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Monitoring your athletes vs overtraining.

How many days a week do your student athletes train? In our competitive environment, we will often push them to unreasonable levels.


We may actually feel a sense of accomplishment whenever an athlete regurgitates a meal after a strenuous workout. In a study conducted by Koutedakis and Sharp, 257 athletes from various Olympic squads and British National teams participated in a variety of sports and then were examined for signs of overtraining.

About 39 of them (15%) showed the signs--the kind can affect athletes both physically and psychologically, causing burnout.

Since all athletes--both aerobic and anaerobic--are susceptible--to the burdens associated with overtraining, their coaches must ask themselves whether they are exposing their athletes to the condition.

According to the NSCA, overtraining can be described as excessive frequency, volume, or intensity of training, resulting in fatigue.

There are four stages of progression that are associated with overtraining, according to the NSCA.

The overload is the first stage, which directly relates to the workload that the athlete first experiences in a workout.

After the initial workload, the athlete experiences acute fatigue--the second phase of overtraining. When acute fatigue takes place, the glucose storage (immediate energy source) in the cells is drained in order to accommodate the workload thus limiting performance. When the athlete is pushed beyond this phase, it is known as overreaching (third stage). It's symptoms, such as decreased motor control, mood disturbances, altered immune function, and hormonal concentrations, become evident.

As training becomes more intense with fewer days for recovery, the athlete begins to enter into the final stage--known as overtraining.

This final stage can produce physical ailments such as sickness and infection along with psychological factors that include emotional and sleep disturbances.

When examining overtraining, we must look at both anaerobic and aerobic training. Athletes who do not reach an elevated heart rate for an extended period of time are in an anaerobic state.

In anaerobic training, the body experiences neuromuscular facilitation. This is the nervous system's response to resistance. This response enables the nerves to fire properly in order to achieve optimal performance.

As neuromuscular facilitation takes place, the athlete can experience the first two stages of overtraining (overload stimulus and acute fatigue). Athletes who train with elevated heart rates for extended periods of time, also known as aerobic training, can experience overtraining as well.

At a high state of training, muscle glycogen (energy) stores are depleted while levels of creatine kinase are increased. Heightened levels of creatine kinase correlate highly with muscle damage produced by overtraining.

Symptoms of overtraining are excessive muscle soreness, headaches, and loss of appetite, decreased immune function, and physical exhaustion. As these symptoms become more excessive the athlete is not only affected physically but mentally, which directly correlates with the psychological state of the athlete.

When your athletes become overtrained, you may find that their psychological structure begins to crumble. As performance levels begin to drop off due to the overtraining syndrome, the athlete's demeanor changes.

A disturbance in an athlete's mood can also be illustrated as the "inverted iceberg" profile. It can be described as a decrease in vigor, increase levels of tension, depression, anger, fatigue, anxiety, and the inability to concentrate. As you begin to assess your athlete's training, you not only have to look at the physical demands placed on the body, but the psychological load as well.

The ratio of testosterone to cortisol is also an important factor to look at when overtraining may be suspected. If the ratio begins to decrease by 30%, overtraining syndrome may be evident.

Other hormone responses associated with aerobic overtraining is the decrease in growth hormone levels. The decrease can cause a decline in cardiac output, which can directly inhibit endurance performance.

Simple blood tests performed by a physician can detect whether any of these hormone levels are affected. It is important to remember that muscle damage occurs in both forms of training, enabling the body to function at peak performance.

How do we as coaches prevent overtraining? First, you must give the athlete's body the chance to recover. Once the muscle has experienced intense levels of exertions and damage, it must have time to recover--which may take up to 48 hours. We must also look at specificity, various intensity levels, and volume--otherwise known as periodization. For the beginner athlete a two-three day workout routine is recommended with at least one day in between workouts.

As the athlete becomes more adapted to increased loads, a three-four day routine is prescribed. Advanced athletes are given a four-seven day routine. As you look at this prescription developed by the NSCA where do you think your athletes come in? The definition of an advanced athlete is often mistaken. This is a highly trained complex individual who displays an athletic performance above others. That means we are training our young athletes under conditions that only advanced athletes can physically and psychologically manage.

Proper training must include periodization. We must first look at the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) developed by Hans Selye.

The alarm phase is the first of three phases that make up the GAS model. It is the first response of the body when subjected to intense resistance training or exercise conditioning. The second phase (resistance phase) involves the body's ability to adapt to training loads and revert back to normal functioning.

The third and final phase is the exhaustion phase, when the body loses the ability to compensate for the amount of stress that it is under. This can directly be associated with the overtraining syndrome. Thus our strength and conditioning coach's routines must be carefully assessed in order to prevent overtraining.

Matveyev's model of periodization is a great depiction of the correct order of events that is needed to achieve positive results for novice athletes.

Monitoring our student athletes is a key component in preventing overtraining. By monitoring our student athletes, we can assess their physical and psychological states.


Daily training logs have been shown to assist coaches in the diagnosis and prevention of overtraining. A common psychological tool known as the Profile of Mood States (POMS) is a test composed of 65 questions that assess fatigue, anxiety, depression, vigor, and total mood. Another tool that has been used to evaluate athletes is the Exercise Orientation Questionnaire (EOQ) developed by Yates. By monitoring our student athletes we can assess overtraining on an entirely different level, further preventing the onset of overtraining.

Overtraining can be a very serious health issue for our student athletes. Ask yourself: Do we have proper periodization and are we monitoring our athletes for the signs and symptoms of overtraining?

Don't try to imitate college strength and conditioning programs. These college programs are often a direct duplication of professional programs. High school student athletes are not at the same level as collegiate or professional athletes.

Few athletes, if any, at the high school level are capable of playing collegiate sports and even less can go on from there to play at the professional level. Rather than promoting these training routines we must protect our students athletes from participating in these programs and focus on their performance level.

Overtraining in the last decade has become a major issue in the sports world. It can be a very serious ailment that can drastically influence both individual and team performances. It can easily be treated through the use of proper recovery time, periodization, and nutritional education.

As coaches, we must constantly monitor our student athlete's physical and psychological well-being. With the use of daily training logs, we can track these symptoms and prevent overtraining.

By Nick Sharp and Dr. Gerald Masterson, Missouri State University, Springfield, MO
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Author:Masterson, Gerald
Publication:Coach and Athletic Director
Date:Jan 1, 2007
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