5 Simple Tips to Avoid Overtraining

Coaches can avoid overtraining by making changes to the workout plans when an athlete's performance starts to drop off more than expected. First, coaches need to understand that a drop-off in performance is expected during certain training periods, usually three to four weeks into a training program. 

Coaches need to change the program if the drop-off is unexpected or lasts longer than five days in a row. If a training load is excessive, the athlete can be fatigued to the point that a typical recovery period (3–7 days) is insufficient; this is known as overtraining.

If overtraining occurs, the training plan needs to be re-evaluated to allow the athlete to return to the previous training state. The coach should change the exercises, reduce the volume and intensity of training by at least 50% and add recovery methods to help the athlete return to full training within five to 10 days.

Changing the program every three to six weeks is typical when designing a program. Training with more frequent variation is better than training with little to no variation if the body is not reacting as expected from the training stimulus. Predicting the impact of training is limited, but good record-keeping of key variables can aid with determining when changes are needed.

Overload and Adaptation

Overload requires high effort beyond the preparedness level of the athlete. Training involves some level of intensity beyond the athlete’s preparedness level (homeostasis) to induce an adaptation. The correct dosage of exercise will challenge the athlete and place physiological strain on the body.

Adaptation is the process of adjusting to the demands of a training program through repeated doses of exercise. The rate of adaptation is determined by volume, intensity, frequency, and exercise selection.

Every athlete responds and adapts to training differently; programs must be individualized to accommodate varying adaptation rates.

There are signs to look for with overtraining

Overload and Adaptation Variables

Overload and adaptation are necessary for structural and functional changes in athletes, which can be achieved in several different ways. Manipulating volume, intensity, frequency, or exercise selection will result in an adaptation. Changing one or more variables after a difficult training phase will trigger a physiological response.

5 Simple Tips to Avoid Overtraining

  • Switch exercises with similar physiological or physical movements
  • Adjustments to the recovery period: change timing between sets or exercises
  • Change in exercise rhythm: adjust the timing in the eccentric phase or concentric phase
  • Change the sequence of exercises: design a program with a different exercise order
  • Combine exercises: perform two exercises together (contrast training)

Training Methods

Programs can start with a gradual linear advancement of training (progressive overload) by increasing the intensity and volume of work at the start of a new training macrocycle. Gains in athletic performance abilities such as strength and speed require a load beyond the magnitude of the accustomed stimulus to create an overload.

The amount of work (volume) and how hard (intensity) are the two main factors to consider in training design. Volume and intensity adjustments are made reciprocally: as volume decreases, intensity increases, and vice versa. The volume and intensity, along with the type of energy system required for the activity, will determine the appropriate rest periods between sets and exercises. 

The number of training sessions per cycle will have an impact on the outcome of a training program. Training frequency varies from three to 12 sessions per week, depending on the microcycle and individual physiological and psychological responses to workouts.

Changing Exercises to Avoid Overtraining

Modern training programs include small wavelike adjustments of intensity and volume with adaptation stimulated by changes in the exercises or other variables. The structure of the program and intensity should remain relatively constant throughout the year.

“A central issue regarding programming strategy is the method by which increased intensity is achieved. Variable rather than linear workload progressions tend to yield superior results” (Stone et al., 2009, p. 268). With advanced athletes, the quality of training (intensity) is more important than volume.

Small Changes to Avoid Overtraining

It is important to continually test and push the limits of training while maintaining the program design structure. Changing one element with a similar element or rearranging the exercises in a session could stimulate an adaptation.

Overhauling the structure of the training program will not provide the focused system needed to maximize results.

Proper Recovery to Avoid Overtraining

After the intense training period of several weeks, an athlete will have a recovery period, which can include a reduction in volume or intensity. The body improves the ability to perform at a higher level because of the adaptation after exhausting the physiological system during the overload period; however, without a proper recovery period, an athlete will fatigue quickly and risk overtraining (Bosch 2015).

Typically, 48–72 hours between maximal intensity sessions are required for the neurological system to recover.

Reducing the total training volume by 30%–50% and adding more recovery time between intense sessions will provide the restoration needed for adaptation.

To adapt, athletes need to recover from a training stimulus. The demands of the exercises selected and the physiological response will help the coach build the recovery protocol into the program; however, recovery time will vary with each athlete and each training cycle.

Proper sequencing of training activities, including the time and length of each training phase, will be the key to high-level performance when it matters most. 

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