Overtraining is indeed a polarizing topic in the world of strength and conditioning. Many coaches contend that its likelihood is low, while other coaches monitor their athletes’ recovery closely using various measures such as heart-rate variability (measure of changes in the autonomic nervous system). In any case, there is valuable information available to us that supports the possibility of overtraining being likely for experienced athletes.
From personal experience, I have been overtrained more than a few times in 20 years of training. One of the more notable times for myself was during a Combat Deployment where sleep and healthy food choices were both limited. Needless to say, the results were significant losses in lean body mass, a decrease in motivation to train or eat healthily and overall just feeling like shit. These symptoms persisted for quite some time thereafter.
Whether or not you think overtraining presents a problem for yourself of your clients, it’s important to understand overtraining and the signs it may present as our ability to prevent such phenomena may be likely if we are cognizant of its warning signs and can give your clients the proper guidance.
Types of Overtraining
A-Overtraining (Addisonic Overtraining) named after Addison’s disease, which is associated with diminished activity of adrenal glands. This category of overtraining affects predominantly the parasympathetic pathways of the autonomic nervous system and is difficult to detect early, due to the absence of any dramatic symptoms. A suspicion that something is amiss may be aroused by the appearance of stagnation or deterioration of the athlete’s performance.
B-Overtraining (Basedowic Overtraining) named after Basedow’s disease which is associated with thyroid hyperactivity. This category of overtraining affects predominantly the symphathic pathways of the autonomic nervous system and as the classical type of overtraining with the abundance of symptoms is easy to diagnose.
*Symptoms of A/B types of Overtraining
In addition, it’s not at all uncommon to see your athletes overtrain from a local muscle standpoint. This usually manifests itself where soreness/fatigue that does NOT subside days after a training session. For this reason, it’s incredibly important to prescribe the proper dose of volume with smaller movements like pull-ups/push-ups to avoid overtraining. In this case, further tissue breakdown can result in rhabdomyolysis that is the result of excessive tissue breakdown and can be life-threatening.
Often times training programs call for a planned period of “deloading” where volume/intensity are significantly lower. If there is a rotation of work, volume, and intensity, deloading may not be necessary, particularly in the group-setting where we may not be privy to knowing how much our clients have trained on a particular week. But in order to not put our clients at risk, having built-in “recovery” or a decrease in volume/intensity into a structured week is paramount. Overall, coaches should always instruct their clients to listen to their bodies as the optimal level of volume is dependent on the client and only you know how you’re actually feeling.
Prevention of Overtraining Via Restoration and Recovery
As previously stated allowing your athletes need to “recover” during planned days of “deload” with regards to intensity, volume, and exercise selection which is critical to ensure your clients are not burning the candle at both ends, so to speak. Clearly, this is a challenge coaches in a group setting face, but our programming must account for days of built-in recovery almost as if we are planning for our clients to show up daily.
Although many of your clients will listen to their bodies and take rest days when they feel overly tired or sore, others may not, making the need for structured recovery vital. In fact, these days provide an opportunity to include less taxing work that is arguably more beneficial to the average athlete. For instance, work that does not externally load our clients like sled pulls and sled pushes fit the bill perfectly. In addition to enhancing recovery, these movements require little to no skill so athletes of all levels will benefit.
Another example is performing skill-based work where the goal is to improve movement proficiency without inducing fatigue. In this case, because we are not racing against the clock or our peers, we are able to focus on refining movement patterns. Finally, mentally deloading our athletes regularly is just as important as the actual movements we perform. In order to do this, we must instruct our clients to NOT record their score, time, or weights for a particular workout and allow for some of our training pieces to have “no measure”. The goal, in this case, will be quality > quantity.
Overall, all aspects of restoration and recovery need to be taken into consideration as our objective is keeping our clients healthy and progressing without incurring drops in overall motivation. We can monitor this by strategically programming work that is low-skill, seeks to improve motor proficiency, and does not carry the burden of a score or measure.