The scientific definition for overtraining is to incur more
damage than your body is capable of at least a 90% to 95% recovery
within 24 to 36 hours following your exercise.
There are several misperceptions about your body's rate of recovery
from exercise, which need to be addressed. There are two basic
mentalities, which persist among most athletes. One is that as soon
as you quit training, clean up, and eat, your body has finished
The other is a "little" more realistic and is that by the time you
wake up the next morning, your body has finished recovering. Your
body's rate of recovery is far more complex than that.
Rate of Recovery
The rate of recovery from exercise for your body is dependent on a
number of things. These include the fitness level of your cells,
your cardiovascular and cardio respiratory fitness, your general
fitness and health (i.e. lack of illness), nutritional requirements
for the rest of your body such as life support, growth, illness,
injury, and pregnancy, and the amount of damage done during
The greater your fitness, the more damage your body can recover from
in the same period of time and the less damage will be done by the
same amount of exercise. Your fitness is a very key part to your
recovery. Of all these factors, the one, which causes your recovery
to be slowest, will determine your fastest possible rate of recovery
and is called the bottleneck factor for recovery.
As an example, let's say that your cell fitness level is the weakest
point in this chain. You incur more damage and the cells rebuild
more slowly than the rest of the body provides the molecular
building blocks for rebuilding.
The fastest you can recover from the damage is determined by the
metabolic rate of the cells. You can have a resting pulse rate of
one beat per minute and your body won?t recover any faster.
This should also tell you that the level of exercise required for
overtraining is different for different fitness levels. A person who
only rides 50 miles per week will be over trained if he rides 50
miles in one day. Where as, a pro who is used to riding 400 miles
per week will go into overtraining if he suddenly increases to
training from 500 to 600 miles per week.
When I was coaching in LA, a rider came to me announcing he was in
dire straits. He had gone to a pro friend of mine for a training
program and like almost all pros, my friend set this rider up on his
own program. He told the rider to ride 3 hours a day, seven days per
week for 3 weeks and then come back to see him.
The rider rode one ride and spent the next three days in bed unable
to move and in incredible pain.
I asked the rider if my pro friend had first asked his fitness level
and he said my friend had not. So I asked how far he had ridden in
one ride and how far he was riding per week. He had never ridden
more than 20 miles in one ride or 20 miles in one week. He normally
rode 10 miles one or two days per week.
My pro friend had had the rider ride more in one ride than he had
ever ridden in two weeks combined. The rider was severely
overtrained. This rider should have been started out on a program of
spinning easy for about 30 to 45 minutes or 5 to 10 miles a day,
three days per week for at least three weeks just to get his body
used to exercising.
This is one of many examples of some star struck rider getting in
trouble by trying to train like a pro. It happens every year to tens
of thousands of cyclists. If you can't ride like a pro, don't even
think about training like a pro.
My professional opinion is that the only people who should read
books about training, which were written by pros, are coaches and
other pros. No one else has any business even reading about their
training programs except to be amazed at the pro's fitness level or
see how far they have to go in fitness development to become a pro.
A rule of thumb which is used by all exercise physiologists and
professionally trained coaches to determine the MAXIMUM that you
should increase your mileage from one week to the next is that you
should not increase your mileage from one week to the next by more
than a MAXIMUM of 5 to 10 percent. Almost all of us prefer to keep
that increase down into the 1 to 3 percent range.
In other words, a person who is training 300 miles per week should
not increase his training from one week to the next by more than a
MAXIMUM of 15 to 30 miles. Normally, we would increase that mileage
by about 5 to 10 miles for best fitness development.
At the really low end, such as with the rider above, you have to
increase it by more because 1% to 3% of 20 miles wont even show up
on most computers.
Besides, almost any person should be able to handle spinning easy
for 5 to 10 miles three times per week. That is a very minimal
fitness level. It is about two breaths above death. :)
There is a whole group or school of exercise physiologists (EP's)
who like to believe that it is not possible for an athlete to
overtrain. They get a lot of people in trouble or hurt by preaching
their false philosophy. Riders and coaches who believe this
philosophy go out and either have their athletes make incredible
increases in training or do so themselves as athletes. Coaches,
other doctors, and myself get to pull these athletes out of trouble
after they listen to these EP's.
I love to get in a discussion with these EP's and move them into a
discussion about the maximum an athlete should increase their
training from one week to the next. You see, even they believe that
the maximum an athlete should increase his or her training from one
week to the next is 5 to 10 percent.
HOLD IT! If it isn't possible to overtrain, why can't I go from
riding 100 miles one week to riding 600 miles the next week? They
contradict themselves don't they? Yet these people don't have enough
common sense to realize that they do contradict themselves. College
provides knowledge but does not teach common sense and knowledge
without common sense gets people hurt. Be careful to whom you
Unfortunately, most coaches and athletes who listen to these people
don't know enough about exercise physiology to know better and
respond with the logic I used above about going from 100 miles one
week to 600 miles the next and people get hurt. These EP's don't
realize that most people don't have enough common sense to use such
logic and when provided with misinformation will get in trouble.
