Over-training/Burn-out or Just Injury Prone Parent?

Listening to the podcast at the weekend got me wondering about over-training syndrome and how it stacks up against someone that is just generally feeling the effects of being a parent of two young kids with a demanding job…

Previously (almost 10 years ago now!) I was an elite level racer - normally training 15 - 20 hours a week, not particularly structured, just lots of hours and lots of racing, TTs and crits during the week and longer road races at the weekend. Even then I was prone to periods of just feeling absolutely dead but back then I would just soldier on through it and after a period of a month or two I’d come round. Symptoms include weak left glute, quad and hammy and knee pain so standard poor core strength, not flexible enough diagnosis.

9 years ago I got a proper job and 6 years ago I became a parent and both events have signaled a more consistent decline in performance. Same thing, after a couple of months of regular training my body just starts to give up. The worst/weakest things is always the left leg but generally my whole body feels stiff and weak. Even if I am just doing Yoga or core work I feel markedly worse.

I only started training with power about 4 years ago but when I started training again I started at about 300W FTP and after about 12 months of solid training that rose to about 365W. I crashed pretty spectacularly half way through last year and its been stop start since then. I’ve managed to hover around 330 FTP but in the last few months my FTP has dropped to 250W.

Throughout the last two/three years I’ve had intermittent stomach issues and a pretty significant increase in anxiety/stress levels so when I looked through Phil Maffetone’s description of “Over-Training Syndrome” and spotted those two items I started to think maybe I’m not just injury prone?

So, questions:

  • Has anyone else had a similar experience? Am I trying to fix my injuries with core strength and flexibility when actually that’s not the issue and I am just over-working?
  • I know Chad says the recovery depends on “how big the hole you’ve dug is” but how do you know when it’s safe to go back into training?
  • If and when I am recovered to the point of being able to build again how do I spot the warning signs?

Not the same as you, not the same level. But, my highest FTP was about 5 years ago @ 278. I achieved patellar tendinitis, and ITB syndrome. I was out for almost a year. I lost motivation on top of that and just sat for a total of 2 years after healing. Back on the bike 3 years ago. FTP is now 238, and I’m almost 50. I find it incredibly hard to get back to that.

I am building much more slowly now, intentionally. I am also not riding as hard. I could probably use a coach, but at 49yo, I just can’t justify it. I don’t think I’ll ever make it back to where I was.

For my knee problems, I ignored the signs, took ibuprofen and soldiered on. HTFU and all that. Big mistake. I got to the point where I couldn’t climb stairs, from the acute pain…which became more frequent and more intense over time, until it was chronic 24/7.

When I got back on, I got a bike fit, and took it slow. No outdoor rides, as everything is nearly 12% grade outside my door, and indoor is more manageable for effort and power needed. I got back on, as I knew I was pain free, as I continued to do the ITB exercises, and the tendonitis showed no signs of inflammation (especially after 2 years of doing nothing), though I don’t stretch nearly as much as I should. I started to get that itch to ride again.

Just to say, I know where you’ve been or are going. I have no answers, just that you’re not alone.

I also have sciatica, from a weight lifting injury when I was young. Core work is key there. Once that flares up, I’m bed ridden for a week.

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Been through a similar experience. My life is a constant juggling act between training, parent of 2 kids, job that can at times involve long hours, travel and/or stress, and still trying to have some kind of social life. When that balance starts to get out of kilter the symptoms are similar to yours - feeling stiff or weak, being tired in the mornings, and it’s my left side that always goes as well.

Strength and flexibility work is certainly part of the solution for me (I’m 44, didn’t have to worry much about this stuff 10 years ago!), but so is sleep, nutrition, and simply knowing when to back it off and take a few days easy or resting. I’m getting better at learning to spot the signs and backing things off a little bit early to catch it before it gets too bad. Have played around with HRV, found it somewhat useful for a while but then noticed that it was tracking extremely closely to resting HR (which my Garmin calculates automatically) so I just watch that now. Tried keeping a log but wasn’t doing it regularly enough. What works now is a combo of actually listening to my body (e.g. if I feel stiff/weak one morning maybe I can tough it out, if it’s every day I should do something about it) and also regularly looking at the longer term data trends including TSS/CTL, sleep time and quality, resting HR, etc. Trends and averages over a period of weeks or months often tells a story that you don’t see looking at it day to day.

