Remember when we thought that training 24/7 would make us stronger, faster and healthier? Well in the last few years, that mentality has shifted significantly. We don’t need to train all day and all night anymore, we simply need to recover as hard as we train. Recovery has a huge impact on how our bodies adapt to training. Overtraining can adversely effect our ability to build performance, seeing the signs of overtraining and properly managing training stressors will greatly improve our ability to train optimally.
Overtraining And Its Impact On The Body
Overtraining (OT) impacts our internal systems more than we have led to ever believe. Physically we may experience inflammation, see negative effects on the central nervous system such as a depressed mood and fatigue, or even feel neuro-hormonal changes, but physiologically, “OT is a chronic imbalance between stress and recovery that leads to decrease in the body’s ability to effectively respond to stress, and performance starts to decrease” (Jamieson, 2017). While many people believe that OT is a dysfunction of the body’s regulation system, it’s actually working as a protective mechanism. As long as we can have a clear understanding of OT, we can do a better job of managing it.
Here’s how the body’s protective mechanism works: we have our Automatic Nervous System (ANS) which comprised of two outlets, the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. Even though these systems work mainly in opposition, they are responsible for creating a balance of our internal environment, also known as homeostasis. When we experience imbalances such as stress and tension on the body (what you experience in OT), the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) is the driver that communicates to the brain letting the body know we are under stress and then directs the body to handle the stressors that are being inflicted. Once we are able to decrease the stressors, then the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) communicates with the brain that the body is no longer under stress and recovery can begin.
- Heart Rate Rises
- Blood Pressure Rises
- Cortisol is Released
- Adrenaline is Released
- Heart Rate Decreases
- Blood Pressure Lowers
- Digestion kicks in
- Absorption of Nutrients are increased
- Anabolic Hormones are released
- Enzyme Activity increases to prompt protein synthesis
Now that we have an understanding as to what these systems do, we can take control of these systems and find internal and external drivers to activate our body’s PNS. The sooner we activate our PNS, the faster we can recover by getting our bodies out of the sympathetic overdrive that leads to overtraining.
Management of Training Stress to prompt Parasympathetic Drive
Most of us have a preferred routine. It’s rare that a perfect routine exists, but it is something we strive for every day as a way of keeping ourselves in a homeostatic state.
The reality is, 90% of us conduct hard training sessions without a proper warm-up or cool down because life got in the way… traffic is heavier than expected, you forgot your meal prep lunch at home, or maybe you just had a tough day at work and dig yourself out the ground as you’re being buried in emails. Either way, life happens, and here at SOFLETE, we get it. We can go about our day with a negative attitude, throw down some McDonald’s at lunch to make ourselves feel better and gas it through the yellow light to try and make it to the gym 2 minutes sooner, but these are all stressors!
These are all examples of stressors and “regardless of the actual stressor, the pattern of the stress response remains the same. This means whether we run or lift weights, do aerobic work, compete in sports, deprive ourselves of sleep, or expose ourselves to extreme cold or heat, we see the same systematic response to deal with the stressor, regardless of what it is” (Jamieson, 2012). This shows the stressor variability.
Most people don’t think of it, but mental and nutritional stressors exist! This will put us into a sympathetic state. We need to take a look at how to manage these or avoid these stressors to allow the parasympathetic system to kick in and create balance.
Reflect back on a time where you coupled your high intensity training loads with a high stress day. I'm willing to bet that your results weren't what you wanted, and you may have even injured yourself. Approach your training with an idea of the stressors effecting you in mind. How do you measure your stress? Well, it takes a lot of self-awareness and leaving your ego at the door. Develop a method that will allow you to evaluate emotional and physical stress. Dig deep into your mindset, how your body is feeling, operating and performing. Being self-aware will have a direct effect on how your body handles training as well as everyday stressors.
Methods for Measuring Weekly/Daily Stress
- Heart Rate Variability
- Monitoring Resting Heart Rate and tracking every day at the same time, and finding trends. If it lowers or increases due to daily stressors
- Gauging previous days Intensity and Volume from training and life
- Creating different performance standards to go off of.
- Creating a checklist for yourself on how the body is feeling, what your mood waking up, are you hungry, do you feel sore, mentally tired, develop ways you can measure this for yourself.
Using some of these tools can help you determine how to approach your training day. Heart Rate Variability (HRV) and associated monitors are making their way into a lot of athletes’ toolboxes. Heart Rate Variability isn’t a hot, new, up and coming medical breakthrough, “it has been around with the use of technology dated back as far as the 1960s when the Soviet Union first started experimenting with it” (Jamieson, 2012). HRV is just an example of how we are going to get a deeper look into the bigger picture of overall recovery.
Jamieson, the owner of Bio-Force and 8-Weeks Out, is a strength and conditioning coach that works with athletes of all kinds. In one of his coaching courses, he breaks down a model called "The Readiness Method" that has really stuck with me and how I look at training and recovery. Jamieson’s Readiness Scale should be used as a guide for you to maximize your time at the gym after you’ve measured the stressors you’ve encountered for the day. Using this will allow you to keep moving forward with your daily training and life to keep you out of the OT phase.
- High Readiness - Highest Loading (Full Training Load for what is Planned for the day)
- Moderate Readiness - Reduce Training load by 20-30% from maxes
- Low Readiness - No Training or recovery and regeneration day
Developing recovery strategies shouldn’t cost you a lot of money, just some effort. While it is going to take time to find what works best for you, it’s important to remember that it needs to fit your lifestyle. If you follow our SOFLETE Programming at train.Soflete.com then you will see that we implement a few recovery practices that you can do after training, or when you have downtime.
Individual Recovery Practices
- Calming activities this can be breathing work, meditation, yoga, writing, painting, anything that will prompt and relaxing environment that doesn’t cause sympathetic drive
- Improving sleep quality, hygiene and creating a sleep environment that allows for better sleep quality.
- Get outside in the sunlight
- Prompt calorie intake, avoiding high-intensity workout on lower carbs - See Brooke West our RDN for more on this.
- Avoid stimulants or excessive use of them.
- Lower Aerobic Conditioning like biking, swimming, movement work and to keep the heart rate below 140bpm which will develop a recovery response within the system.
I’m not saying to go big and use every single recovery practice. These are just examples in hopes that you can find something that fits in with your everyday life. This is key in your ability to recover. Don’t forget that also having lower volume days and recovery days should be taken as a priority throughout the day as it helps speed up recovery. If you do so, you will be able to increase training and yield better results over time.
The Proof Of The Pudding...
If your goal is to become stronger, faster, and healthier, then implement recovery practices and make it part of your routine. Having a better understanding of how to avoid OT will set you up for long-term success in reaching your goals. It’s “our ability to cope with stress over time is very important to our training response, program, and performance” (Jamieson, 2017).
Developing ways to quickly get into parasympathetic drive and managing sympathetic drive will allow for a better return on investment when it comes to measuring your body’s readiness to train in relation to the daily and weekly stressors its encountered.
Here at SOFLETE we believe that recovery outweighs training volume and intensity, and that rest and recovery is far more important than training hard 24/7. If we ingrain this into your mindset, then we are doing our job in setting our athletes up for success for durability and longevity. Start to put in 2-3 recovery practices into your training each week, and see how it improves your training and overall wellness.
Jamieson, J. (2012). The Ultimate Guide to HRV Training.
Jamieson, J. (2017). Bio-Force Certified Conditioning Coach Course Manuel.
Overtraining Syndrome: A Practical Guide. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3435910/#ffnsectitle