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Check in with your heart for signs of overtraining

Diane is in training for her next triathlon. She is running every morning, biking every night and squeezing in time to swim in between. Her husband, Brad, is concerned that she is overdoing it. Diane admits she’s feeling a little more tired and cranky than usual, and she’s not sure why.

Is she overtraining? Are you overtraining? You can know the answer in a heartbeat. Just check your pulse. Your pulse is your built-in fitness indicator. It will tell you if you are pushing your body too hard.

Here’s how it works. To use your pulse as a workout gauge, first you need to establish a baseline. To do that, every morning for one week, take your resting pulse, your pulse before you get out of bed. You can find your pulse by gently touching your inside wrist or the carotid artery on the side of your neck. Or you can sleep with a heart monitor, which may sound extreme, but it is something elite athletes do to keep from overtraining.

To figure out your resting pulse, count the number of heartbeats in 15 seconds and multiply by four. Write down your number every morning and go about your day. After a week, you’ll have your baseline pulse.

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Regular exercise will improve your fitness, and as your fitness improves, your morning resting pulse will probably go down. But if it goes up, that’s a sign that something is awry and you’re probably overdoing it.

Diane’s average morning pulse is 55 beats per minute. From time to time, it shoots up to 65 beats or more. She understands an elevated pulse is her body’s way of telling her to back off, to stop training for a day or two. The triathlon is two weeks away, and she’s confident of a personal best.

Sometimes, less is more when it comes to fitness. I rest my case.

Remember: In training and in life, choose the middle way. Moderation. Not too much, not too little.

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Dear Marilynn: I’m slow getting to the tennis ball, so I miss a lot of shots. What do you recommend?

  • S.G. in New York

My first suggestion is just run faster. The quicker you get to the ball - tennis ball, baseball, soccer ball - the more time you have to set up your return from a place of balance and strength. That improves your game, no matter what game you play.
Sadly, you can’t just run faster at will. That’s why foot speed training drills were invented. Do these two drills regularly and continuously, and your speed and agility will move you to a whole new plateau of play. Even two weeks will make a big difference.

  • Three line drill. Get yourself to a tennis court. Create three vertical lines on the court using tape or chalk. One line is down the middle, and the right and left sidelines should be drawn three feet from the middle.

Begin by straddling the centerline. Count and breathe to three, then sidestep to the right, straddle that sideline, then sidestep past the middle line to the left sideline, straddle that one, then back over to the right sideline, etc. Each time you cross the centerline, give yourself one point. Stop after 60 seconds, and count up your points.
If you score 60, quit what you’re doing and join the tour. If you score 30, that’s good, too. Just strive to do better the next time. This is a terrific drill for measuring your progress over time.

Up and back drill. This is an excellent and exhausting drill. It can do wonders for your speed and endurance. Start off at the back wall of a tennis court. Count and breathe to three. Then sprint from the back wall to the baseline, and backpedal to the wall. Then sprint to the service line, and backpedal to the wall. Then sprint to the net, and if you’re still standing, backpedal to the wall.
Keep doing this until your body tells you to stop. Enjoy yourself. Think of me when your faster feet make you a happier player.

Hire a coach, and in one session, learn three training drills for your sport. Faster feet? Longer drives? Better breathing? If you’re uneasy about the expense, find a friend and share the session. Then practice, practice, practice.

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Marilynn Preston is a fitness expert, personal trainer and speaker on healthy lifestyle issues. She welcomes reader questions, which can be sent to MyEnergyEx