#1 pitfall in self coaching

About a week and a half ago I had a little mishap at the gym. I was about to finish my 4th set of squats when I felt this small sting in my groin. It turned out to be a slightly pulled adductor. This whole thing did not come out of the blue. I had already been given an early warnings few days before (small cramp in the same area) and a red flag (tightness in the adductor) after the 3rd set that very same day. Why did I fail to listen to those early warning signals?

IMG_1908The other day I read an article about Do’s and Dont’s of coaching. The punchline “the training session begins the second the athlete walks in the door” caught my attention. The accompanying text discussed about coaches’ need to probe the athlete’s readiness – physical and mental – to define the best training session for the athlete today. I couldn’t help feeling a little sting when thinking about discussions I’ve had with myself at the gym door. The topic has rarely been about should I do the planned session or not. If I have one,  it is to give myself a swift kick in the butt in order to reach the desired state of mind.

Why is it so hard to listen to yourself? And even harder to adjust, or totally alter the plan? For a self coached athlete the time for discussions and plan changes has long passed when you’re at the doorstep of the training facility, all pumped up and ready to go. In general, to me any discomfort related to plan adjustments are related to what the plan stands for. It is the path to an achieved goal – to win something or someone, usually myself. Doing anything less would mean you’re not up to the task. Recognising this personal attribute hopefully helps me in further increasing the built in wiggle room in my own planning. The other side of the coin, equally important one is the nature of the sport. Being a stressed out wreck makes a killer cocktail when combined with heavy sprints or barbel training. I learned this the hard way.

What about those red flags during a training session then? This late mild groin injury of mine is a perfect example of why those red flags are meant to be taken seriously. In a worst case scenario I’d be working my way through a significant adductor tear. The initial recovery and rehab period would probably be two weeks or so. I’d be on the second week now. supercompensationThen I’d face a period, maybe from few weeks to couple of months, trying to get back to the point where I was before the mishap.
Instead of missing a set at the gym and perhaps a tiny bit of super-compensation, I’d be looking at missing several weeks to few months of steady progress. How about that for a trade off.

So heres a mental note to self: In the case of mid session red flag the answer to the question “Should I try to finish the session as planned?” is always “NO!“. End of discussion.




Trashed – the overtraining syndrome, part 2.

I’m sorry folks. I know it’s been a loooong time. I’ve been having a bit of a writer’s block with this particular post.

For the past week I’ve been working my way back to my training routines“. This was the line I used to start my previous post more than a month ago. Unfortunately the whole thing backfired. I fell right back in the abyss of sympathetic overtraining.

I promised to explain how I came to conclusion my problem was the overtraining syndrome and not something else. So here it is. First, let me re-list the various symptoms I had:

  • The most obvious was the deteriorating performance. Short breaks improved the situation temporarily but the subsequent downfall got steeper and steeper. The time to exhaustion during maximal anaerobic efforts got shorter.
  • I felt constanty a bit ill and had something that would be described as repeated upper respiratory infection. My throat was repeatedly a bit sore.
  • I had constant difficulties in falling asleep. I’ve had a habbit of staying up quite late so I did not pay too much attention to it.  Eventually this progressed to a state where I woke up at night in “full alert”. This was one of those signs that got me to stop all training.
  • I was getting really short tempered, to a point I started to notice it myself and wonder what is going on. That was accompanied by increasing overall fatigue and tiredness. I through these were all results of poor sleep and being sick all the time.
  • When sleep and psychological symtoms got better I noticed I had really sluggish digestion. My apetite was lower than normally and quite frankly I did not feel like eating as it made me feel like a baloon afterafterwards.
  • At some point I started to test my hear rate in the moring shortly after waking up and a quick visit in the bathroom. I did not have a clear reference figures but I did not need that to understand my orthostatic heart rate, or to be precise the heartrate when standing was way too high. I read from someplace that this is a clear indication of the sympathetic side being overly active. I have been monitoring that for about a month now and have a pretty solid understanding of what different values mean with regards to my recovery.
  • My own personal favor was the slowly worsening vertigo/dizziness.

If I show the above list to any health professional, well basically to anyone, I’m pretty sure the overtraining syndrome is probably the last “health issue” that comes to ones mind. Unless you have personal experience about it. That pretty much explains why the method behind my conclusion was elimination. Sounds easy, but is anything but. I was feeling like crap, yet several blood test indicated there was nothing wrong with me. Experts in sports medicine were equally puzzled, mainly because of the vertigo. That just did not fit in with the overtraining syndrome blueprint. To me this started to be pretty obvious and the overtraining syndrome was the only item remaining after all the other, more serious issues were ruled out.