It is because of this understanding of the body function in relation
to exercise and rest that we have developed what we call rest
cycles. In the simplest form, these are days programmed into your
weekly training program to permit your body extra time for recovery.
Rest cycles can also be other time periods programmed into your
training calendar to permit catch up recovery. I have five different
types of rest cycles I use in my program. I call these phase one
through phase five rest cycles.
Phase One Rest Cycles
These are the days of rest programmed into your weekly program,
which permit your body to have more time to recover from anaerobic
and extensive aerobic workouts. They are a must to keep from
overtraining within weeks. The most common cause of overtraining is
caused by the elimination of these rest cycles.
What usually happens in cycling is the rider or coach realizes the
extreme complexity of fitness development required for road racing
and doesn't know how to properly program the different types of
workouts within a three day system like what I use in my Weekly
Training chapter. I call my method 'stacking.?
They usually start by doing anaerobic and endurance work three to
four days per week but quickly realize that they must do some extra
work for sprinting, time trialing, or climbing. And then they will
say, "Oh let's see, I have a day here where I am not doing
anything." And there goes a rest day. Before you know it, they are
doing anaerobic and endurance work five to seven days per week and
rest is zero. Their performance continues to improve for a while and
then it goes flat before it finally starts to fall off.
What happens during those different parts of overtraining?
While your body is still improving, it is capable of adding
molecules faster than you are tearing them down. After awhile, you
begin to catch up to where you are tearing them down as fast as your
body can rebuild them. That is when your performance goes flat.
Most riders just think this is their maximum physiological potential
and either quit competing or give up on improving or turning pro.
What they need is a good program using rest cycles. Your performance
starts to drop when you have reached a point to where you are
tearing down more molecules than your body can rebuild. We call that
peak out and riders who get stuck here usually quit racing within
one to two years.
How do they get there?
They start out with a bad training program and gradually lose ground
until they go flat. When they go flat they become frustrated and
want to get better. Thinking that they have hit a performance peak
and that more training will make them better, they start doing more
damage to their bodies and eventually reach the point to where their
body can't keep up. (Does this sound like you?)
Their efforts are self-defeating. What they really need is rest to
let their body build to a higher level.
You can see this in several examples:
First, you have the rider whose performance is like a roller
coaster. They are up for a while and then down for a while and then
back up for a while. This will go on for the entire season. What
happens here is that the rider puts his body into such a high level
of overtraining that his body can't handle the workouts and forces
him to slow down. When he slows down, it permits his body to recover
just enough so that his performance comes back up, he starts
hammering again, and crashes his body again. What this rider really
needs is about two to four weeks of sitting still reading this book.
The other example is for people who either get hurt or sick and are
forced to stay off of the bike for a while. You would think that
they would come back weak and out of shape but they come back
stronger and faster than ever.
If you have been in racing for a few years, you have seen this
happen. The reason this happens is because the rider has gotten his
body into such a terrible state of overtraining that it takes his
body anywhere from a few weeks to several months to finish
rebuilding. Them getting sick or hurt was the best thing in their
training program. This brings in phase two rest cycles.
Phase Two Rest Cycles
These are rest cycles I use when I feel that a rider is getting a
little overtrained. I make them take anywhere from one to three
extra days off with easy spinning or off completely depending on how
serious their problem is. I always try to catch it before it gets
serious enough to warrant taking the time off completely.
If the rider starts to develop some of the early symptoms (I will
cover these later), I have them miss a race or just spin for a few
days. Their performance comes back up and things are fine. Most
racers are afraid of taking some time off because they don't know
how the body works and are afraid that if they lose even one
training day, their competition will gain on them.
The truth is, the opposite is true. They will gain on their
competition. Your cells don't replace those little molecules as fast
as you have been lead to believe. It takes time to replace them and
you must let your body have that time. It should be common sense
that if you permit your cells to finish rebuilding to a higher
level, your performance will also be higher. Think about it. It
Phase Three Rest Cycles
This is a two-week rest period I made my riders take at the end of
the season before beginning the off-season. They were not even
permitted to do running or any other activity as training. They
could only do occasional, light, recreational activities. You see,
even with my program, you will cumulate some residual overtraining
that you need to get rid of before you can start your off season
They were human and didn't like to do it but were good little
athletes and did do it. They always (not one exception) came back
much stronger and faster than at the beginning of the two weeks.
They would spin their legs out for one or two days and be flying.
Some would sneak off to a race against my orders at the end of the
two weeks and be so excited about how much faster they were that
they had to come blabbing to me about how they had violated my
I would chew them out for breaking training and then laugh at them
for being so funny and excited after they left. Coaching can be fun.
Think about this:
If the riders in my program were still so overtrained by the end
of the season that it would take two weeks for them to completely
recover, how much more overtrained are you on your program?
I completely cover (19 chapters) on and off-season training in my
book A Better Way To Train. All of my
programs will allow you to build to a higher level - without
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