6 signs you or your athletes are training too hard
One of the questions I often get asked by athletes is just how much should I be doing? Both for technical practice and training elements such as strength and conditioning.
It is a very difficult one to answer and like so many answers in this game….it depends! Whilst i’m not going to start making recommendations as the hourly volume of training, I will make some generalisations on the things that determine training volume.
Here are some of the key factors that determine training volume for me :
Your Sport: All coaches argue that their sport is highly technical in nature. But for me there is no question that sports like tennis require a huge volume of repetition of specific techniques whilst drilling and matchplay is in addition. The same goes for mixed martial arts as it is such a varied and complex sport.
But just hitting forehand after forehand or armbar after armbar and whatever else you may do in your sport is not good enough and is a waste of time in my opinion. The phrase “practice makes perfect” is not actually the case…I prefer “Perfect Practice makes perfect”! Or to fit another cliche into this article “Quality over Quantity”.
Your Age: Clearly children and young adolescents cannot handle the same training volume as adults. Quality training sessions are the goal with the youngsters. Young adults can tolerate more hours of training and then as you get older you probably need to calm it down again! That is my experience anyway. Steve Redgrave might argue with that but thats ok with me! Let me explain a little more in depth….
In my experience the age group of 19-27 give or take a year or so, can tolerate consistently intense periods of training whilst people above and below those ages should be spending more time on recovery and restoration type work such as stretching, massage. Most 20 year old rugby players can recover very quickly from the training loads imposed on them whilst you definitely need to be more careful with the older players to prevent them breaking down. I would say that as you get older a greater percentage of your overall training time needs to be spent on recovery methods whether this is foam rolling, stretching, active recovery…or just sitting on the sofa with the family!
Your psychological make-up: Some people just like to be in the gym or practising as much as possible. This applies to a lot of combat athletes. The old mantra ‘Train Hard Fight Easy’ rings true in a lot of cases.
Other athletes like to be meticulous in their technical preparation and will spend hours perfecting specific movements. Jonny Wilkinson springs to mind for his marathon kicking sessions long after training has finished.
Then there are athletes who work extremely hard during the sessions and then like to go home and recover.
Other factors in your life: Some sports even at the highest levels are not full time careers for many people. Juggling work with training is one of the hardest things both as a coach and an athlete. As a coach you need to design your sessions to fit around peoples fatigue from work and performance levels, as an athlete you want to train hard but still perform in the work place! Whats the answer?? Become a student!! haha no just kidding, this is the path for some people but not for everyone. The answer is to be realistic in your training goals. You can still perform at the highest levels whilst working a full time job. You need to think quality not quantity. If you’re a boxer its no good spending hours sparring aimlessly with people who aren’t challenging you for example!
Other factors such as family commitments, travelling to training and activities of daily living can affect your training and should be planned for accordingly as much as possible.
How do you know when enough is enough?
The main danger of training too many hours is you risk experiencing overtraining syndrome.
Having experienced overtraining first hand, I can tell you it is not a nice experience to go through. It is essentially a scenario where you are too fatigued to continue with your training and the only way to get over it is to adjust your training substantially. However its not as easy as this. Overtraining is not just tiredness which we all experience from time to time. No, its a chronic condition that exposure to excessive volumes of training can lead to. The key to preventing this condition is being pro-active rather than reactive. Making sure you adjust your training when your fatigued and listening to your body rather than aimlessly pushing through sessions.
As a coach, we play a very important role in this process as athletes generally want to demonstrate that they can go through anything the coach asks of them. You need to regularly programme in periods of low load work in to your training programmes to allow for recovery. If you are in a sport where this is challenging then you need to educate the athletes around you to take control themselves by using the checklist below.
These days there are a lot of fancy gadgets on the market costing thousands of pounds which certain people swear by. I am not one of those people and prefer to use simpler measures to determine overtraining. Below is a list of practical points to check for symptoms of overtraining.
1.Waking Heart Rate: Your baseline resting heart rate on waking first thing is a very handy measure to know. Any sudden increases or decreases which are maintained for a number of days should be considered carefully. 6 beats per minute is significant, 12 beats per minute is a huge amount.
2.Bodyweight: Your weight ideally taken first thing in the morning can go hand in hand with your heart rate reading. Your looking for sudden changes day to day which are sustained over a period of time.
3.Sleep quality: Periods of disturbed sleep are signs of potential over-reaching symptoms. Have a look at your training regime if this is occurring.
4.Nutrition: Lack of appetite for no apparent reason.
5.Poor training quality: This could be a loss in strength for no apparent reason or an inability to concentrate in technical sessions. Also a greater rate of perceived exertion in a session for no apparent reason can be a sign of over-reaching/overtraining. For example you might be squatting 100kg week 1 and week 3 still 100kg but you feel more fatigued in the second session.
6.General Mood: Very simple measures such as how your feeling can go a long way when combined with the more quantitative measures shown above.
Obviously with all these you need to be sensible. If you have had a late night partying and go to train the next day (which of course none of us would do), clearly your performance will not be as good and is not a sign of overtraining! When considering these points I have often found that they will rarely happen in isolation, in fact you can quite regularly see 3 or more of these symptoms occurring.
Training Diaries…the answer to the problem?
The use of training diaries should be considered by all athletes as a way of measuring progress from a performance perspective and also recovery and restoration.
In truth this is the only way to answer the question how much training is enough! By tracking and monitoring week in week out you can formulate a picture as to how the individual responds to their training and then make recommendations for improving in the next phase or block of training which makes this little piece of kit a very valuable tool!
You can also include other measures such as muscle soreness etc if you want to go down that route. Use common sense here too. If you are training a 12 year old child 30 hours per week then its highly likely this is excessive and can’t be sustained! In this case I would say something along the lines of drop the training that is borderline child abuse!
Anyway that’s all for now. I hope you get something from this, feel free to comment below or you can find me on any of the usual social media @brendanchaplin.
Keep training hard,