Overtraining: the trap

This is an additional snippet to my series on overtraining. Overtraining syndrome has a nasty little trick that can really catch you out. It is especially applicable to climbers and can mislead you into a one way trip to burn out. Which sucks. (Just been there and still finding my way out)

I wasn’t trying to lose weight. I hadn’t increased the intensity of my training. I didn’t have any major injury problems. But I was being careful with my diet, avoiding all the rubbish and exercising 2-3 times a week. My energy levels started to drop slowly and I put it down to a virus or maybe work stress. Niggles in fingers became a bit more persistent. So I reduced the training and allowed myself to sleep more. 

Then my weight went up by 2 pounds. Ok, I thought, just the effect of not exercising as much. I compensated by reducing my diet. My energy levels dropped a bit more and weight went up another pound, all in a week. 

And the weight was going on around my waist like a laser guided bomb dropped it there. After 2 weeks of this I was really tired and then a finger tendinitis flared up and I stopped training altogether. 

It was a re-run of the way I felt the last time I pushed too hard. The bottom line was I needed a break. From work, climbing and moden life in general. Thankfully I had a vacation booked so had a week lazing by a pool in Italy in which to recover. I’ve just got back. I ate what I wanted and the only exercise I had was a brisk walk across Rome to catch a train and walking up streets in Tuscan hill towns. I drank a heroic amount of espresso and enjoyed the local food and wine. And I have come back slimmer and lighter and more energetic. And tanned.

What has happened? When overtraining kicks in the cortisol level rises. One nasty little trick of cortisol is to increase fat deposition around the middle of the body. You eat less but gain weight. And feel rubbish. To test if this is happening to you take a week off. Eat whatever you want ( but still avoid junk food) and rest. Do something other than climb or train. Enjoy a complete break. If your weight drops (apparently nonsensically) and you start to feel stronger then you needed the rest. The intuitive response to the increase in body fat is exactly the wrong thing: eating less will tip you into full overtraining. This is the trap. You probably won’t see it coming until you’re there but recognise it early and you can prevent a full crisis.

Ps: first wall session since my return led to me on sighting a problem and route at my onsight limit despite not climbing for nearly a month. And I felt I was moving better than before too! (And that is another discussion)

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