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To avoid overtraining, include rest days

Years ago, I was a runner. I was fanatical about getting in the

miles. I ran every day, and it was not uncommon to put in

100-mile weeks while training for marathons.

All this running led to injuries, which I tried to run through. I was constantly fatigued, and wasn't getting any faster despite all the miles.

I was in complete denial that I was overtraining until the day I had to crawl to the doctor's office because of lower back pain.

Since my running days, I have turned to cycling for regular exercise because it is less stressful on the body. Some people still might consider my passion for bike riding excessive, but at least I have learned to ride in moderation, with adequate rest between long mileage days or hard workouts.

It's not a secret that to improve athletic performance you've got to work hard. However, hard, sustained training breaks your body down and makes you weaker instead of stronger. Medical research shows that it's the rest day that makes you stronger because physiologic improvement occurs during rest periods following hard training. If sufficient rest is not included in a training program, then regeneration cannot occur and performance plateaus or declines.

Improved performance is a response to maximizing the cardiovascular and muscular systems and is accomplished by improving efficiency of the heart, increasing capillaries in the muscles and increasing glycogen stores and mitochondrial enzyme systems within the muscle cells.

During recovery periods these systems build to greater levels to compensate for the stress that you have applied during hard

workouts, resulting in a higher level of performance.

There appear to be two aspects of overextending one's workouts,

"overreaching" and "overtraining." Overreaching differs from

overtraining in its short recovery time. Recovery from overreaching can take two to three weeks, a safe time for tapering your workouts without a decrease in performance capacity.

Overtraining is the state where one repeatedly "overreaches" to the point where rest is no longer adequate to allow for recovery. Athletes and coaches also know it as "burnout" or "staleness." The recovery period in overtraining syndrome can take from many months to years.

Physiologist and professional trainers recommend gradual increases in training called periodization, which vary the training load in cycles with built-in mandatory rest phases. During the high workload phase, one alternates between high intensity, interval work and low-intensity endurance work.

A training log is the best way to monitor progress and check how your body is reacting to your training. Besides keeping track of distance and intensity, athletes can record their resting morning heart rate, weight, general health, how the workout felt, and the levels of muscular soreness and fatigue. Significant, progressive changes can be clues to overtraining.

* An increase of 10 percent or 10 beats per minute of your resting heart rate right after you wake up and before you get out of bed.

* Anger, depression and a decrease in vigor. Your family, friends and significant others are usually the first to point these symptoms out to you.

A short, standardized time trial done periodically is another helpful tool. If you see deterioration by minutes, take some time off or consider switching to another aerobic activity, keeping your heart rate below 70 percent of maximum. (A drop in your time trial maximum heart rate of 10 beats per minute can also be a sign of overtraining.) Ongoing daily lethargy is a clue that it's time to slow down.

General physical ailments such as sore throat, sore muscles and chronic diarrhea all may indicate the chronic stress of overtraining. Falling asleep easily, awakening abruptly and then feeling like you need a nap at 10 a.m. all can reflect the change in your normal sleep cycle associated with overtraining.

So give your body a break. Build in some rest days and even rest weeks to your training routine. Do some cross training at a relaxing pace. In the long run you will be healthier and stronger and will enjoy your workouts over a longer period of time.

Bicycling enthusiast Bob Korfhage of Phoenix is a former president of Siskiyou Velo bicycle club.