Overtraining is usually something we perceive as being bad. Overtraining is associated with lack of recovery, injuries, suppressed immune system, plateaued results in the gym and on the field, low energy, low motivation, etc. I’m not gonna dismiss any of these side effects from a training volume too high, as these are very real effects from overtraining. Actually, I’m usually the first one to sensitize people to the effects of overtraining, and I encourage coaches and trainers to monitor training volumes and progress closely.
Then, why am I writing a post questioning the importance of overtraining?
I’m not really questioning the importance of overtraining. What I want to say is that if it is planned, monitored, and the appropriate amount of rest is planned consequently to allow overreaching, then overtraining might be an interesting tool to use. I’m not talking about the kind of overtraining that lasts for weeks, or months where you just bury your athletes in the gym without any consideration for obvious symptoms of overtraining that are just getting worse and worse.
If you know that your athletes are going on vacation for a week or two, or they won’t be able to train for that same amount of time, planning to have them reach an overtraining state before they leave might actually be beneficial. Because you know that during their time away they will have plenty of time to recover, which will allow them to supercompensate, which will be beneficial for their development. Upon their return they’ll have recovered and they might have reached new levels of strength, power, endurance, or conditioning.
This might also be a strategy that can be used even with athletes who are not going on vacation. You can plan overtraining in your program. As long as it’s followed by an appropriate deload period, you can definitely get some benefits from it.
After all, overtraining is essential to make progress. The system needs to be overloaded to create adaptation that will translate into gains in strength, power, endurance, aerobic power, or whatever you are trying to improve. If the overload is not sufficient, the body won’t create adaptation that will trigger improvement.
In the image above, you can see the importance of creating the right amount of training stress, and give the appropriate amount of rest before imposing a new stress. The red curve is the ideal one where the body is stressed enough to create supercompensation big enough that will lead to improvement. In that case it’s also important that the training stress is re-applied at the right time (as identified by the letter B in the chart). So the bigger the training stress (creating overtraining), the more time you will need to allow for recovery so the compensation reaches its peak.
If you ever talk to Cal Dietz, strength coach at the University of Minnesota, you’ll hear him say over and over again that he overtrains his athletes. For someone who doesn’t understand the supercompensation concept it may sound kinda silly, but the reality is that Cal plans his training volume and rest periods with his athletes as much as anyone I know. He takes into account the fact that his athletes are also students, that have Christmas break, Spring break, finals, vacations, and all that stuff that’s part of a student’s life. Therefore he knows that his athletes won’t train with him 52 weeks a year, which is why overtraining (or overreaching) at different time of year is a good option in his situation.
Like I said before, everything is relative. Nothing is all black, or all white, a lot of things fall into this good old gray area. It’s all a matter of understanding the context.
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