To Train but not Overtrain

Perform optimally without negatively affecting performance

Tayna Flanagan, MsEd, ATC, CSCS, ACE-HC

Perhaps Shakespeare will forgive me for twisting his words but the original statement from Hamlet, “To be or not to be” is fitting. As young and old athletes jockey for the top spot, work to achieve their personal best, make a team or perhaps qualify for a college scholarship, it is a tricky juxtaposition they find themselves to be able to perform optimally without negatively affecting their performance and/or creating an injury. Training programs are developed by weeks, months, and the whole year (micro, meso, and macro cycles respectively) based on the knowledge athletes will make specific adaptations to imposed demands (SAID Principle) with appropriate amounts of rest. (Baechle & Earle, 2000) In order to achieve improvements, athletes must push their limits. Functional Overreaching (FOR) is a term used to describe when, “athletes experience short-term performance decrement, without severe psychological, or lasting other negative symptoms. When athletes do not sufficiently respect the balance between training and recovery, Non-Functional Overreaching (NFOR) can occur.” (Meeusen et. al. 2013) NFOR, overtraining, burnout, staleness are all terms that point to the same nonproductive state for the athlete. How do coaches, parents, athletic trainers, strength coaches and athletes know the difference between appropriate levels and too much?

Injuries that do not heal as well... are also markers of overtraining

Bad news, there is not one tool that fully encompasses all aspects of knowing when overtraining is taking place nor are they consistent from individual to individual. (Rearick, 2011). A joint position statement by the European College of Sports Science (ECSS) and American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) was released stating, “Currently several markers, (hormones, performance tests, psychological tests, biochemical and immune markers) are used, but none of them meets all criteria to make its use generally accepted. (Meeusen et. al. 2013) Rest assured there are some signs and symptoms that can be monitored.

Common signs and symptoms that are consistent with overtraining include but are not limited to: fatigue, injury, illness, and burnout (Kellman. M, 2010). Injuries that do not heal as well as consistent decline in performance are also markers of overtraining. According to the National Strength & Conditioning Association, overtraining can take place for both anaerobic as well as aerobic athletes. However, “because of the limited markers available for anaerobic overtraining, many athletes and coaches monitor the markers of aerobic overtraining while typically not working to monitor anaerobic overtraining.” Known markers for anaerobic training include decreased desire to train, decreased joy from training, acute epinephrine and norepinephrine increases beyond normal exercise- induced levels (sympathetic overtraining system), and performance decrements, although these occur too late to be a good predictor.” While these are helpful but not perfect, there is another aspect complicating the situation. The research and data collection that has been performed was for athletes much older than what is trending in many areas.

Many sports programs are marketing to a much younger athlete than seen previously. By 8-9 years of age children are starting to specialize and pick a sport as well as position. Specific to softball, 12-18 year olds participate in weekend Combines to demonstrate their skills running timed 40s, pro-agility or shuttle runs, as well as hitting and fielding. The athlete will fill out a player profile and their stats are put on a national roster for potential coaches. (,, etc.) The “off-season” has become so competitive, the high school season is not recognized as the spot to get recruited to play at the next level. What does a year of training look like for a student-athlete?

Softball Catch

This schedule belongs to a High School Sophomore, 1st year varsity softball player in the Seattle area. She is predominately a catcher and designated hitter (Awarded 1st team 4A All-KingCo DH). This schedule is not perfect or prevent overuse symptoms. (see table below)

The Summer tournaments will run from June 6th-August 8th and include flying and driving to the following: Hillsboro, OR; Longmont, CO; Portand, OR; Denver, CO; Chino Hills, CA; Irvine, CA; Salem, OR; and Huntington Beach, CA.

This schedule will not work for everyone. No one should use a training regimen out of a book, off of a website, or someone else’s for themselves. However if one is to use it as a guideline knowing signs and symptoms of overtraining and has an understanding of their body it could be acceptable. Previous training, lack of training, and genetics make a “cookie cutter” approach insufficient to cover everyone’s needs effectively. At the end of the day, if an athlete is not being themselves, grades begin to decline, they are experiencing a sustained decline in performance, and are not having fun it is time to evaluate or establish short and long term goals. Communication between coaching staff, parents, athletic trainers and athletes helps to raise an awareness of the situation. To excel in athletics or any aspect of life requires balance. Balance allows athletes of all ages “to be, or not to be”.

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Softball Schedule

School7-8 hours/day 7-8 hrs7-8 hrs/day 
Homework1-4 hours/day 1-4 hrs1-4 hr/sday 
Hitting, Speed/Agility, Running1 x/week for 1 hour1-2 hours2 of the 3 @ least 1x/wk, 1 hr2 of the 3 @ least 1x/wk, 1 hr 
Practive High School Softball Team Hitting 1-2 hoursHigh School BASKETBALL Practice 4 days/wk X 2 hrs + games2+ hrs/day, 4 days/wk 
Practice-Select Softball Team When not at atournament, travel to Oregon 1x/month for 3 hr practice  2 x 3hr practice/wk when not at tournament

Baechle, R., Earle, R. 2000. Essentials of Strength Training & Conditioning. Chapter 8 Kellman, M,, 2010. Preventing overtraining in athletes in high-intensity sports and stress/recovery monitoring. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports. Oct2010 Supplement 2, Vol. 20, p95-102. Rearick, M. May/Jun2011. Avoid Overtraining in Young Athletes. JOPERD: The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance., Vol. 82 Issue 5, p25-36. Meeusen et. al. 2013. European Journal of Sports Science, Volume 13, Issue 1.