Friday, 4 September 2015

Over-Training is Under-Recovery

Elite athletes log some impressive training hours, and because the water helps prevent overheating, swimmers are notoriously hard-training even among the already hard working athletes of other sports. However, no matter what the training advantages of the environment, the human body has its limits. Overheating is not the only limit to training; muscles need to repair themselves, energy stores need to be replenished, joints need to have a break. Push the limits too far and the athlete stops improving and the excessive hours of training go to waste - that is over-training.

Your burning out or reaching the plateau of over-training is only going to help the competition. For all the fitness and motivational advice on constantly working hard, because the body rebuilds and improves itself when resting as adaptation to all the hard work, rest is a crucial part of excelling. If your body can take six hours in the pool a day, then good for you, but for those six hours to count, you have to spend the other eighteen in such a way that allows your body to adapt to the exercise stress.

I would personally burn out at less that six hours of moderately high to high intensity work in the pool, so I am better of maxing out at around four at most (maybe only three and a half if I have an 70-90 minute long dryland session). It is pointless to try and rack up hours of training by going too easy on yourself just as it is pointless to burn out and not be able to finish a set. As Jason Statham said: "Your body is like a piece of dynamite. You can tap it with a pencil all day, but you'll never make it explode. You hit it once with a hammer: Bang!"

There is a balance to be found, then, between working too lightly and working too hard. The bomb has to explode and yet you need to stay intact. The key is to transform the whole day into training. In other words, I am not only training when I am in the pool, in the gym, doing cross-training or the like; I am also training when I am sat at my desk, on the couch, walking around, preparing myself some food, asleep, in a lecture theater or at a friend's house.

As weird as it might sound to think of all time as training time, the perspective is insightful. Seeing the whole day as a period in which to further your goals allows you to frame your lifestyle in a way that is conducive to success. It provides the paradigm in which making the whole-of-life commitment becomes intelligible. I daresay it is not as absurd as it might appear.

Think of a standard training set, in the gym or in the pool. I'll take the a swimming set as an example to make it concrete: whether it is a sprint set, a drill set or any other type of training set, there are times when you are swimming and times when you are resting. It is usually not useful or helpful to subtract the rest periods from the overall time in the pool to come out with a figure for how long was being trained - most people understand that the rest periods within a set are simply there to facilitate the proper completion of the set. Nobody can do ten sprints with a couple of seconds rest and expect to be hitting consistently good times. If you tried to, you would quickly find that your times were getting progressively worse, your technique faltering and, whilst you may have trained your heart with the high cardiovascular intensity, you have largely wasted your time in terms of improving the attributes a sprint set is meant to target. Or, too heavy a drill set and you get poor technique from exhaustion. Much the same happens in the gym: if you do five sets of pullups, the rest period in between sets is what allows you to challenge your muscles again with the next set.

Extend out that image of resting between sets and you see how the time between jumping out of the pool and jumping back in is just one long rest period, provided solely for the purpose of being able to manage the next load of work. The period between a morning session and an afternoon one is reclassified as "intra-workout."

Skipping the rest periods within training reduces the utility of the training. Ignoring the rest period given between training sessions reduces the utility of the training. The first might be called over-working and the latter is called over-training, but they are both essentially the same thing: under-recovery.

To recover properly from training there are all sorts of strategies that complement one another. Stretching, taking up a Pilates class or one involving the physical postures of Yoga, taking care of nutrition (particularly when it comes to getting enough high quality nutrients and antioxidants), getting adequate sleep. The more these are incorporated into the inter-workout period the better the workout intensity can be. These do not need to all be taken on board at once to see results, as each can have some limited effect outside of the others. These can also be taken to excess, much like training - the average person does not have issues with over-training, but rather, over-resting!

Transforming the day into 24 hours of training takes commitment to training. It means preparing for the next session from the moment we finish the first. If the goal is worth achieving, however, a commitment to recovery is invaluable to success.

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