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You may have noticed that PATHFINDER Horizon training is different than our other PATHFINDER programs. With Horizon, we recognized that in order for an athlete to ruck 50+ miles, a different approach to training needed to be made. Studies prove that periodized training creates greater performance, and the path to a Star Course completion is through a planned training structure.
World class endurance athletes spend 70%-80% of their training time at their aerobic base (which would be where the athlete is just starting to breathe heavily and can talk with slight discomfort), with the time also including recovery workouts, warm-ups/cool-downs and long-distance endurance work, especially when they’re increasing their training time during their longest workout of the week. The athlete spends less than 10% of their time at, or just above, aerobic capacity, and the remainder of their time doing intensive, anaerobic endurance work. (Anaerobic endurance work could be work like sprinting, jumping or other power burst movements.) This is known as the polarized training model, or 80:20 training.
Overall, it’s a pretty modest approach for significant gains in training. But in our rucking community, the culture of overtraining/excessive training rules. How many of us are recovering from an injury right now? Or have just recovered from an injury? Could it be because the “If Some Is Good, More Is Better” mentality has us all convinced that excessive training is the only way?
I used to be the Queen of Overtraining. It started like this… I had a fun Light coming up? I’d train like it was a Heavy. Easy-breezy sprint triathlon? I’d train like it was an IRONMAN. It got so much worse, the larger and more serious the events got. Sure, some of that is part of my charming ‘Winner Takes All’ Type-A personality. Some of it was also believing the fallacy that if some exercise got me so far, All The Working Out would make me invincible. I’m an intense, recreationally active mom with an elite athlete complex. You do the math. After a shoulder dislocation, busted knee, hip and spine issues, slipped disc in my neck from a damned log, +++, I’m here to humbly tell you: FALSE. (And this is where those of you who knew me then, fall over in shock.) Seven two-a-days a week doesn’t make you a badass. It makes you susceptible to serious injury, and a big-ass ortho/chiro/PT bill. Think I’m wrong? Worse yet, think I’m alone? Think again.
How did we get to overtraining? And how do we look at this the right way now?
First, what does overtraining/excessive training look like? Generally speaking, it’s a feeling of dread or not looking forward to your workout. You might feel more stressed out, and be grouchy and in a generally bad mood. You might not sleep as well as you had been, or you stop feeling hungry. (You might also have a significantly increased appetite as well.) If you have real-life added stress - the stuff that would keep you up at night regardless of how hard you exercised - that additional cortisol (your stress hormone) can be enough to compound the situation, pushing you into overtraining as well. Over time, with continued physical punishment, your efforts become stale. Your body is like, “Nah, bro, you go on.” You’ve exceeded your body’s ability to recover.
So that’s pretty depressing.
If you find yourself in that place now, how do you start looking at training in the right way?
To start, performing a proper warm-up, cool-down, mobility and having active rest days allow you to better prepare for high-heart-rate work. It gives your body a chance to realize you’re about to do work, or that it can calm down because the stress of work is over. This basic kindness to your body can translate into real benefits. Your heart rate settles down. Your hormonal response chills out. You sleep better. You don’t have to turn into a yogi...but it helps.
OVERTRAINING? OR JUST OVERREACHING?
As you train for an event, your exercise schedule will naturally increase in both duration and activity. Sometimes, the work feels tougher than you were prepared for, and you may feel tired and achy. That’s a normal sensation, and if you do a little too much, take some time to rest. Overreaching your current ability is a good place to be occasionally. It’s when overreaching, day after day, becomes your identity. This mentality leads to overtraining and possible injury.
QUALITY OVER QUANTITY
Think quality over quantity. It might make more sense to do some, rather than all, of a workout if you’re feeling particularly worn out. It’s more important to successfully perform fewer intervals, reps or rounds and fully recover from the effort than it is to do everything and tire yourself out to the point that recovery prior to the next workout is less likely to occur. When your form has degraded and you’re gutting it out on the gym floor or on mile 85 for the week, hating life, it’s time to pack it up for the day.
Stress can negatively impact your body’s ability to cope during physical activity. Limit your day-to-day stress during training season. Change what’s possible. Let’s use the example of traffic. I hate the traffic around my daughter’s elementary school - it’s maddening. I got tired of fighting it and stressing out. We rearranged our schedule and walk to school now, talk about the day ahead, and spend time together. Adorable example, and I realize you may not be able to do that. All I’m really asking is that you look at the things that piss you off, and decide how they AREN’T going to piss you off anymore. And then do it. Often, those little stressors can really pile up. Taking a look at the little stressful situations differently might encourage you to try new things. You can change things you don’t like.
For bigger life events that require more effort for change, or that scare the daylights out of you, talking to a friend or therapist is always a good idea. Talking to someone isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s a sign that you respect and care for yourself enough to share what’s happening in your life and look for guidance to move through it. Every badass needs a confidante.
Good nutrition helps your body recover from tough workouts. For real, eat your vegetables. I’m always shocked at the number of adults who legitimately tell me they don’t eat green things. In all the glorious love I can muster, grow up. If you’re on the fence about good nutrition and think you’re exercising away your crappy diet...nope. Try a new vegetable every week, or (if you really want to impress me) every day. Filling your diet with solid, balanced nutrition; proteins, carbs, and fats will always be the way to fuel a body. The diet fad may shift, but the foundations of good nutrition are solid. (Soapbox: If you’re eating carbs, don’t stop prior to an event out of a desire to be virtuous. I have done an event next to a girl who totally bonked because she started Keto three days before. Don’t be that girl. That girl may have been me. ...yes. Yes. That girl was me. The shame.)
BE KIND. UNWIND.
The data shows that excessive training and overtraining can cause a myriad of very real issues and injuries. A modest approach to training, knowing that it’s okay to hit the brakes and press the gas in equal measures, can keep injuries at bay and improve your overall athletic capability.