the remainder being low intensity. Reduce running or other activities that involve more stress on the muscles and joints. Use of recovery devices such as a NormaTec I also found to be very beneficial in expediting the recovery process. There are many other modifications that one can make through diet and supplements but this article is intended to focus on recognizing the signs of overtraining/under recovery and making appropriate adjustments to your training.
(Editor's note: Team MPI suggest using ithlete heart rate variability tools for tracking heart rate and recovery.)