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Professional triathlete Lionel Sanders on overtraining, burnout and balancing rest days

Lionel Sanders reveals his plans for the upcoming month and what he is focusing on in racing right now.

Staff Reporter
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During a professional career spanning over a decade, Canadian triathlete Lionel Sanders has continuously shared the trials and tribulations of life as a professional triathlete in great detail.

In his most recent YouTube video, the Windsor native shared some thoughts on overtraining and burnout, two major pitfalls for both amateur and professional triathletes.

Ahead of his first race of the season at IRONMAN 70.3 Oceanside, the two-time IRONMAN World Championship runner-up revealed how he is managing his down time.

“Zeros are important every now and again”

Discussing days off training, or ‘zeros’, Sanders said that his attitude towards rest days has changed, as they have become more infrequent, but also better scheduled, in his current training programme.

ST GEORGE, UTAH - MAY 07: Lionel Sanders of Canada reacts as he approaches the finish line to place second during the 2021 IRONMAN World Championships on May 07, 2022 in St George, Utah. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images for IRONMAN)
Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images for IRONMAN

“In the past I used to take a complete off day. If I look in my training log, I did an analysis of my entire logged training career, and I’ve got a lot of zeros in there.

“Don’t get me wrong, zeros are important every now and then. But logging zeros frequently, I’m not sure if that’s going to get you up to the top level, so it’s a balancing act for sure.

“One thing I have definitely become aware of is that there is a difference between burnout and overtraining. Overtraining is a physical thing, burnout is a mental thing, so you have to guard against both for certain.”

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“I always use swimming as a gauge”

To assess how well he is avoiding overtraining and burnout, the 36-year-old uses his pool workouts, which as a weak swimmer, serve as strong indicators of fatigue.

“Physically right now, I feel great and swimming is a great indicator. My top end is a little blunted, which is an indicator that you are carrying fatigue, but today we did quite a few tight pace timed reps and if you’re overtrained you will fail because you’re so tired as a weak swimmer.

“I always use swimming as a gauge of physical stress, but burnout is knocking on the door and that is where the zeros come in sometimes.

“I am trying to find a way to manage psychological burnout, because you need to train a lot if you want to become the best in the world, but you have to manage that with burnout.

“In the swim in particular, you have to come in mentally wanting to train. I don’t think you can make progress if you come in with drudgery. Coming in really wanting to do it is the right path and the right method, but it’s a work in progress.” 

Sanders revealed that his short-term solution is to keep the load low on Sundays, with the occasional day off, so that he can start the week raring to go ahead of his first two races of the season at IRONMAN 70.3 Oceanside and IRONMAN 70.3 St George.

Tomos Land
Written by
Tomos Land
Tomos Land is a triathlon & running journalist whose expertise lies in the professional world of short course & long distance triathlon, though he also boasts an extensive knowledge of ultra-running.
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