Whilst the definition, causes and symptoms of overreaching (OR) and overtraining (OT) are diverese, one thing is for sure – if you are suffering from excessive fatigue you need to know how to recover – which means time away from competing and training.
Rather than finding yourself in this dilemma, it makes much more sense to be pro-active and aim to avoid OT. This article looks at some of the considerations and management strategies you can employ.
The training cycle and overtraining
Both OR and OT involve the accumulation of psycho-physiological stress resulting in performance decrements in athletes undertaking endurance-based sports. However, the precise definition of either OR or OT is still open to debate, and recent developments in the diagnosis and treatment of the condition(s) have been frustratingly slow.
Recommendations and management of overtraining
Guidance informed by research investigations has been hindered by the temporary inducement of OR and not chronic OT. The induction of longer-term damage to psychological, immunological and neuroendocrine systems will continue to provide serious ethical challenges in the future.
A multitude of variables have been implicated in the identification of OT and it is clear that no single biomarker can be used for diagnostic purposes. In order to identify and reduce the risk of OT symptoms, careful monitoring of individual responses to training should be adopted. Coaches should ensure that athletes maintain adequate rest and regenerative periods, and lifestyle and psycho-physiological health monitoring is undertaken. Further research may wish to focus on the identification of simple field-based psychophysiological markers (and surrogates) which can be monitored regularly throughout the training calendar.
Coaches and athletes should focus on deleterious changes in performance until a more robust diagnosis of OR/OT is identified. At present the research available is inconclusive with regards to a definitive diagnosis. For most coaches/athletes, simple field tests and detailed field notes of training records will provide a more realistic way of assessing athlete fatigue status.
The monitoring of training frequency, intensity and duration should be recorded alongside athlete perceptions of training load/volume using tools such as TRIMP, session RPE, or combined psycho-physiological surrogate markers including [La-]b:RPE ratio. In order to provide coaches with preventative steps towards the identification of OT, a regular program of health screening should be introduced from a multi-disciplinary team. It is feasible for monitoring to be conducted at the end of each athletes training mesocycle (every 6-12 weeks dependent on the sport and specific training requirements), or alternately, at the end of a cycle of rest and regeneration. Further research is required to determine the optimal timing of the health screening assessment.
Athletes should be allowed to recover/rest from illness or early signs of OR (it is recommended that this is a two-way process between the athlete and coaching team) and not be rushed back into training. The coach should regularly rotate training requirements so the athlete does not become stale. Coaches should carefully monitor the non-structured aspects of their athletes’ lifestyle (e.g. sleep patterns, nutritional intake, travel schedules, changes in time zones) to ensure external stressors are not affecting training performance. These stressors could be monitored by regular completion of psychological questionnaires including POMS and/or REST-Q Sport.
In reality, a test battery including invasive, laboratory based techniques, for example, blood-borne assays are not pragmatic on a regular basis. Further research could focus on the development and validation of less invasive salivary-based assays for identifying markers of OT.
The implications of OR/OT for athletic performance and the long-term health status of athletes has recently been highlighted by the development of a joint ACSM/ECSS Position Statement on the Prevention, Diagnosis and Treatment of the Overtraining Syndrome and it is strongly recommended that this statement (including the very useful diagnostic checklist) are used by coaches and athletes.