Less Is Not More

Emily Pappas

Hatfield, Pennsylvania, United States

Exercise Physiology, Strength and Conditioning, Nutrition

Trying to improve your game? Adding another two nights of practice may not get you the results you want. Rolled your ankle at softball practice? Taking three days off may not get you back on the field as intended.

 

Less is not always more—and more is not always better.

 

 

The relationship between training load, injury, and performance is much too complex to simplify in a ‘do more’ or ‘do less’ statement. Rather, we have to consider the bigger picture when working towards a certain goal.

 

Training Is a Necessary Stressor

Training is a necessary stressor to create a need for improvement or adaptation. Without training, there is no need to improve—but with stress comes fatigue. And with more fatigue, the less your body is able to perform.

 

Recovery methods allow us to manage our fatigue. Adequate recovery is necessary to allow the body to reduce fatigue and return it to its baseline (or level of performance prior to training).

It is critical that you increase recovery and reduce your training load (time and intensity in sports training) when you want to drive what is called super-compensation.

 

Less Is Not More - Fitness, injury prevention, rest and recovery, injury, competitive sports, total training volume

 

Super-compensation is the ability of your body to recover from hard training, allowing you to improve your fitness above the baseline level. During super-compensation, your body is able to reduce fatigue. A reduction in fatigue is key when promoting high performance. Our favorite saying at Relentless is “fatigue masks fitness.”

 

Without a reduction in fatigue, your body will never be able to showcase the results of your hard work in training. If you consistently add to your training and never allow for a decrease in fatigue, your body will never show your improved “fitness.”

 

You need to train to stress your body to want to improve, but remember that you need to recover in order for your body to adapt. In addition, you need to decrease your training load when it is time to showcase this adaptation through improved performance.

 

There is a limit to how low you can drop your training load before you start to see a decrease in performance. This is because a certain amount of training is necessary to stimulate your body to maintain your level of fitness.5

 

Think of this as your minimum training volume, or the minimum amount of training you need to maintain your level of performance. If you drop below this training volume for too long you will start to see a regression in your fitness level.

 

 

Training Goals and Performance

Training is a stressor that pushes your body to want to adapt and improve. Prior to your season, the goal of training is to improve your fitness. This means that you have high training volumes, high fatigue, and an overall reduction in your ability to showcase your performance—remember fatigue masks fitness.

 

When it is time to perform, the goal of your training needs to shift from improving to maintaining. A minimum or “maintenance” amount of training is necessary during your season in order to help maintain the strength and work capacity you built during the offseason.

 

Introducing loads that stimulate your body enough to maintain this fitness allows you to manage your levels of fatigue, reduce your chance of injury, and promote high levels of performance. If you stop lifting altogether you drop below this maintenance level, and you start to get into trouble.

 

Less stress equals more time for super-compensation and less fatigue. But when there is too much time away from the weight room, your body is no longer receiving the stimulus it needs to maintain the level of fitness you started the season with.

 

Without a stimulus, your performance is going to decrease, nagging injuries start to rise, and all your hard earned gains seem to fly out the window. This means a certain amount of lifting and practice time is necessary during your season so you maintain what you previously worked for during the off-season.

 

Keep in mind that the amount of training you do needs to be managed so that your fatigue levels don’t get too high.2 Remember, fatigue masks fitness. When training loads are too high, your fatigue is going to be through the roof and your performance is going to plummet.

 

Training Load and Injury Risk

Injuries happen when your body is exposed to more stress than it can handle. This stress can be acute—like when high forces lead you to sprain your knee ligament during a cut in a soccer game. This stress can also be cumulative—like when your wrist starts to nag after three intense practices, two games, and no days off between them.

 

Remember, the total amount of stress your body experiences over time also includes stressors outside of your training. This means three intense practices, two games, no days off, plus a calculus exam, breaking up with your boyfriend, and being homesick is a recipe for an overly fatigued athlete.

 

When fatigue is high, your risk of injury also increases. Adding more training load to an athlete that is already highly fatigued spells trouble. You’re heading straight for decreased performance and increased injury risk.

 

If fatigue remains high a drop in performance could become permanent. This is why adapting proper recovery techniques and dropping training volumes is necessary to allow your body to not only recover but to showcase those improvements when it matters most. Have you ever had a big game on Friday then on Monday you feel run down, achy, and didn't perform the way you want? This means it's time to implement a decrease in your training load.

 

Focusing on things that promote recovery (such as sleep and nutrition) will help decrease your levels of fatigue. Less fatigue means a greater ability to showcase your athletic skills come game day. It is important to remember that there is a minimum training load you need in order to maintain your performance.

 

Taking the entire week off is going to drop you down below this maintenance volume. Drop too low, and you will actually increase the chance of injury when you return to the field. Without maintaining your work capacity, you become de-conditioned to handle the workloads your body was previously able to handle.

 

This is why taking time completely off after an injury is not suggested by sports physiologists.4 Athletes who take full rest after an injury not only decrease their overall fitness and delay their return to play, but they also increase their risk of injury when they do return.

 

Rather, it is in the athlete’s best interest to implement pain-free training during the injury recovery process so that she is able to return to play faster (and her injury is able to catch up to the rest of her body sooner thanks to the crossover effect). The athlete’s risk of injury decreases because her work capacity did not diminish.1

 

After a larger injury, like an ACL tear that requires surgery, full rest is needed to give tissues time to repair. Studies show that early loading can improve return to play time and by gradually progressing loading throughout the recovery process protection from future reinjury is provided.

 

A True Balancing Act

When it comes to performance, athletes (and their coaches) need to remember you cannot both improve and perform at the same time. You need to have designated periods where training loads are high and improvements are being sought after. You also need periods where training loads to lowered to allow for recovery, adaptation, and the opportunity to showcase those improvements through higher performance.

 

Instead, get in the weight room and train around your injury so you can maintain your work capacity and fitness level. Manage your workload progressively and you will find yourself returning to play faster than you thought.

 

References:

1. Gabbett TJ. Debunking the myths about training load, injury, and performance: empirical evidence, hot topics and recommendations for practitioners. J Sports Med Published Online First: 26 October 2018. Doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2018-099784.

2. Harrison PW, Johnston RD. Relationship between training load, fitness, and injury over an Australian Rules Football Preseason. J Strength Cond Res2017;31:2686–93.

3. Milewski MD, Skaggs DL, Bishop GA, et al. Chronic lack of sleep is associated with increased sports injuries in adolescent athletes. J Pediatr Orthop2014;34:129–33.

4. Colby MJ, Dawson B, Peeling P, et al. Repeated exposure to established high-risk workload scenarios improves non-contact injury prediction in Elite Australian footballers. Int J Sports Physiol Perform2018;15:1–22.

5. Gabbett TJ, Hulin BT. Activity and recovery cycles and skill involvements of successful and unsuccessful elite rugby league teams: a longitudinal analysis of evolutionary changes in National Rugby League match-play. J Sports Sci2018;36:180–90.

 

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