One of the most common concerns about training athletes over the years from being a strength and conditioning sports performance coach is the thought that they may overtrain or go too hard in the weight room and can’t possibly play one sport and train simultaneously. As a result, athletes quit training and back off, only to leave previous injuries or nagging knee pain unresolved or pop back up in the coming season. The next thing you know, the season rolls around, and their formidable opponent is winning in speed and strength. The only reason is that the other opponent is better or more talented. A fixed mindset Is one of the biggest enemies of actual progress. This article will go over concerns about overtraining and the value of how consistent training can benefit an individual in more than just the physical side of training.
Overtraining, what is it?
Before I begin, I want to state athletes who are in the developmental stage working on improving movement quality and developing a base strength should not even be concerned about overtraining. Furthermore, if athletes are being educated on what overtraining is more than how to properly take care of their bodies, that is a red flag for the educator. While awareness of overtraining should be there, if the athlete knows and can define what overtraining is but doesn’t eat breakfast and consumes multiple red bulls throughout the day, that should be addressed before anything else regarding this topic.
So what is overtraining? Overtraining can be characterized by a decrease in performance with noticeable differences in mood state. While experiencing minor fatigue and acute reductions in performance is part of the natural training process (overreaching), one will only overtrain when the balance between stress and recovery is disproportionate (1). Diagnosing the difference between overtraining and overreaching is reasonably straightforward. It comes down to the time to recover and how long it takes for a process in the body called super-compensation to occur, or recovery from an intense session. This usually takes up to two weeks and can be differentiated between acute and chronic fatigue.
According to Halson Et Al., “Overtraining is an accumulation of training and/or non-training stress resulting in a long-term decrement in performance capacity with or without related physiological and psychological signs and symptoms of overtraining in which restoration of performance capacity may take several weeks or months.” Note that it says nontraining stress. I have found that most athletes that take care of themselves outside of training always come back hungry for more, which is a sign of long-term progress and development. Regardless of the philosophy, part of the training process will cause some sort of central or peripheral fatigue in the body.
Overreaching, on the other hand, can be defined as “An accumulation of training and/or non-training stress resulting in a short-term decrement in performance capacity with or without related physiological and psychological signs and symptoms of overtraining in which restoration of performance capacity may take from several days to several weeks.” This is actually what you want to happen in training. Note that the more specific you have to be as training age progresses towards tailoring intensity. While having legit qualifications are essential for developing proper movement in athletes, understanding how to program and tailor the intensity towards more developed athletes is also necessary to achieve the appropriate stimulus for growth.
Mood State Subjective Complaints
A decrease in mood will follow the chronic drop in performance despite being consistent (1). Subjective complaints include heavy legs during low exercise intensities.
As stated earlier, training age is an essential factor to consider when diagnosing overtraining. 99% of the time, if an athlete is in the developmental stage and you see these symptoms, it is usually due to lack of nutrition, sleep, and stress outside of training (2). As a coach, it is part of our job to teach the athlete how to eat healthily and find ways to develop productive and positive habits (1). Teaching athletes how to take extreme ownership of their health can significantly benefit their future.
Hormone-Cortisol Necessary but not all the time
To help thoroughly understand hormones, your body is always trying to achieve homeostasis or balance. Two important hormones that play a role in recovery and achieving homeostasis are the relationship between testosterone and cortisol. When overtraining occurs, cortisol levels will be elevated with a decrease in testosterone. This is also known as anabolic or catabolic balance in the body. Cortisol is initially released by the body to activate the hypothalamus, which initially wakes you up. However, this also slows down the activity of the prefrontal cortex or the area that helps us handle stressful situations. So initially, cortisol can be a good thing. Still, too much of anything can be a bad thing, especially regarding excessive cortisol secretion.
As a coach, I prioritize learning something new every day and leading by example. Sometimes the general consensus is that because I work in a gym, finding time to train is easy. In reality, I have a life outside of my work, and between running a business and caring for my two lovely daughters, finding time to squeeze in a training session can be challenging. However, one lesson I have learned over the years is the value of extreme ownership, consistency, and how to control stress levels. This article’s most significant takeaway is that alleviating stress levels is affected by much more than what happens during a training session. Educating the athlete on how to take care of themselves, train correctly, avoid monotonous methods, eat healthy, get quality sleep, and use positive self-talk is critical for overall health and well-being.
How to Reload?
Learning how to reload in the weight room is critical for supercompensation. During this time, you typically want to decrease the overall intensity in the weight room by half. That can be achieved through decreasing movement under load, increasing movement and reducing the load, lowering the reps, sets, percentage of 1RM, speed of the lift, manipulating the tempos, etc. The general rule is to reload every 6 weeks. Another option is to create various movements in the training programs. This avoids the adverse effects of monotonous training, reduces burnout, and increases progress in the weight room.
- Halson, Shona L., and Asker E. Jeukendrup. “Does overtraining exist?.” Sports medicine14 (2004): 967-981.
- Urhausen, Axel, and Wilfried Kindermann. “Diagnosis of overtraining.” Sports medicine2 (2002): 95-102.