Fatigue and the Nervous System
by Pierre Roy
Coaches have long observed the dangers of overtraining.
A coach can not successfully coach from a distance. His presence and personal observations are essential to detect not only proper technique but also to truly understand the state of his athlete. Associating aggressions inherent to some extreme training in a diseased state is not an error. Claiming that the role of the coach is to see to optimal health is also correct, and that the abuse and exaggeration related to mismanaged training becomes a threat to the integrity of the athlete.
The first signs of fatigue and overtraining can be detected if one observes the following: The loss of coordination, decrease in the speed movement, poor concentration, learning difficulty, lack of energy and explosive force, loss of precision movement, character change, aggression, depression, insomnia, loss of appetite.
Athletes can sometimes achieve optimal performance in a state of general exhaustion. Burnout is the enemy of performance. It causes a diminishment of technical precision, reduces available energy stores and reduces the ability to perform effectively. It also potentiates conditions for many injuries.
Precisely, the aim of periodization of training is to see that these circumstances do not occur.
The organization of athlete training alternates between periods of intense work with periods of less intensity during which the athlete’s homeostasis achieves overcompensation. This occurs at various physiological levels. Among other things, it affects the connective tissue, the muscular system, the energy system, the nervous system and the hormonal system.
The work to rest ratio depends on several factors. The ability for an athlete’s working capacity is not equal from one individual to another. To better understand these components, we must consider various factors like, age, sex, background, genetics, preparation, the athlete’s progression, his personal support system etc.
In Canada the typical training frequency is usually three to six workouts a week. Under perfect conditions this is realistic and for the most part, recovery would easily be achieved relative to the work load. But if we add work, studies, love life and family committments it is more likely that only three training sessions per week becomes excessive for adequate recovery.
There is no magic when it comes to recovery. There is the physical stress of training as well as the stress affecting the nervous and psychological systems. The recovery is not uniform. It is necessary that all aspects be restored as best as possible for adequate recovery from training and complete recovery for competitions.
Bodybuilders have long known that there can be no successful performance without recovery. They were the first to apply a method in which specific muscle groups benefitted from rest by dividing the whole body into three or four muscle groups and introducing the concept of days of rest.
In sport, however, there are several models for organizing effective work and recovery. It is not always possible to vary the muscle groups as do the bodybuilders. In the case of a runner, for example, one can hardly imagine a training session in which the legs would not be stimulated. It still remains possible, though, that a coach can vary the nature of training and thereby obtain proper recovery. By manipulating various factors, it is possible to obtain a large training volume without causing excessive fatigue.
A system of variable percentages with various demands and expectations can be developed especially during the preparatory period. This method allows for a large volume without placing too much stress on the body.
There are weekly training programs that are much more demanding, with up to four or six training sessions a day. These models are difficult to apply in North America, but they are undeniably associated with the production greater performance results. The basic structure of the training is the microcycle. It includes a period of work followed by another of rest. Normally in structuring an aggressive training protocol, the recovery protocol becomes absolutely necessary, in my opinion, in the first 14 to 17 days in the begining stage of the training cycle.
This is usually the case in sports. In weightlifting, an average cycle of two weeks of intense training to one week of reduced work would be adequate. There can also come times when less training time can be adopted for reasons of training and recovery. (Ten days of intense work for four days with a reduced workload).
At the beginning of the year, the gradual approach to training allows cycles of greater, meaning such as three or four weeks of volume for each recovery week.
In the competitive phase, training volume becomes less demanding in view of specialization and intensity related to that period.
Nearing the end of the competition period, there is a cycle of transformation for fine tuning. It is of variable length and contains only low volume. The ultimate goal at that time is performance. This is achieved by maintaining the gains previously developed while creating the conditions conducive to the performance by working on technique, brief moments of intensity, and a manipulation of the cycle allowing for optimal conditions for the nervous system, mental aspect and the physical demands on the day of the competition.
This phase is usually three to four weeks long.
Translated by George Chiappa