Stress Adaptation & Overtraining [5]

This is our family dogvin.  He is a Vizsla – a Hungarian pointer – who typically spends about 20-22 hrs a day on the couch, on the floor, on our bed, out in the yard on the grass or on our daughters bed sleeping.  The remaining 2-4 hrs a day are spent eating, begging for something to eat, or looking to see if there is anything he missed to eat either in his bowl, in the kitchen, or around the dining room table.

He doesn’t head to the gym to do weights, on a rare occasion he does a few laps of the back yard to stretch out, he doesn’t do yoga or body weight resistance classes nor HIIT (hi intensity interval training), although he does stretch and yawn when switching between sides when sleeping but I wouldn’t count that as training.  He lacks goals, he never visualizes, never repeats any motivating mantras (as far as I’m aware), but when we head out for a walk, and let him off the leash, he goes gangbusters until the moment he is back on his leash.

Last weekend we were on the Bruce trail for a walk.  For over an hour, our dog ran back and forth on the trail, up and down the escarpment, chased chipmunks, explored a dry creek bed, and everything else that caught his attention.  For over an hour, our dog did an all in one training session – a fartlek, interval, hill repeat workout – and did it over varied terrain, a range of gradients, with variation in rest between efforts, with minimal loss of energy, no lack in the enthusiasm department, and not once requesting to slow down or stop.  How?

How many athletes train daily, sometimes twice a day in hopes of having speed and endurance which feel endless, and when training doesn’t yield the desired outcome, instead of reassessing, they double down on training as if a lack of training is the culprit to their lack of success. The go-to solution for many athletes and coaches is typically more training.  Harder, longer, faster, whatever it needs to be… just more.  If still not enough, then more of more is the next go-to solution.  There is definitely a volume and an intensity level of training that needs to be completed to compete, but load sessions are only ½ of the equation:

The Training Effect = Load + Rest

Think of it this way… breathing is made up of both inhalation and exhalation.  What would happen if all you did was inhale, never exhaling?  Beyond a point your body wouldn’t tolerate your nonsense and would shut down the experiment, you would explode exhaling until your lungs felt empty.  It is no different with training… if all you do is train, rarely taking the time to rest fully, your body will start to offer warning signs, and if those are not respected, it will work to end the abuse.  How?  Its different for everyone, we each have our own ‘weak’ link, our own warning system: a nagging pain, a cold which refuses to go away, a few extra lbs of weight, stiffness, becoming moody, sluggish, etc… When we refuse to heed the warnings, instead popping a painkiller or muscle relaxant, cold medication, psyching ourselves up with a good stiff self-talk reminding ourselves of our goals, our responsibilities – because simple, free, readily available rest cannot be the solution, right? – we break down our bodies causing injury, burn out, or a max out.


Loading the body more and more, with little to no rest does not equate to the training effect, in fact it leads to the exact opposite: The Untraining Effect.


The Untraining Effect occurs as a result of insufficient and/or inappropriate healing, rebuilding, restoration, and rejuvenation due to a lack of recovery between load sessions.  The outcomes are known by all athletes because every athlete at some point overreaches without adequate recovery resulting in overtraining side effects.  It is the point where energy levels become lacklustre, performance in workouts becomes sloppy, slow, lethargic, forced, and when the goals for the season become an uninspiring burden, not a motivating reason to head out the door. Even the solution – sleep – becomes restless, broken, difficult when we are stretched too thin for too long.  Eating changes either to binges, to meals inspired by craving, general overeating, or the opposite, minimal eating as appetite disappears.

When we desperately desire the end product (over process), we drive ourselves too fast, too hard, too soon hoping that if we only try more, results will arrive sooner.  Worse, we will even push harder in these moments in an attempt to try to force results to happen.

In the short term, The Untraining Effect can be easily reversed with rest, but usually more rest than athlete and coach are willing to accept.  When the rest is cut short, and training resumed – usually because anxiety or panic sets in with a competition approaching – the result is training limbo where there is just never quite enough rest to allow full recovery.  In time, this limbo becomes a negative training spiral where the exit is unfortunately found when the athlete gives up, quits the sport, becomes injured and unable to return to the sport, depressed and unwilling to resume training, and/or ends up suffering from subclinical symptoms or a full blown medical diagnosis.  Unfortunately, the array of supplements, stimulants, and medications available today serve only to prolong the limbo by masking the damage being done under the hood.

Over the long term, The Untraining Effect becomes less and less easily reversed (see Stress & Overtraining [1] – article Part 2 on hormonal changes with sustained overtraining).  When the lack of rest becomes persistent, the body must compensate to maintain function:  hormones, pH, breathing pattern and rate, neurotransmitter supplies, nervous system sensitivity all undergo adaptations (none of which are healthy, and many of which lead to the lifestyle diseases overwhelming western cultures).


Exercise can not only be unhealthy, it can lead to injury, illness, and dis-ease when not balanced by full recovery.


Our dog knows how to be healthy.  He knows how to have both an amazing day enjoying the outdoors, and how to recover: sleep, loads of it.  Try it out for yourself. Get sleep, good quality uninterrupted sleep each and every night, at least 8 hrs, more if you are younger, and even more if you are in any form of training (adults included).


Kenyan born, Dutch long distance runner and World Cross Country(2006&2007), Half Marathon (2005&2008), and Road Running (2006&2007) Champion Lornah Kiplagat slept 16 hrs a day during the most intense periods of her training.


American long distance runner and American record holder in the marathon and half marathon Deena Kastor slept 10 hrs a night and napped an additional 4 hrs a day when logging 140 mile training weeks.


If you are even remotely serious about excelling – in sport, in music, academically, in your profession, or simply in being healthy – then there is no short cutting sleep.

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

To find more posts on sleep, click on the ‘sleep’ tag below.