Wednesday 30 May 2012

Finding the Sweet Spot of Training Success

When it comes to training success, you have to find the sweet spot between over and under training. Here is a simple illustration to help you do that:

Recently I arrived at work to find that someone had strung a climbing rope up on the rafter of our athlete training area. I was instantly brought back to those childhood memories of climbing a rope in gym class (do they still let kids to that is that also too dangerous now?). Naturally, I had to climb it - without using my feet of course.

Things were going very well until I got to the top. At that point, my brain chose to ignore every bit of wisdom and experience I had with ropes and decided to slide down the rope as if it was a smooth metal pole. I arrived on the ground with raw burning hands and a group of athletes giving me the look that said, "you're an idiot - I can't believe you just did that!"

Soon after stupid moment, my brain returned to more normal functioning and as I looked down at my hand, I remembered a training illustration I think I learnt from Mark Rippetoe.

On the left below my index finger is a nice big blister. That is what happens to the skin when it is stress too much, too fast. In training, many people get too ambitious, do too much and end up hurt or over-trained. Signs and symptoms of overtraining (or under-recovery - a bigger problem to be discussed in a future post) can include:
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability (difficult to assess in individuals who are always irritable)
  • Poor sleep/insomnia
  • Increased RHR (resting heart rate)
  • Swollen lymph glands (in neck, groin and armpits)
  • Strength plateaus
  • Decreased performance
  • Decreased appetite
  • Bowel irregularity
  • Headaches
  • Decreased Body Weight
  • Prolonged muscle soreness
  • Increased frequency and duration of illness
  • Low sex drive
  • Impaired sexual function
  • Lack of desire to train and regular enthusiasm
  • Women – disruption or cessation of menstrual cycle
  • Restlessness – difficulty falling sleep or relaxing
  • weak grip strength,
  • lower levels of power (e.g. vertical jump is down),
  • Nagging aches and pains

If this is you, back off and let your body heal. Take a week or two off training and then gradually ease back into training.

Between the blister and the callus is a patch of smooth skin. This is an example of insufficient stress. If nothing is happening, it could be that you are not using an effective programing, not selecting the best exercises or that you are just going through the motions without really working hard.

In the middle below my middle finger is a nice, big callus. It is the result of years of heavy lifting and I like to call it my built-in weight lifting glove. This spot on my hand has been stress the right amount and has been able to adapt and get stronger to prevent injury.

The callus is a great example of the sweet spot of training. The training stimulus is intense enough to get results, without over-doing it and damaging the body. To find this, you need to start with setting some specific goals and developing a way to measure them. Then, always come back to that measurement. If you are staying healthy and moving towards your goals, then you have found the sweet spot! If not, adjust accordingly.

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