Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Overtraining - Jim Napier / Stress and Performance - Jed L. Harris

Excerpted from this book:

Jim Napier has several good books on weightlifting out:

You would have to look into his material a little deeper than this short extract to understand fully. 
Call it a teaser. 

Note: this is written for Olympic lifters, but don't let that stop you from learning and applying if you're a bodybuilder or powerlifter. It makes sense to know why you're choosing to lift the way you  currently do, right? What is it you're after? Once you make a conscious, concrete decision on WHAT you want from your lifting, the HOW will become much easier to determine. 

Some coaches and lifters believe it takes a certain amount of overtraining to reach one's goals; however, overtraining is somewhat ambiguous, until it actually happens. 

When lifters overtrain, they frequently don't take enough time off to recover by reducing the training volume and load or skipping a few workouts. This leads to fatigue or it causes an automatic reduction in the level of intensity, and the performance is involuntarily decreased so the longer and more frequent training sessions can be maintained. 

In extreme cases, stagnation can set in very quickly and the athlete can become frustrated because they are spending a great deal of time training but not making any progress. Another side effect of overtraining, is the training itself becomes the event the and actual events they think they are training for become noting more than part of the long and hard training routine. In this instance, doing muscle snatches and pushups become equal to the snatch and clean & jerk. The programming is rolled into one giant ball resembling a fitness class which is not substantially the same as the training regimen the weightlifter needs to make gains over several years or until they reach their full potential. 

The Overtraining Syndrome

Lifters who train long and hard without any emergency brake on the training intensity and volume, will eventually break down as the muscles get fatigued and small tears become larger until something gives, usually a tendon or ligament. This is called overtraining syndrome, where athletes become obsessed more with the addiction of training than increasing their performance. Lifters can also become addicted to becoming "stronger" and the emphasis is on exercises where massive weights are handled, such as the slower grinding squats and dead lift, pulls off boxes, supports with huge weights inside a rack and overloading a jerk out of the rack or doing cleans without jerks with weights in excess of what the lifter can clean & jerk successfully.

The belief that an athlete must overtrain to reach their goal or become an elite lifter is as old a belief as time itself, but overtraining has never been defined or quantified aside from being a buzzword, like getting strong, or moving fast. It would seem incomprehensible to most athletes that you don't need to overtrain, but in reality, an athlete must do the minimum amount of work that will produce the maximum amount of gains. If this type of system is not employed the lifter will not reach their full potential and they will experience bouts of overtraining, soreness and possibly minor or major injuries.  

Training is a delicate balance between knowing when to push and when to back off, when to attempt PRs and when to train for those PRs, when to use heavy weights and when to use medium or light weights, and when to rest and when to take time off. 

Any lifter that goes into the gym and trains at 90% or more of PR, or 100% of effort, will become overtrained sooner or later. It might take several months or even a year but it will be inevitable. some lifters enter the gym and constantly attempt PRs in whatever exercise or lift has been scheduled and they keep trying until they succeed or give up; a process that has no guidance or substance. 

So, what is the answer? 

I suppose the first thing we need to know is . . . what is the sport of weightlifting? The discus thrower or shot putter can generally throw at maximum effort every day and while this might not be ideal for making gains, it won't cause any problems with overtraining per se, because the thrower's implement is considerably less in resistance than the implement used by the weightlifter. Of course, the thrower can become overtrained if they train too long and hard in the weight room. In this instance, they run the same risk as the weightlifter of becoming overtrained or causing their primary event to become stagnant. For athletes other than the weightlifter, weight training is not substantially the same thing as training for the sport of weightlifting; however, the throwers might do well to train their squats and pulls (DL) the same way, with speed instead of ever-increasing weight using slower accelerated velocity (decelerated actions). 

For the shot putter or discus thrower the fun or thrill of the event is seeing how far they can throw their implement. They have the pleasure of being able to step into the throwing circle and see how far they  can throw more often than the weightlifter can, or should, see how much weight they can lift or try to lift, in their particular events. This can cause the weightlifter to contrive new events to set PRs in, like the muscle snatch, hang snatch, snatch off boxes, jerks from rack, curls, bench press, push press, etc., etc. Almost any lift can be switched from an exercise to an event where PRs can be established to fill in the time between PRs in the snatch and clean & jerk. The lifter should avoid using exercises, partial lifts, repetitions, and variations as events, where PRs are established. The energy stores and adrenaline reserves should be focused on the training of the primary lifts.

Overtraining is a symptom of overloading, either by handling too much weight, too slow, or doing too many reps (point of diminishing returns). 

