Overtraining is a state in which levels of decrements in performance occur, as symptoms of physiological and psychological maladaptation, and will remain for a period of time despite lowering the training load. The training that has a imbalance between the training load and the recovery period leads to overtraining. But certainly, there are many factors leading to experiencing this physiological and psychological state of the athlete, such are monotony of training, tight schedules, over competitive environment, emotional (psychological) problems and demand. All these factors can contribute in growing imbalance between the physiological and psychological demands and recovery needs. The body eventually needs time to restore the psycho-physiological capacity to perform again and that may be from several weeks up to several months.
There are not still reliable markers that could clearly make a difference between the well-trained athletes from the overtrained athlete. Still, the most obvious sign would be the athlete’s inability to sustain intense exercise and a decrease in performance capacity when the training load is constant or increased. Overtrained athletes are usually able to start the training session at the normal pace but are not able to respond the training load without showing the signs of the early decrease in performance, fatigue and exhaustion.
Coaches often make a mistake thinking that the negative response to the training load is due solely to poor training design as the lack of sufficient work load/intensity or lack of effort on the part of the athlete. This two dimensional application of the concept overlooks many key elements that are making the training process efficient. There is a significant presence of the psychological factors that contribute to reaching the levels of overtraining.
Psychological elements of overtraining
William Morgan and his research (1980s) on college swimmers introduced the importance of monitoring the psychological changes in the athletes behavior as a factor of reduction the potential overtraining and chronic fatigue outcomes. Using the POMS (Profile of Mood States) questionnaire that measures athlete’s moods, it was found that the elevations in negative moods such are tension, depression, anger, fatigue, and confusion, and decreases in the positive mood such is vigor were the consequence psychological reaction to the frequent high intensity training session. As training load rose in volume and intensity, negative mood disturbances were following the training changes in same manner, with the peak of training and mood disturbance coinciding. Research has proved that a few as two days of intense training can result in significant increase in POMS values. During the overtraining, depression increases the most of all POMS variables, showing even the signs of clinical depression in some cases. Compared to the overtraining period, during the peak overload training fatigue and vigor show the largest increased values while depression increases the least of all POMS factors.
Although monitoring mood disturbances in theory sounds as very successful and practical method to identify the athletes in risk of developing the overtraining syndrome, there are some problems that can restrict the accuracy of these tests. These tests are relying on the individual response and for some reasons the athlete can complete the psychological questionnaire in a false manner.
The reasons for the false, untrue responses can be various; from the athlete’s wish to create a desirable, positive image of themselves to faking the responses so the training load is reduced. Some of the athletes are of sensitive and secretive nature and some of them can be just answering randomly due to the boredom as they are often asked to participate repeatedly.
Therefore, the high performance training is in demand of the psychological research team whose members should be trained in managing the psychological questionnaires, guaranteeing confidentiality to the athletes that their responses will used only for their own personal profile. Of a great importance is that the athletes are carefully explain the reasons of using psychological assessments and understand that there are no right or wrong ways to respond to the questionnaires.
Psychomotor speed tests
These tests can be a very successful tool in the early detection of nonfunctional overreaching and therefore a preventive tool for the overtraining. The advantage of psychomotor speed testing is that it is inexpensive and very easy to use just by using a mobile device or PC. Comparing to the POMS, the results of these tests can’t be influenced by the psychological state and needs of the athlete as they are strictly depend on the neural-motor reaction. It is known the symptoms such as concentration, memory and cognitive problems are in common for people experiencing the chronic fatigue syndrome and athletes experiencing the overtraining syndrome.
Studies suggest that central fatigue is the earliest sign of the overtraining and that the reaction and attention tests can be a very promising tools in early detection of the nonfunctional overtraining and eventually prevention of the overtraining.