How much training is too much?

Enjoy run

Getting the right amount of training is always a question new runners may ask themselves and their advisors. Are you being risk averse or too ‘gung ho’ with your plans?

Getting the balance right and knowing how much training and recovery is right for you is an art and a science combined.  Getting the balance right can be tricky and if you get it wrong it can interfere with your fitness levels and, even worse, lead to injury.

Your training load and susequent recovery will depend on your fitness levels and your experience of training. You need to listen to your body and make notes on how you feel and respond to different training sessions. You should keep a diary of training noting your training load, sleep, nutrition, hydration and anything else that affects your levels of fatigue. You should find a way that works for you to keep a check on the volume and intensity of your training. It may be that you monitor the distance you ran and the time it took to run it and so you can see how quickly you were moving, you may use a heart rate monitor and know your training zones or you may use RPE or Rate of Perceived Exertion.

There are a few different ways of using RPE. Perhaps the easiest is to rate your training session from 1 - 10. 1 is where it is very, very easy and 10 is where you are running as hard as you can. You could then multiply this number by the number of minutes that it took you to do the training session. For example, an easy run that you rank as a 2 that took you 40 minutes would give you a score of 80 and at the other end of the scale a hard interval session ranked at 7 that took 45 minutes would score 315. Multiplying the intensity with the volume gives you the overall training load.

Generally speaking your training load should vary from day to day. If you have only just started running you may look to do: easy, hard, easy, easy, hard, easy, easy though the week. If you consider yourself to be intermediate you may go: easy, hard, easy, hard, easy, hard, easy. If you have been running for a long time and have a lot of training behind you your week may look more like: hard, hard, easy, hard, easy, hard, easy.

As well as noting down lots of numbers in your diary such as training load, hours of sleep, calories etc. you should also include some free writing about how you felt. Every so often you should read back through your log and ask yourself how effective your training and recoveries have been. Highlight the positive comments such as felt good, felt brilliant, really enjoyed this session. Then take note of any negatives such as my legs felt heavy, felt lethargic, didn't enjoy this one. You may well discover why you had your good times and your bad by looking at how training load and recovery affected you.

Understand how training works will help you to work out how much recovery you need. Training is the stimulus for your body. When you have done your training session you will feel fatigued as the body is broken down. When you allow recovery your body begins to repair itself but rather than just mending itself to the level that it was previously at it thinks to itself "that was hard and it has damaged me, I will build myself back and make myself stronger so that I will be ready for it next time!" This is called overcompensation. It makes you fitter and so next time you put in a training session, or stimulus, you are starting from a higher point and so your fitness increases over time if you get this right!

On the other hand, if you don't give yourself enough recovery the overcompensation doesn't occur. You may only build yourself back to the level that you were at or you could even start from a lower level and break yourself down further. The danger here is that you could start on a downward spiral and wind up injured. You could also compromise your fitness if you give yourself too much recovery. If you do a training session and then do nothing for several days you will not improve and may even lose fitness.

Once you have worked out your optimal training levels and the recovery needed to sustain and grow this you can put together a more effective individual training programme for yourself. It is important to remember that eveyone is different and you may need to work at a different rate than your other running friends. It all depends on fitness levels and experience of training.