Going overboard or just work ethic? The importance of understanding overtraining
One specific area that needs scientific clarification is the definitions of and differences around overtraining and overtraining syndrome.
- Background & Objective
- What They Did
- What They Found
- Practical Takeaways
- Reviewer’s Comments
- About the Reviewer
Bell, L., Ruddock, A., Maden-Wilkinson, T., Hembrough, D., & Rogerson, D. (2021). “Is It Overtraining or Just Work Ethic?”: Coaches’ Perceptions of Overtraining in High-Performance Strength Sports. Sports, 9(6), 85.
Background & Objective
Today, opportunities available through digital media (electronic journals and social platforms) have revolutionised the way science and practice interact. The world is well connected and a strong foundation in understanding training and physiology is a requisite for coaches and researchers alike. As we continue to bridge the gap between literature and application, shared definitions and understanding are important across parties to better study and understand how to best optimise the training environment.
One specific area that needs clarification is the definitions of and differences around overtraining (OT) and overtraining syndrome (OTS). Therefore, the purpose of this study was to understand how strength sport coaches think and work around the topics of OT and OTS when prescribing and managing training.
What They Did
The researchers interviewed 14 strength sport (e.g., weightlifting, powerlifting, sprinting, jumping, throwing) coaches (12 males, 2 females) with four to 57 years of experience (mean = 14.4 ± 13.4 years) from around the world (United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland, United States, and New Zealand) (see Table 1). Backgrounds in education ranged from no formal degree to a Doctor of Philosophy and a range of certifications through governing bodies across strength sports. To best summarise and understand the information collected from the interview process, reflexive thematic analysis was used.
All interviews were conducted by one principal investigator for consistency, and analysis for themes was completed blindly, with neither the investigator nor coach knowing what theme each question pertained to. Emphasis was placed on exploring each coach’s personal experiences rather than identifying similarities between them.
Results were then summarised based on the definitions of OT/OTS, its prevalence, and associated symptoms and recovery time.
What They Found
“In my opinion, the lack of evidence and understanding around this topic is rooted in the difficulty (and potential ethical issues) encountered when requiring athletes to push themselves to the stage of OTS for the sake of research. Even within a typical longitudinal observational study, it would be negligent for a coach to continue when noticing signs and symptoms associated with OT. Therefore, much of this information is theoretical and leads to the inconsistencies noted among coaches in this study. As opportunities around monitoring athlete fatigue continue to grow and the appreciation for mental- and physical health is reaching an all-time high, coaches must step up and manage OTS appropriately.
“As practice and research continue to grow closer together, coaches need to learn from the numerous resources shared in this review. Research has previously accepted the inconsistency in definitions, but in order to differentiate and advance this field of understanding, we need clarity and consistency in the verbiage around OT and OTS. That way, when coaches implement overly-aggressive training plans, both athlete health and performance are at the forefront. Coaches should look to governing bodies for the most up-to-date evidence-based practice and take the time to talk with other coaches and athletes to move in a positive and productive direction that aims to optimise training.”
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About the Author
Cody is a Strength & Conditioning Coach and Adjunct Lecturer at the University of Iowa. He has an MSE in Exercise Science from the University of Kansas and also holds a CSCS from the NSCA.