Let me tell you my personal story of overtraining, and we’ll see if we can spot the predisposing factors and work out the changes needed. I work full time as a GP, have a family yet still manage to climb regularly. I am a bit of a perfectionist and when I decide to do something, I give 100%.
Yet at the beginning of this year it was all grinding to a halt. I was putting on weight and although my indoor grades were steady my energy levels were shocking. Getting out of bed in the morning became a major task. Some days even climbing the stairs was hard. I was exhausted. The final straw came on a proposed winter trip. My motivation just couldn’t overcome the inertia, the tiredness and the anxiety. We managed one route and then I got a calf injury. Game over.
What went wrong? You probably have to go back a full 12 months to understand the causes of this. I won’t bore you with the details but 2014 was a majorly stressful year on just about all fronts, constantly firefighting one crisis after another. In the back end of the year we decided to alter course to get out of this rut. We adopted a clean eating diet, and I started doing regular runs in the morning before work. I lost weight and felt great.
If you go back to my previous post you’ll remember that overtraining syndrome is (in my opinion) what happens when your body can no longer compensate for the stresses you are under. If you look at the tale above you can see that I had adopted exercise and diet changes to offset the other stresses I was under. My body was compensating via it’s neuro endocrine (brain & hormone) system. But you’ll also remember from my last post that this response is finite and time limited. So all it took was a dose of flu in December and I crashed.
Full on overtraining syndrome with exercise only 3 times a week.
Ok, so how do we stop it? The time to do this is before you even plan your training regime.
And you need to be honest. Brutally honest.
Take a look at your lifestyle, job and day to day routine. What are the major stresses? How do you deal with them?
I’m guessing a fair few people will say that they deal with stress by going climbing. That’s great. But if you start training for climbing and taking it seriously, pushing yourself to get better, then climbing will place your mind and body under stress. So before you do this, think about what you will do to relax. Yoga is a popular option; it improves flexibility and joint stability while also reducing your cortisol levels (according to some evidence). Meditation can also reduce the cortisol response. So does petting the cat etc (in fact I’m writing this with 2 cats sat on me now).
The next thing to consider is your base line fitness. Are you fit enough to put your body through this? If you don’t have a good level of fitness your body will be under much greater stress when going through training. This equals more stress response (ie more cortisol) and this provokes a catabolic response: you break down tissue.
To really spell it out, IF YOUR CORTISOL LEVELS ARE TOO HIGH YOUR TRAINING WILL NOT BE AS EFFECTIVE AS IT COULD BE AND YOU ARE MORE LIKELY TO GET INJURED.
Again you need to be brutally honest: do you need to be doing 4 x 4 s at the wall or should you be raising your aerobic fitness and injury proofing your joints first? Some recent training books (very good ones) have proposed that cardiovascular work (especially running) is not useful for climbers. But these guys were champion runners already and are working with athletes who are already superfit. And they do recommend having a basic level of fitness before climbing. That basic level is quite high! For me, I wasn’t there. Probably still aren’t.
So, your body needs to be ready for the road ahead. In the next post I will go into more detail about what this actually means. And then what you can do to make it happen.