Stress Adaptation & Overtraining [4]

Is your training unproductive?  Are you working out, perhaps pushing harder and harder and nothing sticks?  Are your split times stagnant, or worse slowing?  Is your power output and endurance faltering?  Before you review training data, what about reviewing your sleep data.

How many hours of sleep are you getting consistently?  Is it straight or broken?  Do you find it easy to fall asleep?  Are you falling asleep or collapsing into bed, or do you toss and turn waiting for sleep to arrive?  What about falling back asleep if you wake up in the night?  Is waking up easy? Sleep quality is as important as training quality.  When sleep quality diminishes then training quality already has or is about to deteriorate.

In order for your training to be productive, your body and mind need to start workouts rested and ready to learn, think, and work.  A lack of sleep precludes total recovery between training sessions and prevents a receptive state to deal with the challenges and stresses of training.  If you haven’t recovered from your last workout, then piling on another one is not going to have a positive effect, in fact you are risking starting into a negative training spiral.

It happens to all athletes at some point… your ‘A’ race is fast approaching, your training has been inconsistent due to work/school priorities or life in general, so stacking workouts one on top of the other is somehow rationalized as logical.  But you cannot ‘cram’ your way into peak performance.

Athletes often get overwhelmed with pre-performance anxiety, recounting negative feelings and images from a prior poor performance.  Feelings of guilt, disappointment, anger and frustration are anticipated as doubt begins to overshadow any remaining enthusiasm and belief in executing a desired performance.  Lack of emotional stability, unrealistic goals, doubting race readiness/training impair an athlete’s judgement in the final weeks of training ahead of their event. The unfortunate result is that athletes increase training intensity exactly when it needs to be tapered, and increase training volume when sleep, rest, and recovery are the priority, all in a futile attempt to right perceived training wrongs.  It is not uncommon for inexperienced coaches to panic, to doubt their own programs wondering if the training they prescribed has been appropriate, and if the objective will be met or if the season will be lost in vain.

Sleep probably doesn’t even register as a form of training with many athletes or coaches.  Yet sleep is as important and as beneficial to peak performance as time spent in the gym, on the field, the road, the track, or the pool.  To encourage athletes to sleep, to nap, to rest, coaches need to have their athletes log sleep hours along with training hours, in this way, rest is neither skipped nor discouraged.

In fact, if peak performance is desired, then as a coach I would go so far as to ban an athlete from training if they fail to consistently obtain sufficient sleep.  What’s the point of training an athlete who seeks consistent flawless execution but is repeatedly tired, weak, unable to focus, and lacks clarity in their priorities?

The reality is, if you don’t sleep sufficiently, then you have no goal of peak performance.

The training effect does not occur until and unless there is adequate rest, and sleep is the optimal form of rest.  Rest allows the body to physically heal and rejuvenate, allows for the neurological integration of new patterns of movement improving technique, coordination, balance, increases neurotransmitter supplies improving agility resulting in faster turnover and higher power output. Its simple: it takes time for the body to do all of this, and it takes energy and focus to do it right.  If the body is not given time to recover, then subsequent training sessions will not build on top of prior sessions: there will be no training effect. Instead working out – because at this point you cannot call it ‘training’ – will serve to take an already weakened, tired, fatigued, and sloppy body and debilitate it further.

Is your training unproductive?  Maybe its has nothing to do with your training, and has everything to do with a lack of rest, recovery, and sleep?

To find all posts in this chain and others on this topic, follow the tags: ‘stress’ & ‘overtraining