As to how deep a hole you’re in I think there’s a bit of trial and error. Take it easy and focus on looking after yourself until you start feeling good on the bike. And don’t rule out the possibility that you’re at a time in life where there is so much other stuff going on that structured training or racing might need to take a back seat for a while. I’ve been through that a few times - for the first year or so after each of our children was born, and also an 18 month period where I was setting up a new business while also selling and buying a house (dumb move with hindsight). Didn’t stop cycling during these periods, but it was very much the case that being a dad/husband/businessman came first and I fitted in what training I could when I could, going as hard or easy as I felt like doing, rather than trying to follow a plan and then having the added stress of skipping or failing sessions. Ended up being a lot of cycle commuting (very time efficient) and running with a stroller.

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If ever I get to the point where I feel like I would have to take pain killers to train I immediately back off - that said I do get to the point where actually I am in quite a bit of low back lower limb discomfort and to the point where it does affect my quality of life…

Thanks for sharing though, it’s reassuring to know that it’s not just me! I’m only 34 so I think I still have the bandwidth in me to be racing again at some level - even if not back to my best!

Hi Dave, this is a tough one without seeing the data to better understand how deep of a hole was dug. Real overtraining can take months to recover from. Most are fine after a few weeks, but it’s hard to make a responsible call on the forum IMO without being your coach. That said, how do we move forward? I’d look for signs of feeling fresh, positive mood, normal sleep patterns (tough with kids), appetite, etc etc. Do you feel normal again and different? The overtrained normal, depending how long you were overtrained, could skew what feels “normal”. Hope that makes sense.

Start back really easy. Try to sleep as much as life allows.

I don’t think the core work will overwork you, I’d look to see how much you’re sleeping and eating, and what workouts you’d been doing.

Best of luck to you!

Brendan

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I think overtraining and burn out are the same thing, an overload of your body’s stress system. And it’s totally possible that being a parent loads that system so much that only very little additional stress in form of training is possible.

Personally, I think the answer is to do something that doesn’t add more stress. For example I’ve found that I can do pretry high volumes of outdoor riding, but indoor focussed trainer sessions, where you are constantely at the ‘can I do this’ edge, are more stressful.

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Thanks man, really helpful feedback. The thing I worry about most is that I am pursuing the wrong thing and that I am heading down a dead end - i.e. pursuing better core stability is not the optimum use of time and absolute rest would be better (bad example I know as when is a better Core worse but you get the idea).

Think your absolutely right about accepting that some parts of life are not conducive to getting the best out of yourself on the bike. Better to focus on making sure the core fundamentals are in place for when I can stress the system again… one day…:crossed_fingers:

I think you might be on to something there… previously my higher training loads have been at lower intensity but much greater volume. The temptation when you are a parent is to maximise the time and do much higher intensity (which your not conditioned for) whilst disregarding the fact you are already starting from a shallower pool of energy resource. I think a balance between the two might be the best option for me…

Hi all, just been reading through this board after feeling like trash for too long! I notice the entries are from a while ago now, how are things now? I think I’m in the overtraining zone because of the whole sleepless nights with kids and their germs, work stress and fitting in as much workout time as I did.

I’ve got plenty of signs, feel awful and ache even tho my last workout was an achievable 45 min SS session on tues and my ITB is starting to flare up.

The problem is that working out is my outlet and gives me mental headspace. I don’t Think I can take a month or more off without getting unbearable for my wife!

Any ideas which might help? I eat really quite clean, barely drink and try to sleep as well as my 18 month old allows!!

Eat more probably. If you’re training and recovery (time off between intense sessions) is right, usually you’re not getting sleep or nutrition required. Sounds like you can’t do much for sleep as you’re kid will determine that but have a few burgers on top of dinner (ditch the ‘clean’ for a bit). Sometimes extra fat / protein, etc is what you need to snap back. That’s what I tend to do when I can’t shake fatigue and there doesn’t seem to be a good reason for it

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It might be worth getting some blood work done. Could be nothing physiological, but wouldn’t hurt to rule it out. Since you mention stomach issues, a colonoscopy might be worth considering. Despite the way it sounds, beyond the prep, the procedure is a breeze. You think you may be a young 34 years, but I can say from experience the autoimmune issues I have manifested showed up around that age. Getting older shows you the genetic hand you’ve been dealt and I think 35-45 is where it becomes painfully apparent. Consulting with your GP might be a good idea.