According to the National Strength and Conditioning Association, NSCA, overtraining is defined as an accumulation of training and/or non-training stress resulting in long term decrease in performance or restorative capabilities. Overtraining is not defined by having too many training sessions or training too much or too hard. That is relative to an athletes training level and ability to recover from workouts. All athletes are not created equal and therefore will not recover and adapt the same even if it’s from the same training stimulus. Renowned Strength and Conditioning Coach Mark Rippetoe states in his book, Practical Programming for Strength Training, that overtraining comes from failing to understand and applying the principles of stress, recovery, and adaptation to an athletes training cycle, as well as ensuring to base that training off an assessment of that athletes current training level.
A structured, well balanced program is needed to ensure that we are stressing our athletes enough to reach adaptation and growth, but do not push far enough where our athletes are not recovering from the workouts. The General Adaptation Syndrome was constructed by Dr. Hans Selye in the 1930’s and is still a standard of showing how stress works today.
This chart was used to depict how an organism goes through short term responses and long term adaptations as a result from having an external stressor placed upon them, as strength and performance coaches our external stressors we’re placing on our athletes is the training we put them through, along with any other physiological, psychological, or emotional stressors they have in their life.
When viewing this graph we can see three main phases happening as an athlete is on/or begins a training program. First the Compensation Phase, the training program is new to the athlete and therefore shocks their body. This is why when you first begin training, or switch your current training up from the normal regimen your extremely sore after the session. The next phase is the Resistance Phase. Now your body has begun to accept the stressors placed upon it through training. During a training program this is when your body begins to recover more quickly and you are not as sore after training sessions. And lastly we have the Decompensation Phase, also known as the Exhaustion Phase; this is what we usually are referring to when we say that an athlete is overtraining. We do not want our athletes to enter the Exhaustion Phase. Following the Resistance Phase an athlete can take one of two routes. Either the athlete’s abilities to recover from the workouts and adapt are greater than the stress placed upon them and we see performance gains or they are not and the athletes enter into the Exhaustion Phase. Training is a delicate process and the balance must be maintained to ensure continuous progress from our athletes.
Now with all of this being said part of the process is also placed upon the athlete being responsible enough to take care of themselves. Examples such as getting enough sleep, eating properly and fueling their body before and after training sessions are all put into consideration when examining if an athlete is beginning to overtrain or not. Athletes should be educated on these and other restorative methods and while we understand their schedules are very demanding they should do their absolute best to take care of their bodies and their mind. The greatest training program in the world will not make up for a lack of sleep and horrible nutrition.
Some signs of overtraining as reported by Dr. Jonathan Mike, Exercise Science Professor from Lindenwood University, are decreased appetite, increased resting heart rate, increase risk of illness, muscle weakness and soreness, a decrease in performance and overall desire to train. It can take up to several weeks and even months for overtraining to occur, but if an athlete begins to show the slightest signs it’s a coaches responsibility to pull back the reigns as much as they feel needed until the athlete is fit to progress.
While overtraining is an issue it is an issue that can be easily managed just through communication with your athletes. During warm ups ask questions regarding their mood, their soreness, amount of sleep, how their day was, etc. Training programs must be about balance and we must balance training with all of the other stressors in their lives. An athlete comes to us to improve their performance in their sport, they are a player first and training should be designed to supplement their game play.
Brandon Holder, CSCS, USAW, FMS
FASST Sports Performance Coach