Wednesday, September 14, 2011

How Much of a Problem is Over-training?

Yesterday, I was talking to sports writer Maria Burns Ortiz about the issue of over-training. She said,
"I have covered all kinds of professional sports and I have NEVER heard a coach say that an athlete was over-training. "
Personally, across all sports, I have seen a very few players who I think over-trained, but I have definitely seen some. These were mostly players who had an eating disorder, who were training so much they were burning muscle, or players who did not take enough time off after an injury. I've heard a lot of people say their problem was over-training when I thought their problem was they did not train enough.

Today, I was talking to Jim Pedro, Sr. who said that he saw players who over-trained all the time, that he thought it was very common. I don't have any problem saying that Jim knows a lot more about coaching than I do - because it's true - so I was very surprised to hear him say that he had over-trained when he was a competitor because he didn't know any better. He said that he would train right up until the day of the tournament and he sees a lot of other players that make the same mistake now.

Which led me to the two questions of "How common is over-training?" and why do three people who have a lot of sports knowledge and experience have such different views?

One answer, I think is that there are two definitions of over-training.
  1. Not enough recovery time is allowed between workouts . The intensity of workouts is so hard and workouts are so close together that, physically and mentally, the athlete gets torn down and gets progressively weaker instead of stronger.
  2. The failure to apply periodization, which is breaking your training cycle into periods which vary in intensity.
I think these are two different ideas. One is that you are training too hard. I see very, very few people who ever do that compared to the large number who delude themselves into thinking they do. The second is that you are training hard at the wrong time.  This occurs far more commonly than the first problem.

I think Maria and I are only considering the first definition as over-training while Jim calls both of those over-training. If that is the definition you use, then I'd say he is right, it's very common.

Many people who THINK they are over-training just are not in good enough shape. Yes, perhaps you do need to rest more but the reason is not because you are training too hard and the solution is NOT to not train so hard in general. What most of these people need to do is gradually increase their training because they come in to practice and train very, very hard but because they don't do this often they end up exhausted the next day. So, what do they do? They take three or four days off. Instead, what they ought to be doing is training at 70-80% capacity and increasing what they do each day.

As for periodization - well, there is a lot about that in our book, but since I have to be in Malibu by 8:30 a.m. I guess I better turn in.

So..... what's YOUR opinion? How common do you think over-training is?


judobob said...

I actually think a lot of people over train based upon the first definition as well as the second one.

I have had several athletes come to me for training advice and when I sit with them and discuss their training I often have to say they should do less.

One of the other issues we have is that many clubs do not provide enough training hours and therefore players go to many different clubs to get the number of hours they need. This means no single coach has an idea of the volume and intensity of their training and periodisation cannot be applied.

Michael Hultström said...

As you say the word "overtraining" is used to mean any number of things. In exercise physiology it is more clearly defined as when an athlete exceeds their adaptive capacity. As you write in definition one, they become weaker instead of stronger.

To talk about an absolute level of overtraining that isn't tied to how well trained you are to start with is the wrong way to think about it. A training level that will provide adequate adaptation in one athlete will be too much for another.

When I studied the frequency of severe overtraining was cited as around 10% of elite collegiate athletes. I have no numbers to cite, but I have the feeling that in elite judo players it may be more common than in many other sports because of the weight categories, which force frequent dieting.

The mechanism behind overtraining is generally said to be glycogen depletion, which means that you loose the means to quickly replenish glucose levels in the blood and to feed the glycolysis in muscle. This lack of energy leads to an inability for muscle to adapt to training by becoming stronger. It also reduces the capacity to replenish blood cells. It leads to a general strain on most cell types that therefore release inflammatory and stress hormones.

What you see is that an athlete starts loosing in performance even though they keep training as much as they did earlier. Objective signs are an uncommonly high pulse at a given load, a slower decreasing pulse after stopping an exercise, decreasing red blood cell counts and increasing white cell counts. At more extreme levels you can also measure signs of actual cell injury such as increased lactate dehydrogenase and creatine kinase i blood samples as well as signs of re-polarization defects on ECG.

Treatment is simple. Train less and eat more. You generally don't have to stop training, but you have to reduce the over all intensity and allow increased time for recuperation. It is important to replenish the energy stores, that is to eat carbohydrates such as pasta, potatoes and rice. This should allow the athlete to recover within a week or so. If it takes more time it may be warranted with a week without any training, and a doctors visit if that doesn't help either.

Dr. AnnMaria said...

Another possibility is to go up a weight division. People often think the best division is the lightest one they can make. I think it is the division in which you can perform the best. That is NOT always the lowest weight division you can make

robthornton72 said...

I would think that overtraining trends is wrestling would be an apt comparison. Perhaps there are some studies there?

