Talent alone is not enough to guarantee success in sport. To be the best, you need to work hard and push your body and mind to extremes and be able to adapt to rigorous work. Training hard and training smart are not always synonymous. Unless your body adapts to the type of training you do, the physical and psychological demands on you can lead to the types of injuries and illnesses common to many athletes, such as overtraining, overuse or burnout. If you are unlucky enough to experience any of these problems, it is easy to feel that your hard work has been a waste of time and effort. For many athletes, the question becomes, "How can I train hard without getting injured or sick?" The answer is simple. If you want to perform at your best without experiencing these conditions, you need to follow the formula for success:
Work Hard + Recover Well = Best Performance
Many athletes work hard but often ignore recovery training activities except when they are ill or injured, yet these practices are an essential ingredient for a balanced training program. Indeed, the principle of recovery is one of the basic principles of training, but it is the one most frequently forgotten by athletes and coaches.
The Principle of Recovery
Work alone is not enough to produce the best results, for an athlete also needs time to adapt to training. The principle of recovery refers to that part of training where the benefits of the work undertaken are maximised through practices which reduce residual fatigue and enable the athlete to cope with workloads more effectively. This enhances the athlete's capacity to undertake more work as well as to work more efficiently, which in turn maximises the effectiveness of the training stimuli and so encourages better adaptation.
Training sessions are designed to bring about improvements in athletic performance. This is achieved in part through progressively overloading the body systems and fuel stores that underpin each of the five Ss of training (stamina, strength, speed, suppleness and skill). Underlying this progressive overload principle is the understanding that in order to develop a particular capacity or system, that capacity must first be challenged or stressed. This stress is provided by the training load which represents the stimulus for change to occur. The work undertaken results in a degree of fatigue or depletion of the physical or psychological systems involved. Adaptation to training is accelerated when residual fatigue is reduced as soon as possible after training and the challenged functions are restored quickly to normal operational levels.
The principle of recovery relates to the encouragement of adaptive processes after the presentation of the training stimulus. If there is sufficient recovery before the next workload, the underlying system or fuel store stressed during training can improve its capacity to cope with the next stressor. The human body tries to adapt to a new stimulus as best it can. However, if the stimulus is presented often enough, the body will become habituated or bored, so in order to improve, it is important for the training stimulus to change from time to time. To encourage adaptation to training, it is important to increase workloads gradually and develop corresponding recovery activities, which reduce residual fatigue from these workloads. The sooner you recover from fatigue and the fresher you are when you do your training, the better your chances are to improve. Coaches often measure the success of their training programs by monitoring the speed by which athletes recover and bounce back from heavy training.
Overtraining, Overuse and Burnout
If positive adaptation to training results in improved performances, then it is also important to recognizing that negative adaptation can also occur. Essentially, the wide range of identified overtraining signs and symptoms is a reflection of the extensive influence of the athlete's immune system when it is unable to cope with excessive stress. Overuse problems are a indication of biomechanical problems due to excessive or inefficient mechanical loading, and burnout occurs when athletes are so psychologically drained they lose motivation and often also lose all interest in their sport.
The onset of these conditions is diverse and varied. No two athletes will respond to training loads in the same way as adaptation rates vary from one individual to another. Consequently, it is not always appropriate to prescribe the same workloads for all athletes, but it is absolutely essential to monitor their responses to training so that workloads can be varied to suit each individual's adaptive capabilities.