For example, a lifter with a 120k snatch and 145k clean & jerk has a 1-second back squat of 170k. The following table shows how overloading effects the overall time in the clean & jerk (from platform to standing up) when the average monthly loading is 85% of PR or 115k incremental amount. 

The table above (Table 1001), although general, gives the reason for the slower than 2.5-second overall time in the clean & jerk. This was due to the back squat overloading.

170k average weight for the month @ 1.6 sec. average time for the month reveals the following: 

170 - [(1.6 - 1) x 50] = 170 - 30k and 140k - 170k = -3-k x 100 reps = -3,000k of overloading. If 50% of the overloading was performed with times of 1.5 seconds or faster, then that amount would be considered beneficial overloading (type 2 and 2b squats). The other 50% or 1,500k would be non-beneficial.

 The table above (Table 1002) shows why the overall times in the clean & jerk were faster than those in Table 1001:

140 + {(1-.8) x 100} = 140 + 20 = 160 and 160-140 x 100 = +2,000k (beneficial overloading), and if the times were distributed as follows: 

1/3rd @ 0.7-sec. (666) - type 2 squats
1/3rd @ 1.1-sec. (666) - type 2b squats
1/3rd @ 1.8-sec. (667) - type 1+ squats (irrational)

The mix of type 1, 2b and 2 squats should be scheduled so the overloading can be held at a minimum for the month. After the squats have been timed the top ending weight should be used to determine which type of squat was performed so the beneficial and non-beneficial overloading can be calculated at the end of each month or monitored during the month so adjustments to the weight or volume or both can be made. 

Whether or not a squat is beneficial or not can be predicted by the times-in-motion and the equivalent clean & jerk. There are several metrics that can be derived from lifts that have been times and recorded in a log book, but without those metrics the lifter and coach will not be able to accurately determine how those squats are affecting the lifter's performance in training and competition. Other factors, such as stress, should also be considered when planning workouts. The next chapter was written by Jed Harris and explains how stress can affect performance. 

by Jed L. Harris  

Stress is a term we are all familiar with, but not likely well-versed in. We hear about it every day. We talk about being under a lot of stress, or stressed out. That's the kind of stress we usually think about when the word is mentioned. Yet, most of us don't have a good grasp on cumulative stress, and accumulation of what I call unacknowledged or unrecognized stress.

Stress is addictive. We accumulate it from innocuous sources. These are what psychologists call "daily hassles": your car won't start, you forgot to pay a bill and incur a late fee, you overdraft your bank account by mistake, you ruin your favorite shirt in the wash, lose your phone, you're late to an appointment, get stuck in a long checkout line in a store, fail to get enough sleep, and myriad other inconveniences, mistakes and upsets. Yes, just part of life, but these stresses all add up and have a cost: a reduction of our coping resources. 

Then there are the bigger stressors like getting into a car wreck, relationship breakups, losing a job, and if you're an athlete, overtraining. 

Training takes a toll on our physiological and psychological resources. "But wait," you're saying. "That's why I engage in all sorts of recovery activities." And, "I train hard so I can adapt to the increased intensity and perform better." The problem with that philosophy, although it has its roots in the physiology of strength building, is that we don't work our muscles in a vacuum. Each thing that we do in the gym, especially training about about 80%, elicits stress hormone secretion. And, our adrenal glands that secrete these hormones do not adapt and get used to the stress. Neither do the intricate workings of other functions of our body. 

Since our mind and body interact intimately and inextricably, stress affects all aspects of our internal milieu. Stress takes a toll physically and psychologically. According to Hans Selye, who theorized the General Adaptation Syndrome, we resist stress for a time, but if it keeps up, we end up in exhaustion. The outcome of this is decreased physical performance and psychological dysfunction. Our immune systems become depressed and we get ill. We literally get sick and tired. 

There is no glory in pushing too hard since our systems are like finely tuned instruments, and abusing them can have very negative outcomes. So, if we want to be at our best for competitions (as well as daily life) it is paramount that we become more and more award of our personal symptoms of stress accumulation and waning coping resources and let this inform us of how to train and conduct our lives more thoroughly. 

To this end, I have developed a system that dovetails with traditional stress management. To be successful financially we must develop a budget. We make sure our deposits exceed our withdrawals, and choose wisely the things we spend our dollars on. I believe that same approach is relevant to physiological and psychological resources. And, following the financial analogy, we can conscientiously avoid coping overdraft by continually making coping deposits in the form of engaging in rest strategies. 

