I can’t think of a better time of year to write about the signs of overtraining. Why now you say? Well, spring running events are wrapped-up and the beach season is upon us. Whether it is personal best finish or a perfect six pack, overtraining can rear its ugly head with just about anyone. Once you have identified clients that are overtraining, it can be a touchy subject to bring up with them. Most clients that have fallen prey to overtraining tend to have Type-A personalities and may ignore your request to ease up. Other clients may not know their body’s limitations or lack the knowledge on what is physically too much. Follow my tips below for identifying the signs of overtraining and useful tactics for telling clients when enough is enough.
Follow the Signs
When it comes to identifying the signs of overtraining, some may be very obvious and others may be more difficult to recognize. The physical signs of overtraining generally include chronic fatigue, long lasting muscle soreness, aching joints, and decreased performance. Whenever a client mentions a nagging physical issue they just can’t overcome, my warning bells start going off.
A decrease in performance is another red flag with clients often using that to keep pushing harder. After all, what client will believe you if you tell them “your strength will increase if you just back off on your training.” Without rest the body will never be able to recover and performance will continue that downward spiral.
Other less obvious signs of overtraining include increased infections, chronic headaches, irritability, depression, insomnia, hormonal changes, and decreased mental acuity. My number one, most glaring overtraining sign is seen with my female clients. If your client loses their menstrual cycle, there is a 99.9% chance they are overtraining or even bigger issues are occurring. It will take a lot of trust for them to confide something that personal with you, but hit the emergency stop and do what’s right for your client.
Clients will generally tell you about their physical ailments, but it take a lot more sleuthing to see the mental and emotional toll of overtraining. Some clients will be blatantly obvious and other will be like Fort Knox. With all of my clients, I run through a general check-list of questions when starting our training for the day. Your client may think you are making conversation, but in reality you are taking stock of their mental and emotional wellbeing. I ask a series of work-related questions to check for mental acuity, ability to concentrate, depression, and attitude levels. I also like to ask if they were looking forward to their workout today. This allows me to test for chronic fatigue, motivation, and other physical limitations. Lastly, if I am at that level with the client, I ask about their home life. This helps me identify insomnia, unreasonable depression, and other factors that may not explain their performance issues.
So once you identified your client is over training, now comes the difficult part of changing their behavior. Some clients may appreciate the honest truth approach of “you are going to hurt yourself and need to change your behavior immediately.” I would warrant most clients will be less inclined to listen with that direct communication style. I myself like the roundabout approach of sneakily changing their training plan with them none the wiser. If they are strength training too often, I throw in a bunch of mobility exercises and high intensity interval training. If cardio is their excess, create a strength plan to “improve their running performance.” Whether it is a direct or roundabout approach, it is in the client and trainer’s best interest to stop over-training and start training smart.