Overreaching to overtraining
Fatigue is the inevitable consequence of the adaptation phase to the training load. When an athlete is suffering from performance fatigue, it is important to determine whether that fatigue is the result of overreaching or overtraining. The accumulation of the training stress without sufficient recovery period puts the athlete in the state of overreaching. Overreaching is more of the controlled phase of the intense training process as the coach is deliberately maintaining the high intensity training load so the athlete could adapt to it in a faster way. By intensifying the training loads the athletes are trying to reach their optimal performance by adapting their levels of response. The expected consequence is that the athlete will feel tired (acute level of fatigue), have a short term decrease in performance and possibly feeling sore but this condition should last for one to three days. The resultant acute fatigue, after an adequate recovery period, should be followed by a positive adaptation and performance enhancement which is the basis of any effective training program.
Overreaching is the core of the training, the workouts designed to enhance performance through overreaching, or pushing athletes just beyond their current level of performance through changes in volume and intensity, with or without effects of the physiological and psychological signs of maladaptation. But, overreaching could easily turn into the overtraining state if the training conditions are kept at the high intensity without the controlled recovery periods. Keeping the athletes at the highly stress conditions for a long time will influence the decline in the physiological and psychological capabilities and readiness, resulting in behaviors such as unexplainable underperforming, constant fatigue, increased RPE in training and competitions, disturbed sleep, illness (most commonly upper respiratory tract infections) and disturbed nutritional habits.
Functional and non functional overreaching
The biggest challenge in managing the training process is to understand the difference between the efficient and inefficient program design until it’s too late (reaching overtraining). The success of the program depends on the efficiency of the players adaptation to the training load while staying in the zone of a planned, acute fatigue. Acute fatigue is the necessary consequence of the physiological adaptations to the higher levels of the training loads. Fatigue can be a very helpful marker, determining the level of adaptations or maladaptation to the applied training load. The intensified training should result in a decline in performance, as the athlete is trying to adapt. However, when appropriate period of recovery are provided, a ‘‘supercompensation’’ effect should occur with the athlete exhibiting an enhanced performance compared with baseline levels. But, if the acute fatigue turns into the chronic fatigue due to the lack of adequate recovery, the performance will further decrease turning into the overtraining state.
Transition from adaptation to maladaptation is gradual and there is a very thin line between the maladaptation that could lead to the chronic overtraining and to the prosperous state of overreaching which is necessary for the performance improvement. It’s a necessary to recognize the physiological and psychological changes, which are in fact changes in the fatigue (acute to chronic transition) and therefore monitor them using reliable and valid tools.
As the overloaded training occurs, the result should be the overreaching. If the coach is monitoring the changes in fatigue and managing the training process based on the proper load to recovery ratio, the athlete would eventually reach the positive functional overreaching phase, which leads to the long term enhance performance.
Nonfunctional overreaching condition is defined as unplanned chronic fatigue and decreased performance of the athlete due to an extended period of overload training without adequate recovery.
Overreaching to supercompensation
GAS (General Adaptation Syndrome) model developed by the Canadian scientist Hans Selye explains the athlete’s adaptation process through four stages and the experience of the supercompensation phase.
First phase is a relationship between the training stress and athlete response to it. Due to the application of a training stimulus or stress, the body enters the shock phase, which results in training fatigue. Acute fatigue is a normal response to the session training stress and an important marker in the training process.
In the second phase the body is supposed to return to functioning normally, to homeostasis, but only if there is adequate recovery following the training sessions. The importance of this phase is that during the returning to homeostasis, the physiological adaptations are made. These adaptations are enabling the athlete to respond with the lower level of body shock when the same training stimulus is applied again. In this way, the athlete is raising the level of stimulus-response readiness for the future training load, as they exceed the beginning point of the stress-response baseline. The key to the adaptations is the timely and adequate recovery.
The third phase, the supercompensation phase, is the goal of any training process. In this phase, the athlete raises the levels of the adaptations to the training stress, returning to the level that exceeds the baseline, which results in increased capability to perform at the higher level. For this to happen, an adequate recovery period must follow the training stimulus as he/she should minimize the effects of the previous training stress which caused the fatigue. The recovery is a bounce back to the ready state, restoring the athlete’s body functions to normal (homeostasis). If there is insufficient recovery, the athlete can easily begin to experience the decrease of the performance capacity, chronic fatigue and eventually reach the phase of overtraining (fourth phase of the GAS model).
If the training is too intense and without proper recovery, the athlete will struggle to go back to the baseline. But at the same time if the training is too easy, there will be a very little adaptive response by the athlete. To ensure optimal training adaptations and benefits, the next training stimulus must be imposed during the supercompensation phase. If the next stimulus is applied to early, the athlete could experience the excessive fatigue which could lead to training maladaptations. Alternatively, if no secondary training stimulus is applied during the supercompensation phase, training adaptations may be lost as the athlete returns to pretraining homeostasis levels.
To ensure the supercompensation, the athlete must be healthy and recovered. The training load (volume, intensity, frequency) should be appropriate and responding the individual needs of the athlete. If the training load is adequate and the timing of the application of the stress during the supercompensation phase is correct, then the effect of the supercompensation practice will occur.