Determining appropriate training levels which result in optimal performance outcomes requires a combination of both art and science…
From a science perspective training is defined generally as “a process designed to overload the body’s normal state of fitness which results in acute fatigue (1-2 days) followed by adaptation and improvements in fitness/performance.”
What happens when we go too far? Too hard? Too fast? When well-planned, periods of overtraining (e.g. functional overtraining or FO) can result in super compensation. Overtraining can be described as a period where greater than normal training stress is imposed (WSSC, a training camp, etc.), followed by periods of adequate rest (1-2 weeks). When not well planned, overtraining can result in nonfunctional overreaching (NFO) or overtraining syndrome (OTS). These are defined as extreme levels of training coupled with inadequate rest and accompanying drops in performance which can last months or even years and result in burnout.
It becomes critical then to be able to assess the line between FO, NFO and OTS. A new tool that researchers are using to diagnosis overtraining syndrome is a psychomotor speed test, which measures the cognitive factors of the athlete (memory and concentration). This test could simply be a reaction time test. Reaction times have been reported to decrease in athletes when they increase the intensity of their training for several weeks. These studies lead us to believe that central fatigue (a tired brain) is possibly the earliest predictor of overtraining.
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Nederhof, E., et al. (2006) Psychomotor speed: possibly a new marker for overtraining syndrome. Sports Medicine, 36(10): 817-28.
Nederhof, E., Lemmink, K., Zwerver., J. & Mulder, T. (2007) The effect of high load training on psychomotor speed. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 28: 595-601.
Nederhof, E., Visscher, C. & Lemmink, K. (2008) Psychomotor speed is related to perceived performance in rowers. European Journal of Sport Science, 8(5): 259-265
Rietjans, GJ., et al. (2005) Physiological, biochemical and psychological markers of strenuous training induced fatigue. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 26(1): 16-26.