Updated: Jun 7, 2022
"Overtraining is the biggest problem incurred by runners who lack the experience or discipline to cope with their own enthusiasm," the legendary distance runner Marty Liquori once quipped.
I believe that this quote is more true now than ever before. It is perhaps more accurate because there are more athletes participating and less experienced coaches leading them.
Overtraining refers to a deleterious condition that occurs after repeated strenuous training sessions without adequate rest to allow for proper recovery (1). Recovery from overtraining can sometimes last for weeks, months, and sometimes years.
While this list is not exhaustive, some symptoms of overtraining include the following: decline in performance, fatigue, the decline in performance, loss of appetite, overuse injuries, unexplained weight loss, and poor sleep.
Throughout my running career as an athlete and now as I coach, I have been a witness to overtraining. This unfortunate phenomenon can burn out, injure and destroy many athletes' running careers. My philosophy with overtraining is quite simple - don't do it!
I am an adamant believer in not doing something just because you can do it. Just because the body can handle a volume or intensity of training doesn't mean that it is necessary nor advantageous for progress. The 'one more rep' mentally has to go.
I understand that runners want to be good at all levels but the good coaches understand that I don't need this athlete to be the best middle schooler or freshman. Those coaches and athletes can see the big picture. Who cares if an athlete wins a middle school title at the expense of being constantly injured because the athlete has injured their growth plates and developed muscle imbalances that will take years to fix?
This is also, not only on coaches. Athletes and parents have to communicate with one another and with the coach. Many parents get caught up in the short term of their son or daughter running fast at a young age not thinking about the long-term damage that is being done. If I have a stud prepubescent girl doing the same mileage as a varsity girl just because she can, what will she do when she starts menstruating? More mileage? Higher intensity?
I believe this is a major reason we notice that performance declines or stagnates in many girls after freshman year with many never coming close to those times performances again. I think the focus needs to be on long-term development.
Athletes are greedy and will typically do whatever they can to get better. Coaches are in a unique position to design and implement training programs that will keep athletes safe while enhancing their performances.
1. Brenner J. Overuse injuries, overtraining and burnout in child and adolescent athletes. Pediatrics. 2007;119:1242-5.