With the mechanics of periodization established, we can now look at the principals governing training and programming. There are numerous principals that have developed, and often a single theoretical principal may share several names. This installment will focus on the following well regarded principals:
- The Principal of Overload
- The Principal of Recovery
- The Principal of Reversibility
- The Principal of Individuality
- The Principal of Specificity
- The Principal of Variety
Finally, this article will conclude with a look at overtraining, delving into means of identifying someone who is overtrained and the adaptations to training required.
The Principal of Overload
The principal of overload revolves around the need for the body and its systems to be placed under a stress that it is not accustomed to. This training effect causes a response from the body and it adapts and develops. The primary means of applying overload is through manipulation of the training variables, frequency, intensity, time/duration and type/mode of training.
Pyke and Woodman explain why the term progressive is often associated with the principal of overload. “The term progressive is best linked to overload to ensure that the training stimulus is gradually increased.”
Overload must be high enough to induce fatigue and therefore a training response. However, it must not reach the point where adaptations become negative due to excessive fatigue. As a general guide, there should be no more than a 10% increases in load per week. Pyke and Woodman state, “It is not necessarily true that if some training is good, more is better.”
Another problem arises if the training stimulus is inadequate. If the systems of the body are not stimulated sufficiently, the training effect will be low and adaptations minimal.
As Damm states, “Of all the training principals, overload is the most difficult for coaches to accurately determine.”
General Adaption Syndrome
The general adaptation syndrome or GAS as proposed by Canadian Biologist Hans Selye suggest three different phases to overload adaptation. These stages are:
- The Alarm Reaction Phase. This phase is sub-divided into another two phases:
- The shock phase, which has a training stimulus that is difficult and tiring, producing a low work output. It is commonly found in athletes attempting a new workload and can be associated with a return to training after a few weeks off.
- The counter shock phase, where the body begins to adapt to the stimulus, and the same training regime is more productive. Capabilities for a higher workload improve. This phase can be associated with a return to the levels of fitness achieved prior to taking a few weeks off.
- Resistance Phase A gradual and progressive increase in performance and capability occurs. As there is only a limit unto which the body can adapt from a certain stimulus, a plateau becomes evident. This plateau is associated with the law of diminishing returns where further gains become negligible.
- Exhaustion Phase If the stimulus is too great or carried on for too long a period, overtraining becomes evident. High levels of fatigue set in, and a deterioration of performance occurs. Signs of overtraining will alert exercise prescriptors that the athlete has been given too great an overload and is entering - or is in - the exhaustion phase.
The Principal of Recovery
Recovery is often the most neglected principal applied to training programs. With goals and time in mind, overload often builds quickly, giving the adaptive reserve little time to replenish.
Although the intensity of training is important, another key factor is the type of training performed. For example, exercises that have a higher eccentric component, like running down hill, would require more recovery time than say a flat run, which in turn would require more recovery than a cycle at the same intensity.
Besides the components of training loads, there are several other physiological factors that influence the rate of recovery, with age and experience being two of the more prominent. According to Bompa, "It seldom happens that an athlete will fully recover between training lessons; the coach should consider the employment of various methods of recovery." Rushall and Pyke also agree with this statement and add, "Today’s training loads are so demanding that ‘natural’ recovery alone can no longer provide adequate recovery."
Besides enhancing recovery with active rest (kinotherapy) and sleep, several other methods can be utilized including:
- Physiotherapeutic (massage, electrostimulation and ultrasound and hydro - therapy)
- Chemotherapy (vitamins and ergogenic aids)
It is important to note that recovery is said to be more effective if a variety of techniques are used rather than just a single method alone.
The Principle of Reversible
The principal of reversibility or disuse follows the common slogan "Use it or Lose it." As training effect requires an overload of stimulus to adapt and develop, the reverse also applies. With insufficient stimulus, the body will adapt and return to a capability of the lower workload. If athletes who trained regularly ceased training, their bodies would "detrain" over a period of time and only maintain a level of fitness applicable to their current lower work rates.
The first thing many people what to know is, “How much detraining takes place?” Various studies have had similar findings. McArdle et al. mention a study where five subjects were confined to bed for 20 days, resulting in a 25% decrease in VO2max, corresponding to a 1% decrease in physiological function each day. In regards to resistance training, Wilmore & Costill have found that reductions in strength are relatively small during the first few months after training ceases. Fortunately, it is easier to regain lost strength, power and muscular endurance than it is to develop it initially.
