Imbalance in the training to recovery ratio (high training and competitions loads and not enough recovery) is the most decisive factor of developing the overtraining state of the athlete. Recovery strategy, as the opposition to the high performance training load strategy should be equally understood and applied as the part of the training process, rather then considered just as a day off the practice. Recovery process is not that simple as it consists of many variables which should be constantly integrated and modified to respond to the demands of the constant changes in training stress levels.
Firstly, very important for the coach and the athlete is to understand and quantify the training load. As training load is not only about the obvious measures, like duration of the rallies or the area covered during the session, but it’s more about how does the athlete respond to the training stress. Their response to the training session is the key for creating corresponding recovery strategies which would eventually prevent the overtraining conditions and injuries. The incidence of some illness and injuries was noted together with the indices of training load, monotony (same/similar repeated high level training sessions, low attention and motivation levels of the athlete), and strain (product of the weekly training load and monotony). It is of crucial importance that athletes keep the records of their daily training load using a training dairy or a log, with their own, subjective, ratings of quality of sleep, fatigue, stress, muscle soreness, body mass, early morning heart rate, illness, menstruation and causes of stress. With the other measures such are physiological and psychological screening of the athlete, such are RPE and POMS, the athlete and the coach can understand the individual perception of the training stress applied. Then, based on these measured levels of stress, the appropriate recovery strategy can be applied to prevent the early signs of chronic fatigue and nonfunctional overreaching that leads eventually to the state of overtraining and months of absence from the practice due to recovery.
Training load is clearly not the most important part of the training to recovery imbalance as the athletes are failing to approach and apply the recovery part as serious as the training part. Two out of three strategies to reduce the risk of overtraining are NOT a part of the training loads and stress phase, but the part of the recovery process.
Strategies to reduce the risk of overtraining are:
1. Passive rest and sleep – One of the most obvious methods for managing the recovery is adequate rest and obtaining sufficient sleep. The quantity of rest needed is determined from the intensity and volume of training stress applied to the athlete. Usual recommendation is that athletes should have at least one passive rest day each week, especially during intensified training periods, which can reduce the onset of signs of overtraining. But, as every athlete is an individual that differently responds to the training stress, to successfully manage the recovery process, the athlete’s perception of the previous training sessions are needed to be understood and quantified. The resting period is not important only from the physiological standpoint but from the psychological one as well. During the period of passive rest the athletes are distracted from the daily training routine. This may help athlete to reduce the stress perception of the training, establish again high levels of motivation, reduce boredom and training monotony.
Sleep is an essential part of recovery as chronic disturbances in sleep quality can negatively affect the quality of a training session and athlete’s well-being in general. Need for sleeping recovery is primary neurally based as sleeping restores the cognitive functions and therefore the abilities to concentrate and to be fully aware of the training demands at the session.
2. Nutrition – The high negative energy balance (imbalance between the intake of the energy and energy expenses) can increase the training stress maladaptive response leading eventually to the overtrained physiological state. Energy requirements of the athletes are increasing with the higher level of training to which the athletes are exposed on a daily bases. Growing large energy expenditure by the athletes are not necessarily compensated by an increase in food consumption, which leads to the negative energy balance. The most often reasons for the negative energy balance is that the athletes (and the coaches) are not aware enough about the importance of nutrition in recovering the body tissues and body functions.
Factors such are the insufficient carbohydrate and/or protein intake, iron, magnesium and vitamin D deficiency have been recognized as important contributors to overreaching and overtraining. In combination with the repeated high intensity trainings, carbohydrate depletion can be very important element of development the overtraining syndrome.
Protein has a protective role as intake after the training decreases further post exercise tissue breakdown, repairs the damaged tissues and promotes muscle growth. To reduce the risk of developing overtraining syndrome during periods of intensive training, athletes should increase their carbohydrate, protein and fluid (dehydration can increase the levels of stress and energy imbalance) intake.
3. Practice variety/practicing with purpose – keeping the athlete’s levels of motivation high and monotony level low is the key concept of the training process. Understanding the training goals and benefits of it are the main characteristic of the cognitive practice. The main difference that the cognitive practice brings compared to the regular practice is that the athletes are fully involved into reaching the understandable and acceptable goals making the training purposeful. Having training with the purpose is a highly motivated (mostly intrinsically) training, with the high level of awareness about the efforts needed to accomplish the understandable goals.
Designing the training manipulating with the environmental, unpredictable conditions demands the athlete’s technical and tactical quick adjustment responses. The more the training demands are variable the faster a player learns to adapt. Combining the predictable tactical routine with the unpredictable response, demands from athlete constant cognitive awareness and decision making abilities. These kind of training/simulated match situation demands more problem solving response from the player which automatically keeping the monotonous levels of training low.