I overtrained(?) What now?

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  • #46726
    Eric Vann

    I finished up my training cycle in July and since then I have experienced extreme fatigue. I am fairly certain that I overtrained but my first question is did I? And the next question is what to do? I know rest is key but what else if anything can be done?

    I completed the whole training cycle outlined with percentage increases each week according to TfTNA. I transitioned to training September 2019 and went full bore with training at the start of this year. My peak weeks were 20 hours of training in addition to a full-time desk job. I trained basically every day and most of the weekend hours in those 6 months. I put in 440 hours of training from September to July with the majority being January to July.

    What was most taxing were the repeated weekend runs with a peak of 40 lbs outside all day in Texas sun. Oh! And I live in Austin so I was hitting the elevation hard too. I remember at some point thinking that my heart rate monitor was broken because my heart rate was elevated on easy runs. I continued training like this for at least 2 months. I began to feel occasional chest pain especially in the last month or so. Hardest event (and there were a lot of similar days with close to marathon distance) was 33 miles with 40 lbs in 13 hours in 90-100 degree heat on trails. Maybe this is a standard training and I am just weak? Or at least too much for me. Suffice it to say there were a lot of days like that.

    I also found a hill nearby where I live and climbed that repeatedly. It was 0.5 miles to the top and 300-400 feet of elevation gain. I would climb it 10-12 times in 3 hours with 60 lbs. I remember the last few times I did it just being so hesitant to keep going between the laps.

    I think what really got me was the heat and the difficulty. I was monitoring my training with a heart rate monitor (as mentioned I was ignoring what it was telling me) and hrv readings in the morning. At no point did I have a huge jump one way or the other that would have indicated I overtrained but in reflecting on how I forced myself to keep training when I obviously didn’t want to it seems obvious I did. Someone tell me if I am wrong!

    Since I stopped training in July, I have been accompanied by persistent and unexplainable fatigue. My hrv baseline has dropped 5-10 points (I’m using elite hrv) and my resting heart rate has consistently been 10-15 bpm higher than before. I would have expected the opposite trends in both cases if I had done my training correctly.

    To add insult to injury, I only stopped aerobic training. I enjoyed the strength training and continued to do that plus adding in a lifting regime for upper body. I felt good doing this for several months even while I was unable to train aerobically due to chest pain and just extreme fatigue if I did go on a run etc. But eventually I taxed my system completely and was unable to lift without leading to extreme fatigue and multiple days of bad hrv scores. I went to see a doctor and got a stress test and passed with flying colors. He told me that I was able to work out 100% and could go full bore. Obviously I cannot just based on how my body responds to any training. He is a classically trained doctor who seemed to know very little about endurance training (he didn’t know what hrv was) so I’m sure comparing me to who he usually sees I seemed the picture of health but it’s all about the relative changes vs my baseline.

    Anyway, going into my training program overtraining was something I was aware of was trying to avoid. My hrv scores weren’t terrible and my heart rate began to be elevated on easy runs but it wasn’t so high that it was extremely concerning. What I am trying to say is this: it was so gradual and I feel like I was trying to do the right stuff but it’s just so easy to let it slip away.

    It was a huge accomplishment for me personally to do the training and I am really glad and grateful I did. I have learned so much doing it and even from this whole experience after the fact but I just wanted to share this I case anyone can offer anything that would be helpful to me and also just as reminder to do a little bit less and you can go a lot further.

  • Inactive
    Anonymous on #46876


    Yours is the archetype story of woe I have heard from dozens of athletes who overtrained themselves and ended up wondering what happened. I’m not sure if you’ve read the Overtraining article on the site or the sections in our books on OTS but you might want to start there. You also might want to read our article on hrv and why we do not rely on hrv.

    OTS is a complex medical condition that most doctors are not trained for and have never seen. Your docs response was typical. You are healthier and fitter (even in your current overtrained state) that 99% of his patients.

    Sadly the only known cure for OTS is complete rest. You must stop all training immediately. The insidious effect of OTS is on the autonomic nervous system. That’s why your resting HR is elevated. Keep monitoring that during this period of total rest until it returns to normal. how long with that take? As extreme as your case sounds I would expect several months will be needed to recover from this.


    Anonymous on #47825

    I agree with Scott. It sounds like you went way too deep. As Scott said, I would think this would take several months to recover from at least. Above all, don’t rush it. Find something non-physical to pursue in the meantime.

    Also, you mentioned chest pain. That makes it sound, very, very serious. Regardless of what your doctor said, I would search out a sports cardiologist and get his/her opinion. (Normal cardiologists are just as likely to tell you you’re fine.)


    Jon44 on #56366

    + Is there any medical resource for coping with overtraining?

