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With more and more time being spent at home right now, it can be tempting to try and push for a couple more hours of training here and there. Training can alleviate boredom, get you away from homeschooling the kids and act as a way to blow off steam during a stressful period. However, a sudden increase in training can also take a toll on your overall performance. If you’re finding yourself overlooking your fitness goals in favour of getting that quick dopamine hit you may be at risk of overtraining. Performance Psychologist, Dr Mark Bellamy, explains how we can still use our training to improve our emotional wellbeing, whilst avoiding going too hard on the bike.
Mark suggests considering how much of your training is directly delivered against the needs of your sport or your performance, and how much of your training you consider to be a part of your mental therapy.
There is nothing wrong with training to relieve stress, or to feel good. “It is probably one of the key reasons that anyone who trains is able to self-generate the energy and drive to put themselves through regular hard training,” Mark notes, “However, you may find that as life becomes more stressful though work, family or relationship issues, or through significant world events, training becomes a more and more important part of your life. This is understandable from a psychological perspective. You may find it gives you an escape or a way to feel like you have control of something.
“As the feeling of threat in our lives seems to increase with all the implications of living with and managing COVID-19, our bodies may-be producing a lot of cortisol, the stress hormone, which does not make us feel great.”
In this situation, we may find ourselves inclined to jump on the bike, as studies have proven that exercise helps to lower our cortisol levels. “Jumping on the Wattbike will give us a great feeling of having achieved something, that we are still progressing in our fitness and we are still moving in the right way despite the outside concerns. It may well also give us a break from the worries of the world and will also reward us with a little dose of dopamine to make sure we feel good.
“This is all excellent stuff,” Mark acknowledges, “but remember training is about dose-response and is a function of applying a load, with subsequent recovery to super-compensation.” In simple terms, make sure you’re not training harder just for the sake of it, and give yourself time to still prioritise recovery.
In this case, it is important to learn to recognise the signs of overtraining, and to avoid it, even if you feel like you have a lot more free time and flexibility and are keen to fit in ‘just a few more sessions.’
“If the [training] load is too great or the recovery too poor, then we will not recover fully and our performance and ability to take on further training load may go down.
“Remember our bodies do not simply split the physical load we put ourselves under away from any other life events. We all know that at times of great stress our capacity to train and recover may differ.”
During a stressful time such as this, training more when there is already a considerable amount of stress being placed on our minds and bodies could turn out to be counterproductive.
We all deal with stress very differently, and your coping mechanisms are likely to be very personal to you. However, when assessing how you adjust your training load during the lockdown, Mark suggests considering a few key factors.
“Whilst working from home, consider how much you are changing your typical week’s training load. Have you added any extra sessions that may mean a large jump in volume and or intensity? If so, you may need to manage this in order to prolong your training’s effectiveness long term.” All those guilty of putting an extra shift in, put your hands up!
“Secondly, consider any additional stress you may be under caused by external events. This may impact on your ability to deal with the same load as you are used to and to recover well from it. You may even need to slightly reduce the typical training load, both in volume and intensity and monitor your responses before beginning to increase the load again.”
“Finally, as goal-driven individuals, we’re no strangers to the threat system that gives us adrenaline and cortisol and managing it through our exercise and training which gives us purpose and our dopamine fix,” Mark says. For example, consider how you may feel lining up at the start of the race vs finishing the race, or the flutter of nerves when trying to get a new FTP score. “What we fail to utilise thoroughly is that part of the system to keep us fully recovered and safe.” After these events, you might go a bit easier on yourself on the session that follows, so if you find yourself having a quick blast to shake off a stressful day, make sure you optimise your recovery appropriately.
“We may need to utilise our Wattbikes in the following weeks and months as much to keep us calm and relaxed as to keep us fit and healthy.” Mark says, “However, on those extra stressful days when you know a hardcore session is simply not a good idea, get used to using your Wattbike for the equivalent of a walk in the park or stroll around down by the river with the family and opt for a steadier session.” On these days, you could swap out your interval session for a steady sweet spot effort, or a session focussed primarily on your pedalling efficiency.
On days where you feel as if your mood could do with a little boost, but a full training session wouldn’t be manageable, Mark suggests jumping on for a 10-minute quick ride session, just to spin your legs. “Try and notice the change in your mood,” he says, “ you do not always have to push to the maximum to get the endorphins going.”
Struggling to deal with the effect COVID-19 is having on you as an athlete? Read Mark’s guide on how to manage it.
Fuelling will play a huge role in your recovery. Annie Simpson from OTE Sports explains what you should eat after training.
If you're interested in coaching but not sure if it's for you, Dr Mark Bellamy is available for a free 20 minute consultation. Contact him on 0794 1040013.
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