With these factors in mind, it is recommended that athletes continue training during recovery or off-season phases to maintain current levels and minimize detraining. “The important point is that even among highly trained athletes, the beneficial effects of many years of prior exercise training are transient and reversible,” according to McArdle et al.
The Principal of Individuality
As can be expected, all athletes have individual differences, from genetics (like sex and fibre type distribution) to training history and lifestyle. Several factors, recommended by Rushall and Pyke, need to be considered.
- Tolerance to training - Some may enjoy hard sessions, others may not.
- Responsiveness to training - The ability for their bodies to respond to training (e.g., fibre types and hypertrophy)
- Recovery from training and competition.
- Training needs - Knowing strengths and weakness of the athlete.
- Training preferences - Ensuring they not only train what they enjoy but their weak areas as well.
- Nutritional preferences - For example, vegetarians would prefer iron from non-meat products.
A strong statement by McArdle et al. summarizes the principal of individuality: "Training benefits are optimized when programs are planned to meet the individual needs and capacities of the participants."
The Principal of Specificity
The principal of specificity revolves around the training effect being specific to the overall objective. The reasoning behind specificity is fairly clear: those requiring beneficial adaptations for their activity need to utilize the systems and muscles of that activity if they wish to gain a training effect and adapt. For example, a client wanting bigger FT fibres would be required to use those fibres, hence long distance running would have a low specificity for a body builder as those fibres are not utilized.
As McArdle et al. state, "Specific exercises elicit specific adaptations, creating specific training effects." While most physiologists agree that training must be specific to the nature of the task, this does not mean exclusion of opposing muscle groups and actions.
There are two areas of concern when prescribing programs in regards to specificity. The first has the training too "general." For example, as an Australian Football player may cover up to 20 km in a game, continual LSD sessions for 20 km are not necessarily the most specific. The reason is that a multi player ball game like Australian Rules requires short distance sprints of alternating pace in both a linear and lateral direction.
The second error has the implementation of specific training too early before a fitness base has been established (e.g., starting a runner off on a program of Race Pace and Time Trial sessions, before they have developed an aerobic base). This has the potential to lead to over training and injury. "If training becomes too specific too quickly, injuries are likely to occur," according to Damm.
The Principal of Variety
The importance of variety is not just the spice of life. Variety ensures athletes do not stagnate on a set training load. We know that the body adapts to a training stimulus. If the same stimulus where to be used without change, initial adaptation gains would be low and the chances of over use or repetitive strain injury would increase. Obviously certain elements of specificity are lost when methods of training other than event specific are used; however, goals can still be catered for. For example, long distance runners can still develop aspects of their aerobic base by cycling, rowing, swimming, etc.
Some more basic forms of variety come from a simple change of venue. Utilizing different gymnasiums, tracks or routes provide a simple means of providing variety, as do training at different hours or with different groups.
By utilizing the above two examples, variations can be given throughout a training year or program. During pre-season training or development training when the requirement for specificity is low, alternating forms of training can provide variety. During the pre-competitive and competition phase when specificity is the priority, variety can come from the change in venues, training groups, etc.
Overtraining can be defined as an induced state of fatigue caused by a prolonged period of high volume/intensity training, with inadequate recovery for adaptation, leading to a depletion of the adaptive reserve. This condition is fairly common amongst athletes and hence has developed several different names including “staleness,” “burnout,” “overreaching,” “overstress” and “failing adaptation.” According to Wilmore & Costill, “Few athletes are under trained, but unfortunately, many are overtrained, often erroneously believing that more training will always produce more improvement.”
A poignant point to raise is that overtraining is not solely caused by or related to a neuromuscular condition. Rather, overtraining is a syndrome that influences and is influenced by the interactions of the metabolic, neurological, psychological and endocrine systems as well as the chronic neuromuscular response.
While the effects and thus the presentation of overtraining are individualized, the best indicator of an overtrained athlete is said to be a deterioration in performance and alteration in mood. With this in mind, research by Lemyre, Stray-Gundersen, Treasure, Matt, et al. suggests that the psychological factors are more sensitive to overtraining than physical measures. Unfortunately, it is often difficult for coaches to notice the onset of overtraining as signs are gradual and variations are small. As the coaches often see the athletes on a daily basis, these signs may evade notice. By the time coaches realize they have pushed an athlete too hard, it is often too late.
