I'm in the first of two hard weeks of training on the Olympic plan before taper. After the swim, run-bike-run on Saturday, the 10-mile run on Sunday, and 6x30" run intervals on Tuesday, I had a difficult time getting my HR much past low Z2 on yesterday's 3x5' VO2 Max bike workout.
This seems like a sign of overtraining. Should I cut back or move ahead with the plan? Is overtraining discipline-specific? Can you overdo it on the bike and still be ok to run and swim?
This question is very specific and can have many possible answers, but I will start with a broad answer. One workout does not indicate overtraining. It may indicate that you need a day off sooner rather than later, or it may indicate that you didn’t sleep well or hydrate well enough, or recover properly from the other workouts, but true "overtraining" is a longer term trend that deserves a little more investigation.
To be more specific, we need to define training and overtraining. Typically we train to become better, stronger, faster. This process occurs as our bodies positively adapt to training stress. In the process of training, we are breaking down and building up our bodies. Performance improvement from training is achieved when we can get more buildup from the training stress than breakdown. In other words, we achieve the benefits of training more specifically from the recovery than from the actual training stress. The more stress, the more recovery, thus the more improvement, right? As long as our bodies can recover, this would be true, however the adaptation process is different for everyone and there is a point where breakdown overshadows any buildup. Far too many athletes follow this train of thought that more is better and thus end up overtrained.
Typically, overtraining is defined as having more breakdown than buildup so a negative trend is seen. If you occasionally breakdown more than you can rebuild, this is hard training that may require a little extra time off, but not necessarily overtraining. This is why you will see typical training plans with recovery DAYS (easy days) each week and then after two or three weeks, you will see an entire week of recovery so that you can achieve a full rebuilding before you start tearing down again. However, if this over-reaching training happens on a consistent basis, that is when true overtraining occurs and our bodies can’t recover and the trend is a steady decline rather than incline. Along with that decline in ability to perform, there will often be other affects. Higher resting HR, the inability to get the HR up, frequent recurring illness, lack of desire or motivation to train, and overall fatigue are among the most common indicators and factors that go along with overtraining. The picture can get much broader if we continue to ignore the first indicators, so the key here is to pay attention and don’t let over reaching become overtraining.
Typically when I am coaching an athlete, I look for overall trends rather than one day or two. In a situation similar to what is described above, the first things I would look at are outside factors other than training. I think many athletes tend to focus on what went wrong with a training session and don’t think about the fact that they had a stressful event at work or with family. When you really look at it, there can be so many more factors that affect how you recover from a workout and those factors can play more into your training success than the workouts themselves. We tend to think of training as a separate part of our lives, but truly it is a piece of an overall picture of our health. So for this specific instance, without more information, I would likely recommend a complete day off or an easy day with extra hydration and sleep before recommending much more.
Life, love, friends and happiness.