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Runners collapsing on track

The Overtraining Syndrome

When we design a training programme for athletes, our ultimate goal is to enable them to perform at their best. Inherent within this, we understand that it might involve some hard work. Indeed, the goal of a training programme is to create a stress on the athlete, which results in acute fatigue. The athlete then undergoes a period of recovery, and during this recovery adapts to the stress. Training, therefore, can be viewed as a constant cycle of stress (training) and rest (recovery). At times, it might be appropriate to bias that cycle one way or the other; during periods of high training load we are deliberately placing more stress on the athlete than they can tolerate – ordinarily this would require an increased rest period, but instead we attenuate that rest period to provide more stress. Again, this is good, and part of the training process. When we then bias the cycle towards rest, such as in a taper, the athletes recover, hopefully get some supercompensation, and performance improves. This is known as functional overreaching, and is an important part of training. Often, performance rebounds from a slightly depressed position during the heavy loading to the improved position after a few weeks.

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