Thought on Overtraining
A couple of weeks ago I posted a piece about overtraining. I want to make another brief comment about something I alluded to there but didn't flesh out. This will be just a passing thought. I mentioned that you have to overtrain to achieve a high level of fitness but that you also have to stop before going too far. Let me explain that a bit more.
When I do a talk I often ask the audience how many have been overtrained. Almost everyone raises their hands. My guess is that fewer than 5% in any such athletic audience, even with mostly very serious athletes, has truly achieved overtraining. And that's a liberal estimate. It's very difficult to achieve the overtraining syndrome. Accomplishing that requires a superhuman effort to overcome your body's extreme weariness which is a probably a built in mechanism to prevent death or at least bodily harm. I've only known of one athlete in in 30 years of coaching who I believed was really overtrained. It wasn't a pretty sight. He was a pro triathlete who told after he retired that he was never the same athlete again. He raced unspectacularly for three more years following that episode.
I can sense your confusion already. How can you overtrain and yet not be overtrained? Overtraining is a process; the overtraining syndrome is a result. The process of overtraining simply means that you must train at a stress level which would produce the overtraining syndrome eventually. That 'eventually' is poorly defined in the literature. It could be any where from a couple of weeks for an aging, novice athlete to perhaps a dozen weeks for a highly fit, 20-year-old. And to make matters even worse it's a moving target. It might take less stress to achieve the OT syndrome at the start of the training season than it would just a few weeks later when your capacity for stress has increased.
The process of overtraining is also called 'overreaching.' In order to intelligently overreach you must know what your body is currently capable of handling in terms of stress and then exceed that stress by a SMALL amount. Most athletes left to their own devices will try to exceed by as great a margin as possible. You must also know how long you can manage the overreaching stress load before the wheels start to come off (i.e., overwhelming fatigue sets in). I've found nothing better for this than the WKO+ software. I use it to manage the stress loads of the athletes I coach so that we achieve peak performance when we need while avoiding the overtraining syndrome. Even with the software it's still somewhat of a crapshoot as you can tell from this post. But I don't know how I did it before the WKO+ software came on the scene a few years ago. I wouldn't want to go back to that way of coaching again.