Recovering from system overtraining or overuse is much more inefficient than continually training within a safe, less taxing range while continuously replenishing resources. In weightlifting, the emphasis on PRs in the gym is counterproductive since it requires adrenalin and abuses the body, causing accumulation of micro injury and its accompanying muscle protecting. This compromises precision, thereby risking more serious injury, internalizing technique flaws (which come along with maximum effort), actually undermining confidence subconsciously by the brain associating executing the competition lifts with impending damage and pain. 

I've heard lifters chastise themselves for being afraid of a certain weight and balking at it when at the core of this is the lack of automaticity afforded by consistent repetition of less challenging poundages. If musicians constantly forced their muscles to PR when executing certain skills, they would cause similar damage and doubt their performance skills, but they don't do that. They seek automaticity through comfortable repetition while slowly increasing speed. Doesn't that sound like what Jim is advocating? 

So, in addition to training within an effective range of intensity, how do we use "precovery" preferentially instead of having to rely on cleaining up the mess of overtraining? The arbitrary system I have developed is based on what I call pre-emptive targeted rest (PTR) and may seem like a bit of a no-brainer. You probably do some of this already, subconsciously. You decide to read a good book, play an instrument, hang out with your cat or dog, or take a leisurely walk. You might like to sing, paint, draw or engage in other hobbies. The important criterion is not how good you are at these things, but how much enjoyment they give you, how they engage you, and how they calm your sympathetic nervous system (the "fight or flight" system that is activated in times of stress). 

Most of us don't use planning and intentionality doing this, however. I suggest looking at the stressful activities you know about in the upcoming days, weeks, and months, and assigning arbitrary stress values to them. These stressors can be small or large, routine, or rather random. While the impact of these is somewhat individual since different people an react to the same stressors differently, by and large, the tolls on people are fairly similar. For example, you may have a performance evaluation on Wednesday and give it a 6 on a scale of 1 to 10.  

Workouts all merit stress values. Unfortunately, the physiological tests currently available to measure the effects of stress on our bodies are fairly indirect, so stress and its impact are hard to quantify, but we can still hazard guesses. 

Maybe you have a commute to work or the gym. Give it a stress value. Work, depending on what's happening,  can be more or less stressful. Assign values to each upcoming day. Maybe you're in school. Rate exams and quizzes. Add all of these sources of stress that you  can forecast. 

Construct a list of rest activities and assign them arbitrary restorative values. Twenty minutes of journaling or drawing may be a 6, etc. A thirty minute walk in nature may be a 10. 

Then start inserting rest activities with values that offset the stressor values into your daily schedule previous to the stressors. The theory is that it's much easier to recover from a stress incurred at baseline (to which each of these rest activities allow you to return) than one you experience when you're already stressed. I call the strategy of utilizing pre-emptive targeted rest "continual return to baseline."   

Have you ever experienced temporary (or not so temporary) burnout? You notice you're more irritable and have less patience than normal? Perhaps you waste a whole day binge watching shows on TV or on the internet. Maybe you veg out on the couch for the whole day and then get angry with yourself for it. This is analogous to what Jim calls a forced reduction. You've pushed yourself to the limit and something has to give. As a psychotherapist, I can track a significant source of stress for myself by counting the sessions I have in any given week. Recently, I started to notice several symptoms of becoming really stressed that included a bit of binge spending and eating, increased irritability, sleeping difficulties and lack of motivation coupled with an overwhelming and depressed mood. when I thought about it I realized I had seen double my normal number of counseling clients in the previous two weeks. On top of that a new college semester was starting and I would be teaching a course I don't usually teach that would require extra preparation. In addition, I had a mountain of paperwork to complete and submit AND I was training at a pretty hard intensity as well. 

It hit me that I was experiencing what I preach avoiding. I was falling into the dreaded "stress pit." So I stopped and programmed restful activities into my days. Stress forecasting, utilizing pre-emptive targeted rest and refraining from training on all eight cylinders allowed me to routinely return to sympathetic nervous system baseline. 

As a result, my workouts improved as did my mood, patience, and enjoyment in life. My relationships became less strained. I really believe that if we do this enough, calm and serenity can become our norm instead of frenzy, and we will set ourselves up to be and do our best in all our endeavors including our lifting. 

Our relationship quality can improve. Our outlook on life can remain more positive. Remember, just because you can doesn't mean you should because you can until you can't anymore. But that is a pretty poor way to operate when you can back off, rest more often, waste fewer coping resources, focus on consistency, precision and effective speed, and experience more enjoyment in life and more athletic and personal success. 

Enjoy Your Lifting!  


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