    Just wanted to follow-up here to keep related topics together. I’ve taken 6 weeks off training now after feeling acute symptoms of overtraining and still get exhausted after 20 minutes of swimming as lightly as I can. This is the first non-orthopedic medical condition I’ve ever faced and am getting concerned.
    So wondering if there’s any physician or other medical specialist who might specialize in this condition and be able to offer guidance (e.g., rule out some heart issue)–perhaps a team physician who does telephone consult?

    LindsayTroy on #56367

    Jon- I think it comes down to finding a doctor who is an endurance athlete. I was suffering from what turned out to be iron deficiency and probably some work related burnout and my doctor (who is an ultra runner) said it would be inappropriate to not check for everything (since burnout/OTS are diagnosed not through a test but through lack of results of other tests) and scheduled me for an exercise stress test to check my heart as well as every lab (blood) test you could think of.

    Thomas Summer, MD on #56376


    Here is the doc who is a crazy athlete (with experience in overtraining himself;-) …not only once).

    Eric. how are you doing now? What about the chest pain?

    Jon. where are you from? If you could give me some background I would like to help. Of course, it’s not possible to rule out heart issues or any other medical diagnosis online or by phone. But let’s see what we can do for you.

    hakuna matata!

    Eric Vann on #56381

    I am so glad this post popped back up!

    Thomas – I would love to connect with you! I am almost feeling better but wondering how I can determine/measure that I am recovered and transition back into more activity.

    I have been healing for what seems like an eternity wondering if things would get better. I stopped my program last July and ceased all cardio. I continued to lift weights and workout until November when my symptoms became so frequent that it was obvious I needed to stop. Since then I have been completely avoiding all routine physical activity. My energy has been low and I have wondered when the end would be in sight. In March I started doing easy 15 minute walks most days and haven’t had any problems. In July I started going back to the gym for walking, core, and stretching. The last few weeks have been good with minimal symptoms and I am feeling better but still wondering how I know when I am good to go?

    At first my symptoms were primarily located around my heart but I do feel fairly confident that I cleared that. I followed up with the cardiologist at the end of last year and he thought it could be something more serious in other organs but I don’t think that is the case as my symptoms are acute and related to specific things.

    I am not a doctor obviously but my symptoms seem to be related to inflammation that “clogs up” my lymphatic system primarily noticeable under my left armpit area. It is not exceptionally painful just uncomfortable and obvious that something is wrong. The symptoms are tied to inflammatory foods, too much activity, excessive stress, poor sleep, or not enough sleep. If I had made every effort to remove these common elements from my life I think I would have healed faster.

    My theory is that my body was so filled up with inflammation that it has been slowly releasing. I would notice that after massages or yoga my lymphatic system would be very burdened. I think I just worked out for so long and so hard that things built up to such an extreme level that it took an incredible amount of time for my body to work through it all.

    Of course I could be missing something obvious and I have been wanting to get some type of clearance from a medical professional but I knew that most of the professionals weren’t as familiar with subclinical conditions like what I have been experiencing and did not want to spend time or money on those types of diagnoses. (I only recently finished paying off the bills from my 1 cardiologist stress test, 3 visits, and an x-ray of the chest.)

    At this point I am feeling good and am optimistic that I will recover but it has been a long journey. I was used to having boundless energy and that was absent for months. The last several months have been persistent symptoms I just described.

    Thomas Summer, MD on #56385

    Hi Eric!

    Good that you are on the way to recovery!
    It’s no surprise that it takes that long. As you described your symptoms in November 2020. you were quite deep into overtraining.
    Are these symptoms that you describe as “clogged lymphatic system” gone now?
    I hope you checked all the other boxes like sleep, stress, food…
    There is no obvious sign that tells you that you can start to train more. But it’s very important that you start slowly and build up slowly! Have you tried any other activity? More playful? I would start with increasing the duration of the walks. Walking and being in nature has also healing effects.
    Are you meditating?
    For core and strength training, I would keep it short. Some pullups or pushups throughout the day. Or planking and other core stuff. Just as you feel throughout the day. Keep it fun and short.

    hope that helps?!

    Eric Vann on #56415

    These are great suggestions Thomas!

    I would say that I am better for the most part but my symptoms certainly flare up if I let too many inflammatory things stack or too much intensity.

    So I am able to live an everyday life with few problems at the moment but definitely severely restricted in how active I can be, what I can eat, and how much I can push the bounds of my limits. I have been making progress and with time I think I will get back to normal.


    Eric Vann on #57008

    Thomas thanks for checking in again! I am almost on the mend. I have been able to go to the gym for light cardio and weights and have had no issues with recovery. I still get symptoms when I eat inflammatory foods so trying to cut that out completely and do a good job of that for the most part but I am surprised hoe quickly things come back especially if I eat sugar in particular. At this point I have been able to see a direct correlation to inflammatory foods ans that is the primary source of my symptoms.

    Symptoms are localized in the left chest area and are seemingly related to inflammation of lymphatic system. It is not sharp pain more tightness.

    I am optimistic that I am healing and making a recovery but it is certainly taking forever.


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