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Is it Time for a Break?

By Melissa Bryant, P.T. Select Physical Therapy | June 20, 2021, 9:58 p.m. (ET)

Athlete rubbing his forehead drinking water

Time for a training break?

Whether you’re new to the sport of triathlon or jumping back in after a longer break in racing, many are excited to drop the weight potentially gained during the past year. It’s the perfect time of year to get outside and back to racing. While triathlons are a great way to push our bodies and are relatively safe for individuals at any age, athletic background or ability level, participants also need to be aware of the:
  • Pitfalls of overtraining
  • Importance of rest
  • Appropriate time to take some time off

What defines rest and why is it important?

Rest comes in many forms. It can be as simple as the time between reps, intervals or sets or it can mean a scheduled day off in your training plan. And, it can be skipping a workout when you are tired and feeling worn down (physical or mental--especially these days with the extra stressors in the world). If you sustain an injury or have an illness, rest may mean prolonged time away. However, rest doesn’t mean you have to completely stop all activity. It can be time off from typical training to work on mobility, take a yoga class, go for a walk, extra time on nutrition or taking the opportunity for a hot bath and “vegging” out. Whether planned or forced, rest allows the body to adapt to the stressors and changes in demand being placed on it. It allows muscles to recover and gain strength, our nervous system to adapt to changes and regenerate and our body to replenish our energy stores. Rest ultimately decreases the risk of overtraining, overtraining syndrome and overuse injuries.

Triathlon training naturally allows our muscle groups to get some rest. When training in one discipline, the muscles involved in the other disciplines naturally get some time off. Spending the day in the pool gives your body a break from the repetitive pounding on the pavement from running, and with cycling or spinning, your shoulders get some needed time off from the resistance of the water. When is it time to take off, skip a work out and push training to another day?

Signs you need a break:

As you dive into your training plan and are still weeks out from the year’s first event, here are some important signs and symptoms that your body is telling you to take a break:

  • You feel like you are suffering through workouts that were previously done with ease
  • Notice your form is deteriorating or you are slower in any of your disciplines
  • Harder to wake up
  • Increased irritability
  • Decreased motivation to train or in your daily life
  • Decreased concentration during work-outs
  • Increased sleeping
  • More frequent soreness or injuries (and it’s not due to an increase in intensity level of work-out)
  • Increased illness

If we don’t listen to these signs, our bodies may just force us to rest. If this happens, we can end up overtraining or sidelined with an injury.

Overtraining

Overtraining, simply put, is doing more than your body can handle at any given time. There is an imbalance between training, nutrition and rest leading to a decrease in performance, increase in fatigue and a declining mood. For a well-trained athlete, overtraining may occur when putting in extra training sessions on an already full schedule. If you’re a rookie, it might mean jumping in too quickly with one or two extra days of training. Overtraining can be influenced by outside workload when we are stretching our personal schedules and sleep routines too thin. You may see you are underperforming with little to no change in your training program. Or, you may find you have more difficulty sleeping - difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep despite fatigue from working out. Once this stage or overtraining is reached, athletes will often find an elevated heart rate especially first thing in the morning as well as deficiencies in vitamins B12 or D, lower iron levels and increase in creatine kinase levels in the blood. All of these can be serious signs of overtraining syndrome and can force an athlete into 3-8 weeks off from training and treatment by a medical professional.

Overuse injuries

The most common overuse injuries in triathletes and athletes in general are from overtraining or overuse. Overuse injuries represent the largest percentage of sports-related injuries that require medical attention and are most common in runners and endurance athletes (triathletes). 50-70 percent of triathlete injuries occur when running and the majority of those are overuse. These injuries most often occur in the knee, achilles, foot or back or the shoulder from swimming. They can occur due to a break down in tissue that doesn’t have adequate time to repair itself before more use. If you are seeing aches and pains that don’t subside in approximately three days in the well-trained athlete or seven days in a new participant (due to new muscles being trained,) it is time to take some time off and seek out your local Select Physical Therapy clinician for guidance.

Resources:

Vleck, V., & Alves, F. B. (2011). TRiathlon injury review. British journal of sports medicine, 45(4), 382-383.

Koutedakis, Y., Budgett, R., & Faulmann, L. (1990). Rest in underperforming elite competitors. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 24(4), 248-252.

Gosling, C. M., Forbes, A. B., McGivern, J., & Gabbe, B. J. (2010). A profile of injuries in athletes seeking treatment during a triathlon race series. The American journal of sports medicine, 38(5), 1007-1014.

Budgett, R. (1990). Overtraining syndrome. British journal of sports medicine, 24(4), 231-236.

O'Toole, M. L., Hiller, W. D. B., Smith, R. A., & Sisk, T. D. (1989). Overuse injuries in ultraendurance triathietes. The American journal of sports medicine, 17(4), 514-518.

Collins, K., Wagner, M., Peterson, K., & Storey, M. (1989). Overuse injuries in triathletes: a study of the 1986 Seafair Triathlon. The American journal of sports medicine, 17(5), 675-680.