Understanding the reasoning behind a sluggish start to a training session, slowed and/or diminished improvements in training, or an overall staleness in one’s fitness can sometimes be an elusive process. As we get stronger, move faster, and increase the physiological demands upon our bodies, there is an increased need for a systematic approach to optimal recovery and regeneration.
Today, there are a plethora of amazing strength and power programs widely available to lifters of various abilities, all of which incorporate deloads that allow lifters to recover and progress throughout training cycles.
Sometime, however, the body has other plans, and as a coach and/or athlete, you need to understand the physiological symptoms behind overreaching so that you can stay ahead of chronic weakness, lack of performance, and injury.
Understanding The Difference Between Overreaching vs. Overtraining
Overreaching is an acute (short-term) period in which increased metabolic stress is placed upon the body during certain training phases. Many coaches program with an understanding that their lifters will and should enter into this phase. When an athlete enters this phase of overreaching, training volume is often decreased substantially for a short period of time to allow regeneration and recovery, which is a process called supercompensation. This cyclic approach to training has been at the foundation of modern strength and conditioning programming across many sports.
Overtraining is a state of chronic overreaching. An athlete may enter this phase when symptoms of overreaching are ignored. Often, this stems from a lack of the basic physiological symptoms that are present during overreaching periods. Overtraining, contrary to belief, often occurs more with advanced lifters versus beginners, primarily due to more advanced lifters placing the greatest metabolic stressors upon their body, making recovery a key determinant on ongoing success.
Though the understanding of the following symptoms of overreaching, athletes and coaches alike can monitor and tweak programming to ensure ongoing success and increased performance over time.
Altered Heart Rates and Blood Pressure
As systemic stress is placed upon the body during intense training, recovery becomes crucial. During periods of poor recovery, increased sympathetic activity is present (increased heart rate, increase blood pressure, increase catecholamines and cortisol at rest), which all further add stress to the body. Although heart rate variations can occur at anytime, when seen with other symptoms, altered heart rates at given workloads may suggest increased sympathetic stress (circulatory, cardiac, and neuromuscular systems), indicating potential overreaching.
Poor Sleep Patterns
Disturbances in sound sleep can result from numerous of factors. However, in the presence of other symptoms, poor sleep habits has been shown to indicate increased physiological stress, altered hormonal levels (increased catecholamines and cortisol), and mood imbalances.
Decreased maximal heart rate, decreased work capacity, increased perceived exertion levels, and altered blood lactate variables all contribute to diminished performance during a period of overreaching. By recognizing the these ongoing symptoms, athletes and coaches can alter loading, training volume, and rest cycles to restore and allow for supercompensation to occur.
Increased stress has been correlated with increased anxiety, depression, lack of motivation, insomnia, and irritability. Monitoring one’s mental mood state during hard training periods will allow lifters to correlate other symptoms to determine if they are entering into murky waters. The additional external stress lifters may place upon themselves when trying to achieve a certain performance goal can further add to frustration, mood imbalances, and stress. It is important for coaches and athletes to understand the role that cortisol and mood imbalances can have on physiological and psychological health during intense training cycles.
Increased stress due to heightened sympathetic activity can wreak havoc on the immune system. Protein breakdown and increased cortisol have been shown to weaken the immune system, leaving lifters susceptible to sickness, equating in loss of training days and further stress upon the body.
More Susceptible to Injury
Systemic fatigue, frustration, and joint/muscular weakness may lead to potential injury during times of poor recovery.
As discussed above, when acute overreaching is prolonged, chronic symptoms may be revealed, indicating overtraining, which often results in heightened detrimental effects and increased recovery times.
As coaches and athletes, we must all listen to our bodies. Programming is not created equal, and various variables exist within our training and recovery matrix. Closely monitoring day to day fluctuations, sleep patterns, nutritional status, bodyweight, long-term progress, and lifestyle stressors (work, family, etc) is important to fully customizing training programs for every athlete.
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