Overtraining (under-recovery)?

Hi there TR!

I’m wondering if anyone else out there has struggled with overtraining syndrome, or underrecovery problems?

A few years back I was once a fit cyclist (over 250-300 miles per week easily) with racing most weekends, with lots and lots of years of high-end sport behind me.

I took probably 2-3 years off this elite level, and was starting to get back into cycling and running, with mostly low volume and high-intensity training. My mind was there, but my body just wasn’t.

I followed a very poor structured program, basically smashing myself every 2nd day, week in week out for a number of months, until one day, my legs just didn’t have any power any more.

I figured I’d give it a couple of days or a week to recover, and come back to it. This was now about 22 weeks ago.

My legs are still utterly cooked. It feels like I’ve run a marathon this week, followed by a few cycling criteriums.

You know that feeling when you do too many races back to back, and you need about 4-5 days recovery? Yeah, it feels like that…

They’re sore to touch, they ache, they’re heavy to walk up stairs with, and the last thing on my mind is doing sport. I don’t have any other complants. My resting HR is low, my sleep is fine, nothing else is the problem. I’ve had blood tests and a sports tests, but the doctors can’t find a thing.

Has anyone had anything like this before? I did once. Actually, I did the same thing last year (I know, I’m a smart guy). But it seemed to go away after about 3-4 months…

I guess I’m writing this for a few reasons.

One, so that I can look back on this hopefully soon when my body does recover, so I don’t ever do this again.

And two: Whilst I’m a believer in high-intensity intervals, I’m starting to realise just how important a strong aerobic base is, so your body can handle intensity.

Anyone been in this boat before?

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I think your viewpoint here is still “more is better”. It might help to reorient your thinking. You can only do so much intensity even with the strongest of bases. Even Pros don’t do that many intervals. Cycling is an aerobic sport. You build the aerobic engine and then the high intensity intervals are just the icing on the cake.

I was listening to a podcast recently (Kolie Moore, I think) and the theory was that winter base miles are forced rest - months of the year where we take time off the bike, don’t do HIT intervals, ride slow, and recovery from the previous racing year. We typically periodize the training year, month, week, block with periods of forced rest.

Maybe reading some Maffetone would help? He has his training book which is actually more of a lifestyle book than a training book.

His paper seems to suggest rest, sleep, and proper nutrition for recovery from over training.

Good luck on your recovery!

I don’t know if I hit the level of over-training but I was definitely burnt out of intervals at the end of last year. Prior to COVID I had been biking four times per week (three threshold and / or VO2 workouts and one sweet spot) and swimming three times per week. Once COVID restrictions went into place and pools closed I switched to TR high volume plans with back to back builds (sustained and short power). After nine months I was failing more VO2 workouts than passing, legs were cooked, and mentally I was done with any interval workout.

Below is my PMC from mid-August to the end of the year. In hindsight, even the recovery weeks never really got me rested.

To recover, for base training, I did SSB I HV because I still had the hours to train but, more importantly, it was 100% sweet spot work - no threshold, VO2, or anaerobic work. I loved it. Finished every workout except one, which was due to fasting the day before for a religious holiday. Leg fatigue disappeared and mentally I was ready to resume interval training.

I also focused on getting more sleep - still not enough but more than I had been. Recovery (lack of sleep in particular) has been and remains my limiter, but I made an effort to get more sleep and listen to my body better, and it helped. However, it took nearly four weeks before I was really starting to feel like I had dug out of the hole I had created.

Best of luck on your recovery.

PS - Remember that we do this for enjoyment as much as fitness. If weather and safety allow, enjoy an outside, unstructured ride. Stop to take pictures of the scenery and your bike. I got my first outdoor ride of the year in earlier this week, and sacrificed a structured VO2 workout because of it, but the mental benefit far outweighed the physical training aspect.


You’re exactly right… Less is more. I need to make that my absolute priority when I’m fixed from this mess.