Walking the Line

Walking the Line

Regular readers of this blog and my newsletter will know that I deal with a wide range of clients from people just beginning on their fitness journey through to military personnel and athletes who are looking for peak performance in their chosen sport or for special forces selection.

For beginning trainees progress tends to come fairly quickly and with sensible programming  improvements in fitness can be sustained for a period of up to a couple of years with minimal risk of injury.

Unfortunately once past the intermediate stage of fitness training progress tends to slow dramatically and it becomes necessary to add complexity, volume and intensity to programs to see further results.  The knock on effect is that this increased load can lead to overtraining, overuse and even acute injuries.  Ask any elite athlete (particularly in strength sports like weightlifting or powerlifting) and you will find that they are constantly walking the line between training hard enough to make progress and training so much that they break down.

I have become acutely aware of the need to monitor recovery and overtraining status this year as my training for powerlifting has increased in volume, intensity and complexity so I want to share with you my experiences and some steps that you can take to avoid becoming a casualty of your own enthusiasm.

So how do you know when you are “walking the line” and what should you do about those times when you it feels like you might just have put one foot over?

First lets identify the criteria for needing this advice

  1. Anyone with less than 2 years of consistent, serious training is not going to be at this stage yet.  If you have been doing 3 sessions a week of running, some pushups and a few weights for the last 6 months then you are still a novice and no matter how hard an individual workout is you will still recover in a day or two.  This advice is for people who are training 4-6 days per week and normally with some 2 a day sessions or high volume sessions that they can’t completely recover from with just a day or two of rest.
  2. You must be training for a specific goal.  Powerlifting nationals, special forces selection or ongoing service, run a marathon under 3 hours etc.  If you aren’t training for something then your program is likely to be a maintenance program and is unlikely to keep you on the edge of overtraining.
  3. You have noticed that your progress has slowed significantly in the last 3-6 months and that peak performance can only be achieved after a taper period or recovery that lasts more than 2-3 days.
  4. You have noticed that you are not fully recovering between sessions.

These factors indicate that you are training hard enough to need to monitor your recovery and take steps to both proactively manage recovery as well as monitor for signs of overtraining and take remedial action when you start to push the limits.

Proactive recovery program and preventative steps

Having determined that you are working hard enough we now need to implement a set of pre-emptive measures to maximise your ability to recover and minimise your chances of injury.

  1. Physio screening – I highly recommend getting a good sports physio to screen you for weaknesses, lack of mobility and faulty movement patterns BEFORE you embark on a serious training program.   A couple of sessions with a physio and a few weeks of corrective exercise can easily save you from a serious injury in the long term and can also greatly increase the benefit you get out of training.
  2. Program in periods of reduced training intensity – Planned back offs are one of the most vital parts of any training program.  For some people it might be every 4 weeks for others every 8 or 10 weeks but if you try to train hard for very long periods of time I can virtually guarantee that something will go wrong and you will get hurt.
  3. Sort out your nutrition and supplementation – Ensure that you are getting enough protein, good fats and trace nutrients like vitamins and minerals to support your training efforts.
  4. Plan in recovery methods – Include activities such as foam rolling and stretching, contrast hydrotherapy and massages.

Once you have these measures in place you can commence your training program and start to monitor for the signs of overtraining.  Keep in mind that on any serious program you will have muscle soreness, tightness and fatigue and the trick is in determining when you have stepped over the line from normal fatigue into overtraining.

Some signs that you are right on the edge and may need to back off or modify your program include the following.  A single incident of any of these is no cause for alarm but a combination of 2 or more factors particularly if they persist over several consecutive days

  • Disturbed sleep
  • Soreness in your joints that persists after foam rolling, stretching and warm ups
  • Irritability or a lack of desire to train that lasts more than one day
  • Inability to reach prescribed training loads in several consecutive sessions
  • An increased incidence of minor illnesses

If you do start to suffer from these signs consistently then it is imperative that you take some time to assess whether or not you need to scale back your training and by how much.

The key here is to make an honest assessment as to whether you are just having a bad day or two that will resolve with a little rest or if you have overcooked your program and need a more significant reduction.

If in doubt I recommend taking 1 day off training and then reducing the intensity of the next 1-2 days of training by about 50%.  If you don’t bounce back and feel like training after this point it’s time for a longer back off of about 1 week and a focus on extra recovery work before you hurt yourself properly!



This entry was posted on Wednesday, December 25th, 2013 at 17:45 and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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