A point to remember is that general fatigue from training is to be expected, and overtraining is predominantly characterized by prolonged fatigue. This is highlighted by research conducted by Urhausen, Coen and Kindermann whereby indicators of overtraining may be influenced by short duration/high intensity training. With this in mind, Hawley and Schoene suggest a two-week trial of lighter intensity. Athletes with overtraining syndrome may not immediately improve, but there should be noticeable improvements in those suffering from general training fatigue.
Fatigue has been shown to decrease the effectiveness of the immune system. This immune system suppression, characterized through decreasing lymphocytes and antibodies, increases an athlete’s susceptibility to infection and illness. There is also a hypothesis that, in response to the high (and continual) tissue trauma caused by the inability of the body to recover from training, the body’s immune symptom releases more cytokines. These cytokines then initiate a general systemic response, which leads to many of the symptoms associated with overtraining.
Autonomic System Fatigue
Israel developed two classifications in regards to fatigue of the autonomic nervous system:
- Sympathetic Overtraining - Sympathetic or Basedowian (after Basedow disease) fatigue is said to be predominantly caused by emotional processes like over-stressing and over-excitement. The increase in sympathetic system activity is epitomized by increased resting heart rates, loss of appetite, emotional instability, hyperactivity (restlessness) and decreased body mass.
- Parasympathetic Overtraining - Parasympathetic or Addisionoid (after Addison disease) fatigue is characterised by several inhibitory signs, including the early onset of fatigue, anaemia, low blood pressure, a decreased resting heart rate, frequent infections and mood disturbances.
In regards to the effects of training type and overtraining response, Bompa suggests that sympathetic overtraining occurs predominantly from a high intensity of training, while parasympathetic overtraining is more commonly developed from a high volume of training. Likewise, von Israel claims that sympathetic overtraining appears mainly in sprinters and power athletes, while parasympathetic overtraining occurs in endurance athletes, although endurance athletes do exhibit both sympathetic and parasympathetic symptoms.
Uusitalo also suggests that sympathetic overtraining is possibly the precursor to the overtraining state, while the parasympathetic type can be defined as an advanced overtraining state.
Thyroxine and testosterone are anabolic hormones that accelerate protein synthesis, while cortisol is a catabolic hormone that enhances protein degradation. It is the ratio of these two hormones in the blood that is thought to regulate protein synthesis or degradation. Those suffering from overtraining have displayed a decrease in testosterone and an increase in cortisol. This would indicate that those suffering from overtraining syndrome have a higher protein degradation. This may provide a clue as to why there is a decrease in body mass in overtrained athletes.
Resting blood levels of adrenaline (epinephrine and norepinephrine) are also elevated in the overtrained. This increase in adrenaline stimulates the heart and may explain why resting heart rates have been shown to increase with overtraining.
Recovery from Overtraining
A major problem regarding the treatment of and recovery from overtraining is athletes only shows signs and symptoms once they ARE overtrained and that responses differ between athletes and are very individual. At this stage, "There is no indication that over training directly causes irreversible damage to the athlete." However, athletes that continue training while in an overtrained state are likely to incur more serious injuries, like skeletal joint injuries. With this in mind, the recommended action is to reduce training load or cease training immediately.
Prevention of Overtraining Conclusion
As intensity increases of more than 5-10% weekly is suspected to cause overtraining, a guide of no more than a 10% increase per week is recommended. Another more general guide is to interspace high intensity sessions with those of a lower intensity. This can be done by alternating every (or every second) high intensity session with one of a lower intensity. The same applies for training weeks - those of higher intensity (every week or two weeks) should be followed by a week of lower intensity training. Several guidelines have been designed to assist the coach or trainer in preventing overtraining:
- Consider and follow the principals of training (e.g., individuality, recovery and variety)
- Consider the stressors of the athlete’s lifestyle (this is an often neglected area)
- Maintenance of communication and athlete awareness, modifying the program if required
- Provide recovery sessions
- Provide complete lay off periods between seasons
- Educate and encourage effective diet and nutrition
Part 3 of this series explores the principles and specifics of training loads and program application.
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