By Andy Gardner, Oct 29 2017 12:00PM
In this blog I discuss how training works and aim to help you understand how to avoid overtraining. Training causes stress on the body and a subsequent process of adaptation. The adaptation does not occur immediately, since the body takes time to adapt to the training stress. Generally the adaptation takes place during a period of recovery following the training and is referred to as overcompensation. As the term overcompensation suggests, the body produces a positive response, becoming more efficient at the task it was asked to do.
Therefore, the key components to effective and successful training plans are loading (training), recovery (rest) and overcompensation (desired end result). The training load produces fatigue and is accompanied by a temporary reduction in performance. Improvement follows later in the recovery phase when overcompensation takes place. Following compensation it is possible to train at a higher level than previously possible. The body has successfully adapted to the training stimulus and has in time become more efficient and/or stronger.
As an example - imagine you go for a run longer or faster than normal and crawl back home totally wasted out. At this point the thought of repeating the training session is very unappealing. This is the period of temporary fatigue. However, as a sensible triathlete, you train carefully the following week and allow yourself to recover from that hard run. During this period adaptation is taking place. In a couple of weeks time, you have another go at the same hard run, you will probably find that you feel in better shape, able to go faster than the previous run. By repeating this process you produce step changes in your performance.
This sounds simple, but getting the balance and timing between loading and recovery to produce the desired over compensation effect is very tricky. By gradually increasing workload a state of fatigue and reduced performance is reached. If the signs of fatigue are ignored and the training load is reduced, then a state of further fatigue will be reached from which it will take much longer to recover. If the training load has been correctly adjusted to promote recovery it is still possible to increase the training load too soon before fully recovered. If this happened then the level of performance from which you start (point A on the diagram) will be less than the original level of performance. This is commonly the way in which over training occurs. The big problem with over training is that the level of performance gradually decreases as a downward spiral of fatigue and partial recovery is repeated. The triathlete then falls in to the trap of thinking that their poor performance is due to insufficient training and therefore generates even further fatigue by attempting to train even harder. At this stage usually an injury will halt the impending doom or the triathlete will be so fatigued that they cannot continue training and have to take a break for the body to recover.
It is worth noting that it is also possible to have a reduced training workload which lasts for too long such that the benefits from the previous high workload have passed and the starting point has returned to the original level of performance (point B in diagram).
However, it is very much more common that insufficient recovery is the reason for a failure to improve performance.
Here are a few pointers to prevent you falling into the over training trap:-
* Always include one rest/recovery day a week. This need not necessarily be completely passive rest but may be a very light cycle or cross training session.
* Every fourth week of training should be of reduced volume and intensity.
* Have a definite aim or objective for each training session and include easy recovery sessions between hard sessions. In this way it is possible to avoid placing two hard training sessions back to back.
* During the race season allow extra recovery sessions between races, since these will take much more out of you than even the hardest training session.
* If you feel tired and lethargic and don’t fancy training then have an extra rest day and come back stronger the next day. Alternatively, start the session and if after 5-10 minutes you still feel the same then stop the session have a good cool down and stretch and go home.
* Over training is much more common than under training. It is better to be slightly under than over trained before a race. The extra freshness and enthusiasm you possess will be mean you will be quicker than if you were still not fully recovered and tired from your training load.