Principles ol Overload and Recovery
coach to coach
Principles ol Overload and Recovery
While strain is a natural part of training and competing, pain is a different
story altogether. SARAH MORANTE reports on how you can help your
students avoid overload and aid recovery.
o pain, no gain". Everyone has an opinion - some
live by it, others hate it. As with most things,
moderation is the key. A certain amount of strain is
essential for any improvements in physical condition, but pain is
an indicator that something is not quite right.
As coaches, we try to instill a strong work ethic in our students
- teaching them that results come from countless hours of
hard work. However, higher training loads don't automatically
result in better performance. The art of coaching is to achieve
a balance between the amount of overload and recovery within
the training program. Most coaches are aware of the importance
in progressively overloading a player in order to produce
adaptations and improvement. However, it is often mistaken that
physical improvements are achieved during the actual training.
In fact it is the down time, when players are relaxing away from
the tennis court and gym, that the physiological improvements
are taking place. It is therefore, very important that coaches,
players and parents be aware of the principles of overload and
recovery, and their integral role in any training program.
General adaptation syndrome
The General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) describes the
generalized response of the body to any type of stress, and is
illustrated below. Regardless of factors such as fitness, age and
type of training, everyone responds to exercise according to this
Resistance pnase
Exhaustion ohase
exhausted (overtraining). However, if the workload is increased
too late or too little, the player will not continue to improve and
will plateau in performance (maintenance). Coaches should
plan to apply progressive overload at the end of the resistance
phase to prevent a plateau in performance, yet avoid applying
excessive overload that will result in exhaustion.
Principles of overload and recovery
The principles of overload and recovery in sports training
are integral to the improvements that occur within a player
over time. The principle of overload refers to the need for the
training load (duration, intensity and frequency of training) to
exceed the current capacity of the individual. In other words,
the person must be pushed beyond their current level in order
for improvements to take place. Once the training session is
finished, a period of recovery must then become the focus. This
is the time when the body adapts to the stress and improves
beyond current levels.
A fine balance between overload and recovery is essential to
this performance enhancement and avoidance of overtraining.
When the amount of overload exceeds the amount of recovery,
exhaustion occurs and there is no adaptation. This results in a
deterioration in performance as the body protects itself against
any stress that is potentially hazardous. Interestingly, a training
load that is too hard in fact produces less adaptation than one
that is too easy. This highlights the importance for coaches,
players and parents not to push players too hard, too early, and
to be aware of the symptoms of overtraining which may include
an elevated resting heart rate, persistent muscle soreness and
fatigue, impaired immune system - frequent colds, increased
risk of injury, depressed mood etc.
Aoprox. 8-'0 weeks
Figure 1. Response to an overloading training stimulus
(general adaptation syndrome).
When the body experiences a stress (E.g. exercise) that
is beyond the level at which it is accustomed, the person
experiences fatigue and soreness (alarm reaction phase). The
body then begins to adapt and remodel itself in order for that
workload to no longer elicit such a strain (resistance phase) .This
is the reason a given workout becomes easier over time and why
it is important to program progressive overload and variety in a
training program. When the time arrives for the next overload
to be applied, the coach must finely balance the increase in
workload with the physiological capabilities of the player. If the
workload is increased too early or too fast, the player will become
Australian Tennis Magazine I May 2007
Figure 2. Performance outcomes of three different training
Application for coaches
The first step for coaches in producing an optimal training
load for maximum adaptation is to develop a periodised training
plan. This enables times of high workload to be balanced with
rest and recovery. It is also important to understand the starting
condition of the player in order to determine initial training
Tennis C o a c h e s
loads. Once this is established, the training load can be gradually
increased (progressive overload) by no more than 10% each
week to prevent over-stressing the body. Alternatively, coaches
can program for plenty of variety in the training program so that
the body is continually forced to make adaptations, whilst the
actual training load remains tolerable.
Coaches must also be conscious of planning 24 - 48 hours
of recovery between hard training sessions, which enables the
adaptation process to occur and prevents reaching a stage of
exhaustion. Coaches should be mindful of the specific fitness
components essential for competitive tennis and train only these
areas. This increases the efficiency or quality of training, which
enables the overall quantity of training to be reduced without
compromising effectiveness.
Another important consideration is that everyone has a fitness
threshold or peak level with any further training failing to
produce improvements. This is known as the stage of diminishing
returns where any attempts to further improve performance
result in overtraining.
Finally, it is essential that coaches, players and parents be
aware of other physical and mental stresses affecting the
player. Factors such as poor nutrition, lack of sleep or emotional
stress can magnify the overtraining symptoms produced by
the training load. Therefore, players who are experiencing any
other stresses cannot tolerate the same physical training loads
and players who are achieving adequate recovery. The nature
of tennis where hundreds of quick sprints, jumps and stops
occur within a match mean the eccentric component of tennis
is much greater than continuous, steady-state intensity sports
such as running or swimming. Eccentric muscle contractions
are the cause of the muscle soreness and fatigue that occurs
after exercise, therefore a perfect balance between work and
recovery of particular importance to tennis coaches.
Recovery strategies
reducing post-exercise muscle soreness by working muscles
through their range of motion and speeding the clearance
of lactate. A 15-20 minute cool-down using light intensity
exercise and stretching is also beneficial to recovery.
• Sleep. Most people need an average of 8 hours sleep per
night, however athletes with high workloads often require
more. The most restoration and recovery occurs during sleep
so it is essential that it is not limited for the sake of additional
Coaches armed with this information need to inform their
highly motivated players and those pushing parents that it is
training quality rather than quantity that equals improvement.
And furthermore, it is the balance between work and recovery
that determines whether a player continues to improve, reaches
a plateau or suffers from the damaging effects of overtraining.
Whilst a handle must be kept on training loads, the balance
largely comes down to recovery. If recovery is poor, the training
load will not be tolerated and performance will suffer. However,
if recovery is successful, significantly higher training loads can
be managed and performance will be maximized.
Sarah Morante is a TCA Advanced Coach.
Aside from ensuring work to rest ratios are balanced to elicit
optimal improvement yet avoid overtraining, coaches can employ
various other strategies to assist recovery. When recovery is
more effective, higher training loads can be tolerated.
• Diet. Ensure players consume adequate carbohydrate
(approx. 60% total energy intake or 400-600g per day) to
maintain energy levels. Sufficient protein (approx. 0.8g per kg
of body mass per day) is also required to facilitate the growth
and repair of active muscles. Foods rich in antioxidants (E.g.
fruits and vegetables) are important in scavenging free
radicals produced by exercise that can cause tissue damage.
Maintaining adequate hydration is also essential with players
aiming to consume 1.5 litres of water each day with losses
caused by exercise being replenished.
• Relaxation techniques. Deep breathing, meditation and yoga
can assist in reducing emotional stresses that can impede
physical performance. Alternatively, any enjoyable nonexercise activity such as listening to or playing music, reading
etc. can provide effective relaxation and enhance recovery.
• Massage,physio, spas and saunas. Each of these methods can
be used to assist physical recovery of sore, tired muscles and
tendons. If the length and elasticity of muscles and tendons is
maintained, recovery and performance will be maximized.
M Active recovery and cool-down. Low intensity, non-impact
activities such as cycling and swimming are effective in
Australian Tennis Magazine | May 2007 42
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