There is a lot of material in the internet about the Overtraining syndrome. So instead of explaining what a difficult beast it is and how little we seem to know about it, I give you a few of sources to take a look. Sports Medicine has published an article “Overtraining in Elite Athletes“. Here’s the summary of the article. I have bolded the section that captures the essence of this episode I went through far better than I ever could:

“Overtraining is an imbalance between training and recovery. Short term overtraining or ‘over-reaching’ is reversible within days to weeks. Fatigue accompanied by a number of physical and psychological symptoms in the athlete is an indication of ‘staleness’ or ‘overtraining syndrome’. Staleness is a dysfunction of the neuroendocrine system, localised at hypothalamic level. Staleness may occur when physical and emotional stress exceeds the individual coping capacity. However, the precise mechanism has yet to be established. Clinically the syndrome can be divided into the sympathetic and parasympathetic types, based upon the predominance of sympathetic or parasympathetic activity, respectively. The syndrome and its clinical manifestation can be explained as a stress response. At present, no sensitive and specific tests are available to prevent or diagnose overtraining. The diagnosis is based on the medical history and the clinical presentation. Complete recovery may take weeks to months.”

autonomic-nervous-systemAs a small bit of additional detail I want to attach this picture of the autonomic nervous system. It gives a nice glance to the sympathetic nervous system of our body. As you see the sympathetic side controls a whole bunch key mechanisms, one being the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. When that group of glands go haywire you’re screwed for good.

Every good story has a happy ending. So does this, I think. As of today I feel I’m making good progress in my recovery. I’m taking it one day at a time, having a day off if I feel even a little bit iffy. And I’m making progress!

So, what have I learned from all of this?

  • I know how to spot the warning signs of serious overreaching  and how to react to them before I the problem reaches the state of overtraining.
  • Hopefully I do not have a need for this, but I do know how to recover from the sympathetic form of overtraining. The answer is R&R. I had to stop training and put my thougths to something else. I tried spending quality time with the family, do easy outdoor activities like family hikes and easy walking. I kept my caloric intake at a high level. I learned a new habbit – going to bed before 10pm! In all I started putting things back into their proper perspective.
  • I realized there’s a need for good list of reference values from the time everyting is ok and in good order to compare against: Thos would include resting and orthostatic heartrate, blood test results, maybe the MAP (maximal aerobic test) every now and then for performance base line. The logic behind the last is explained under the first links below.
  • I through I was pretty good at it but turned out my hearing was clogged with competitive aspirations (this is probably the biggest challenge any highly motivated person will face): Listening to your body!  Looking back I have realized mine was shouting at me. Someting inside me decided not to hear it out.

Oh, the vertigo! Yes, it is getting better too. I believe it started as an endocrine system dysfunction (adrenal glands) that in time lead to muscular tightness in the cervical area. I still have unbeliavably sore trigger points around my neck, which is really unusual. The scheduled physiotherapy should bring that problem under control.

Here are those couple of links I promised. I have plenty more if you’re interested.




Trashed – overtraining syndrome?

For the past week I’ve been working my way back to my training routines. The preceding 5 weeks I spent in a deep and dark pit called overtraining syndrome, OTS. In this post I will share the chain of events leading to me taking a forced break.

My last full sprint session was on January 16th. I was probably half way through the session when I suddenly realized how tired I felt. Since I had just a couple more longer efforts left I through to muscle through the session and be done with it. I was doing my 15 second bout when at around 10 sec mark I hit a wall. I died like nobody’s business.

About a week or so earlier I’d started to have these strange dizzy spells. At first it was just  very mild lightheadedness, and as there had been so many things going on, I did not pay any attention to it. Now the sudden vertigo hit me like a tidal wave. My first though was “Gimme a freaking break! Now, what the hell is this?!”.

It all traced back to second week of December. I was diagnosed with Strept B. and got a 7 day prescription of antibiotics for it. I ate my pills and things started to look bright again. The following 10 days I made a steady progress in every session. On the morning of Xmas eve my 5 sec power was as at its highest point since November. I thought this was the result of easing up for the Xmas week. Maybe it was but from there onwards it was all down hill. 

The Xmas week was really hectic. We had quests coming in every day except the Eve. As if it wasn’t busy enough, our kids had caught a flu and took turns in being ill. The short nights and busy schedules took the better of me. At the end of the week I was dead tired. Getting to new year I felt I too was getting sick. My throat was a bit sore and I felt chronically tired. The first thing I did to celebrate the new year? See a doctor and get some lab work. As everything seemed ok, I resumed my training.

OvertrainingI was feeling somewhat odd, but as my labs were all clear, I pushed the feeling aside and kept training. On Saturday Jan. the 11th, 5 days before the collapse, I was feeling a bit tired when starting my sprint session. I though to take it a bit easier and stop if my feeling got any worse. In my first sprint effort I hit a new PB peak watt and the 5 sec CP was also in top 5! I was so surprised by this that I failed to pay any attention to later efforts, that were pale shadows of the first. After this my performance took a free fall. In the following two sessions I was digging myself a deeper hole.

In my next post I will talk about how I came to conclusion I had the OTS.