Undertraining Leads To Overtraining

We recently had a great Q&A  session with Canadian strength and conditioning coach, Carmen Bott, during which she mentioned a piece she wrote on the importance of recovery. Carmen has kindly agreed for me to feature the full article here on my site. It makes for interesting reading and reinforces many of the key principles that I outline in The Strength and Conditioning Bible. So, over to Carmen... 

Yes, you read the title correctly...believe it or not, undertraining can lead to overtraining (OTS). How is this possible you ask? Isn't overtraining defined by maladaptation to a training program that leads to a myriad of fatigue-related symptoms and eventually decrements in performance? And isn't undertraining, in reality, avoiding the principle of (progressive) overload altogether? How could that lead to OTS?   

Well, it depends how deep you dive into the definition of overtraining syndrome. Sure, you can consult the text books and read the symptom-list, the neuroendocrine profile and draw conclusions from this. And if you have an M.D. working alongside of you, ready to draw blood samples for elevated cytokines and other inflammatory markers, you could evaluate the status of yourself, or your client (if you are a trainer/coach). But, this is unrealistic in the practical world of athlete strength and conditioning isn't it?  

Let's examine the case of John Stott.   

John is a 42 yr-old recreational badminton player. He has been playing since he was 25 years old after spending two years of his early career days living and working in Singapore. He is ranked among his age-group as one of the top players in the city and he balances his love for the game and his training sessions with his full-time job as a Litigator. John is a motivated person who has been active his entire life as an athlete and he loves to compete. He has hired a strength and conditioning specialist to help him get to the master's world championships and develop the physical side of his game further. Sounds like a dream client doesn't it?   

People like John, are the quintessential 'weekend-warrior.' Although the jargon term has never really been defined (Wikipedia Source: People who do recreational activities such as golfing, skiing, snowboarding, or mountain biking solely on the weekends since they work Monday through Friday) and there are all kinds of fitness pros claiming to know how to train these folks, I am going to take a moment to shed some light on what my definition of the weekend warrior really is:   

Weekend Warrior : Someone who sits at a desk approximately 50 hours per week, has a career with high mental & emotional stress, eats on the fly, uses training and competition as an outlet, DAILY and does not practice recovery strategies regularly.   

This defines John and many other like him to a tee. John has only one gear: Full-throttle. But, let me explain how begin full-throttle all the time causes one to undertrain. If we look at John's schedule, he practices on Monday and Wednesday evenings with his coach for 2 hours. He competes on Fridays and Saturdays and has allotted Mondays (at lunch), Tuesdays and Thursdays is his time to work on his strength and conditioning, leaving only Sunday for a day off, where he often does all of his household chores (his wife kindly gives him a list) and gets ready for his work-week. I also forgot to mention that John works from home in the evenings and sleeps approximately 6 hours per night. John puts, (what he thinks) is 100% into his day at the office, his practices, his training sessions and his games.   

Or does he?   

As far as I am concerned, the John's of this North American world we live in are a dime a dozen now. Sure, they are a real pleasure to coach and train - always ready to work and come in with a great attitude about fitness, but trust me, these people can be a royal pain in the gluteus maximus trying to convince that they are actually not working effectively, (or as the title of this blog reads: UNDERTRAINING.)   

Still confused? Basically, it is this simple. If you are training, as hard as you can 6 days per week and not sleeping, eating poorly, working long hours, you are tapping into your energy-bank and it is IMPOSSIBLE to work to your maximal capacity. In order to do that, you need rest and in order to see gains, you need rest. John needs to train LESS to gain more. It is a North American mentality to 'look busy,' to brag about how much work (volume) are handling, versus focusing on the quality of work you are doing.   

It is sometimes tough for me to convince my clients that they need to rest and employ recovery strategies on a regular basis and that in order to make progress, both physically and mentally, they must work at an RPE of 3-4 some days. This is the only way the body can work at an RPE of 9-10. And a 9-10, my friend is TRAINING, not simply working out. Working out, or the 'stim-zone' (I call it) is still stress on the body, but the stress is not high enough to elicit a positive adaptation and the only way one can be exposed to a high degree of stress is if they have banked their reserves and are ready for it.   

Guys like John, will not often admit they are tired, or perhaps, they genuinely do not even realise it, or know what well-rested feels like. It is my job to prescribe a multi-faceted recovery program, and insist the client keep a training log like the one in the Human Motion online store. The John's of this world can serve to be your best advertising if they buy-in and the education process is extremely important. And one more thing - as a coach or trainer, we need to practice what we preach and give our clients glimpses into our own lives and let the know we are human too and need as much recovery as the next guy/girl. Now, on that note, I have to go hit the foam roller. These muscles need some lovin' before my football game tomorrow!