Ask Stew: Why Mastering Your Recovery Is Key to Avoid Overtraining

Lt. Col. Kyle Shoop, commanding officer, Marine Fighter Attack Squadron-211, 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, and Cpl. Garrett Ross (left), plane captain, VMFA-211, 13th MEU, compete in a race during a unit competition.
Lt. Col. Kyle Shoop, commanding officer, Marine Fighter Attack Squadron-211, 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, and Cpl. Garrett Ross (left), plane captain, VMFA-211, 13th MEU, compete in a race during a unit competition, March 25, 2018. (Cpl. Anthony Van Fredenberg/U.S. Marine Corps photo)

When it comes to adding difficult physical training to a busy day or work, school and life in general, you may start to show signs of decreased performance, lack of energy/enthusiasm to train, pain, injury and complete burnout. This may have nothing to do with the workout itself (it could), as many simply are not focused on their mental, physical and emotional recovery from the stress we are placing on ourselves.

Here is this week's question:

I think I am overtrained. I have a resting heart rate elevated, and couldn't finish yesterday's workout despite it being shorter than previous ones. Subbed all running for non-impact cardio last week as my lower legs are beat up. ​Should I take a week and just walk/light swim? Tyler

Tyler, you are not alone in this battle, although you may be overstressed and under-recovered. Many athletes experience the same symptoms when they push their bodies too hard without allowing for adequate recovery time.

For you, it is smart to opt out of running if your shins and feet are showing signs of overuse and injury. A week of nonimpact cardio can help with the aches of the legs, so try a mix of running/biking for the following week to see how you do. Reduced training may not be the only answer to your other signs of overtraining/under-recovery, such as an elevated resting heart rate, inability to complete workouts and decreased performance. For these symptoms of overstress, you may need a week of de-loading your activity along with increasing the other side of recovery (better nutrition and sleep).

During times of the year when I have these symptoms, I can usually locate the origin as fighting illness during flu season or seasonal allergies, triggering difficulty breathing and sleeping. A week of mobility days -- where five minutes of easy cardio, followed by five minutes of dynamic stretching, some calisthenics and foam rolling for an hour replace your normal workout routine -- can be helpful. Not only is it a good place-holder for your normal workout time habit, but it is also a routine that feels good afterward without being exhausting. Add a better focus to your eating, drinking and sleeping. You may feel 100% by the end of the week.

Eat, Drink Water, Breathe and Sleep

Between eating better, proper hydration/electrolytes, de-stressing through breathing and sleeping, you will resolve most of your problems; these are our best recovery tools to reduce stress, prevent overtraining, poor performance and injury. If you are sweating profusely and not rehydrating and getting enough salts, you can turn a normally energetic person into a lethargic poor performer quickly.

Whether you are striving to master these recovery methods for optimal performance or longevity, this is the area where you need to look first. Nine times out of 10, your issues can be fixed by taking your recovery seriously. Then, adjust training programming if you are on a training program that is not progressing logically with running distances/speed, calisthenics repetitions or lifting weights too frequently, using improper splits for your goals.

If you don't take the time to learn how to master recovery, burnout will be inevitable. As far as training is concerned, consider a program that focuses on your weaknesses primarily but also allows for you to maintain your strengths. The Seasonal Tactical Fitness Periodization model of training is a good way to budget your training throughout the year, so you do not try to do it all every week. Your training when it comes to cardio activities, as well as mixing in calisthenics and weight training, have to be organized in a way that it is not too demanding with everything else you have going on.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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