I do not know about wrestling other than what little I've heard, but I imagine that the "cutting weight" at the last minute on tournament day may exist there as well. Not a very healthy way to enter a match.

Jorge Almeida said...

Empirically I would say that every time that you start training and you feel as tired as you have been at the end of the previous training, you have not rested enough to recover. You can get out with this for a week worth of sessions but you will need to have a proper rest of ~3 days afterwards - this is what we do in training camps for a good reason, we are expecting the big rebound in shape after the accumulated slump.
If you feel exhausted for 2 weeks in a row, you do not sleep well, you have muscle pains everyday because of the trainings, then you are doing something wrong and you will most likely have an injury soon. Every time that I have started to see these signs on me I slowed down a little bit to recover. My coaches even sent people home or put them in the "bench" because they were too tired to continue the training. At that moment you are a danger to others and to yourself. I have been there as I think many people have. Too little food, too little water, too many intense randoris too many days in a row.
Responsible training is what is needed. To know how to listen to your body and being able to distinguish between being lazy and being at the rupture point. Having a coach that actually knows you and can read the signs is equally important.
For all of good structured training is built slowly, session by session and allowing the body to adapt to the new work loads. That is also why people cannot be in olympic shape in one year. It takes time.
I agree with Jim Pedro, Sr. in that a player cannot train hard the day before the competition. He will be recovering on the competition day and not in his peak. The week of the competition should be winding down towards a light session on the previous day. But this is not what I would call over-training. This is what I would call bad decisions on the part of the athlete and on the coach.
I would just add the part of the increase of injury risk/unable to recover from an injury to the over-training definition.
My last thought is that over-training is personal, people are not equal and their limits vary, not everyone is able to achieve the same athletic condition and we get old and the physical shape cannot be maintained forever. Appart from this, most people that say that that have been over-training are not training enough. The ones that over-train do not know about it and do not complain until the whole thing breaks appart of their coach notices and forces them to rest.
These are my 5 cents.

Tree Frog said...

I do not have nearly the experience and the skill of others here, so take my words with a hefty grain of salt:

Is it possible that the competitors you do see are the ones that aren't overtraining as badly?

The really overtrained competitors would be the ones coming down with rhabdomyolosis, SLAP tears and other ailments that kooky Crossfit workouts are so good at producing. I've seen college football athletes that overtrained heavily and suspect that many MMA fighters do as well.

Mike Brown, former FW WEC champion, said in an interview with me that he was overtraining. Keith Jardine is a notorious overtrainer. The list goes on.

Lex said...

It's funny how divided people are on this subject. I'm in your camp ;-)

I'm yet to meet someone who overtrains in the first definition of the term you use. I don't believe in it. If you body is too broken from 3 sessions of hard drills, sparring, cardio, strength training from the day before, then you should be doing flow drilling (very light but non-stop) or watching competition footage / instruction videos / books etc.

Besides I think people that being too mentally or physically broken to train as hard is more likely a failure of diet and rest than "training too much". Sorry for the rant. But I'm tired of folks telling me to be careful about overtraining. Instead I love hearing "train harder!"

Jorge Almeida said...

I want to share a view and ask a question.
View: You are only training enough when you are pushing your sessions to your physical and psychological limit. If you are pushing yourself to the limit, there will be times that you are going to cross over to the other side and will be training over your limits.
Question: Isn't everyone that has been pushing their limits bound to over-train from time to time? (unless you are so strong and have so much endurance that there is no training that will make you tired and unable to recover for the next session, but then again, you would not be pushing your limits and definitively be under-training).

Dr. AnnMaria said...

I think the concept of periodization is that you do push yourself to the point of being broken down early, prior to the competition season, or after the competition season, and those are the times when you are increasing the difficulty of your workouts. During the competition you want to maintain that level.

See, you really need to read our book (-:

Plumber lawrenceville said...

I found your website perfect for my needs. It contains wonderful and helpful posts. I have read most of them and learned a lot from them. You are doing some great work. Thank you for making such a nice website

Anonymous said...

I am a runner and not martial arts, and used to not believe in overtraining.

However, all the sudden my paces stagnated then started getting slower and slower, and then I couldn't run as far -- and now I can't run 5 miles at the pace I ran two marathons in two days with no taper a few months ago. I kept pushing trying to get to my goal race and it got worse and worse. January through November I ran 18 marathons and up to 42 miles at one go. Through December I cut down to less than 33 miles a week - under half of my lowest mileage before, a third of peak mileage - and I don't feel as tired all day long but I still can't run.

I believe in overtraining now. I thought I should work harder then anyone else- then was afraid to take time off -- now even a little break isn't enough. I think it will be a long road, and I am miserable.

gift for valentine's day for her in pakistan said...

A real informative blog like this is an exceptionally cool helping resource for a needy information seeker like me! Thanks a lot...