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6 signs you or your athletes are training too hard

How much training should I be doing?

One of the questions our coaches often get asked by their athletes is: ‘How much should I be doing?’. The aim is always to get the balance right both for technical practice and training elements such as strength and conditioning.

How often you or your clients should work out is a difficult question to answer as it depends on the individual! Whilst we can’t advise on individual athletes capabilities to load on more work without assessing them, there are some key signs to look out for to determine training volume.

Factors that determine training volume

Here are some of the key factors that determine how often should you work out:

1. The sport you’re training for

All coaches argue that their sport is highly technical in nature. There is no question that sports like tennis require a huge volume of repetition of specific techniques, plus drilling and matchplay in addition. The same goes for mixed martial arts as it’s such a varied and complex sport.

Just hitting forehand after forehand or armbar after armbar and whatever else you may do in your sport is not going to get you the results you desire and can lead to injury from overuse. Practice quality movement patterns with your clients that will help them achieve better movement and performance in their sport. Using movement patterns that compliment your athlete’s sport will ensure variety and help prevent overtraining.

Keep an eye on their form at all times and remember “quality over quantity”.

2. How old you are 

Children and young adolescents can’t handle the same training volume as adults. Quality training sessions are the goal when it comes to youth strength and conditioning.

Young adults can tolerate more hours of training, however, when you get older you may find that you need to calm it down again!

Strength & Conditioning Coach Brendan explains: “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 from 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!”

3. Your psychological make-up

Some people 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 some athletes work extremely hard during the sessions and then like to go home and recover.

4. External factors in your life

For many people, some sports even at the highest levels are not full-time careers. For many athletes, juggling work with training is one of the hardest things to master. 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 workplace!

So, what’s the answer? The answer is to be realistic in your training goals. Your athletes can still perform at the highest levels whilst working a full-time job. Always remember quality, not quantity. If you’re a boxer it’s no good spending hours sparring aimlessly with people who aren’t challenging you, instead work on training with a challenging partner to get the most out of your session.

Other factors such as family commitments, travelling to training and daily living can affect your training and should be planned for accordingly as much as possible.

How much training is too much?

The main danger of training too many hours is the risk of overtraining syndrome.

Overtraining is essentially where you’re too fatigued to continue with your training. The only way to overcome overtraining is to adjust your training substantially. However, it’s not as easy as this. Overtraining symptoms are not just tiredness which we all experience from time to time. Overtraining is a chronic condition that exposure to excessive volumes of training can lead to. The key to preventing overtraining syndrome is to be proactive rather than reactive in your approach. Making sure you adjust your training when you’re fatigued and listening to your body rather than aimlessly pushing through sessions is a great place to start.

As a coach, you 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 into your training programmes to allow for recovery. If you’re in a sport where this is challenging then you need to educate your athlete to take control of themselves, you can use the below checklist to help.

Overtraining syndrome symptoms

Below we’ve included 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 several 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. You’re 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 overtraining symptoms. Have a look at updating 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 overtraining. For example, you might be squatting 100kg in week 1, then in week 3 still squatting 100kg but you feel more fatigued in the second session.

6. General Mood: Very simple measures such as how you’re feeling can go a long way when combined with the more quantitative measures shown above.

With all these, you need to be sensible. If you’ve had a late night partying and go to train the next day (which of course none of us would do), your performance obviously won’t be as good and this isn’t a sign of overtraining! When considering these points they’ll rarely happen in isolation. In fact, you can quite regularly see 3 or more of these symptoms occurring at the same time.

Are training diaries the answer to this 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 the only way to answer the question of how much training is enough is by tracking and monitoring week in week out, so you can formulate a picture as to how the individual responds to their training and then make recommendations for improvements in the next phase or block of training.

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