Post No.: 0109
Sports success depends on biological (e.g. genes), sociological (e.g. opportunities), psychological (e.g. discipline) and educational (e.g. coaching) factors, as well as luck (e.g. what injuries happen to your competitors or which opponents you get drawn against, which you cannot influence without cheating).
All sports involve a unique combination of physical capabilities (strength, endurance, speed/power, coordination and flexibility – where maximising one area may mean compromising another) and skill (techniques and tactics). More training will obviously produce better performances; although the popularly cited ‘10,000 hours’ and/or ’10 years’ rule to achieve mastery is over-simplistic and cannot be generalised to all activities, contexts or individuals.
Training should be individualised (according to age, maturity, genetics and experience level), specific to the sport one is training for (in action, form and pace/speed), it should involve progression and overload to create a training effect (a gradual increase in challenge to create improvements over time), account for reversibility (the rate at which performances can drop if one gets injured or ill and must therefore rest for long periods of time – a performance drop of 10% can potentially occur after the first week, and one can lose almost all trained performance after 6 months), and include variability (to prevent boredom or stagnation). Psychologically, it helps to frequently train in or experience conditions that simulate the competitive situations too, although sometimes the only way to truly simulate a high-stakes competitive situation is to be in one (e.g. a penalty shootout in an important match in front of a massive crowd).
Low intensity exercise is done at about <70% of one’s maximum heart rate (or when talking is still comfortable), medium intensity exercise is done at about 70-90% of one’s maximum heart rate (or when it’s possible to talk but not comfortably), and high intensity exercise is done at about >90% of one’s maximum heart rate (or when talking is not possible except for a word or two).
You must gradually and incrementally challenge your body in order to produce adaptation effects (improvements) hence fatigue should be expected (fatigue is the result of a combination of neural, physiological and/or mental factors), but chronic fatigue is not good. You’ll know when you’re over-training when performance gradually gets worse and worse session after session, in which case you’ll need to eat and/or rest more between sessions, or mix sessions up a bit to prevent plateauing and/or boredom. Watch out for heat stress or heat stroke, or hypothermia or frostbite if exercising in the cold, too. Woof.
The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) response of ‘fight or flight’ (the ‘accelerator’) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) response of ‘rest and digest’ (the ‘brakes’) of the autonomic nervous system need to be kept in a healthy balance with each other. Either an overactive SNS or an overactive PSNS can indicate over-training – so either a higher resting heart rate than usual or a lower resting heart rate than usual can indicate over-training, a lack of sufficient rest periods between sessions or chronic stress. In fact, not feeling great and a heart rate that is slower than usual is worse than not feeling great and a heart rate that is faster than usual. A healthy body is in steady homeostasis – not chronically in one extreme state or another. The hormones in our bodies work as promoters or inhibitors for various functions, in order to try to maintain balance in the body. Extremes, one way or another, are not healthy, and even relatively small imbalances sustained over a long time are detrimental.
An orthostatic heart rate test is a heart rate test that involves lying down for at least 10 minutes, measuring the heart rate, standing up for 15 seconds, measuring the heart rate again, and calculating the difference between the two figures. First establish a baseline difference on a day when you know you’ve surely not over-trained, which should be about 10-15bpm, and if the difference becomes greater than 5bpm above your baseline difference after a day of training then it suggests that you have not sufficiently recovered yet from the previous session, you are otherwise stressed or might be about to go down with a cold or flu. These tests must be conducted in consistent conditions (e.g. just before and as you get out of bed in the mornings).
Regarding over-use, ‘focal dystonia’ is one theory to explain the golfing ‘yips’ or other symptoms that involve a lack of fine muscular control after years of doing the same fine-motor repetitive movement – nerves can possibly become damaged due to repetitive over-use so watch out for this.
Now with things that require good technique – practice does not make perfect unless one has been practising perfectly. In fact, bad ingrained habits become hard to undo! So one must get form, technique and the like correct from the very start, and this usually means starting slow or light and getting the basics right first before thinking that one can run or repeat an exercise again and again at a higher intensity.
The following is quite general, but a training plan should include the training goal(s), competition date(s) and other important dates, and allow you to focus and train with specificity to the goal(s) in mind (e.g. don’t focus on endurance if the sport only requires power), and allow for adequate adaptation periods and recovery times. You should record the actual training sessions and feedback (e.g. your own assessment of each training session and orthostatic heart rate readings each morning) to evaluate your performance and furry progress, and to watch out for any signs of over-training.
‘Periodisation’ involves breaking up a season into smaller cycles, sub-cycles and training blocks that focus on e.g. technique or strength building, from general to more specific for the sport, then from pre to main competition preparation, followed by a rest period after competition. Each sub-training cycle should have a wave-like cycle of intensity or volume (intensity for power, volume for endurance) to allow for adequate adaptation effects to occur, as well as to allow for recovery days. Emotional/mental and physical stresses outside of the training sessions need to be accounted for too (e.g. academic exams) when considering recovery durations. It takes ~4 weeks for adaptations of the body structure to occur in response to a specific exercise routine/training stimulus, then one will need to change the training to stimulate a higher adaptation of the same structures, and to prevent fatigue or boredom. Again, this advice is only broad and general.
The ‘fitness-fatigue model’ accounts for the fact that fatigue levels dissipate faster than fitness levels do, and that one’s net performance level is the difference between one’s fitness and fatigue levels. Therefore, 1-2 weeks before a competition or event, you should taper your training load down in order to minimise fatigue levels in relation to maximising fitness levels (training volume should be dramatically reduced but intensity, and maybe frequency, must be maintained). But one must watch out for de-training effects (i.e. doing too little, thus resulting in a net loss of performance, which can happen within a couple of weeks or even a matter of a few days if one is operating at the highest levels and is seeking to keep those small marginal gains – those small marginal gains at the highest levels are so difficult to gain but so easy to lose!)
Woof! Of course you don’t need to compete in order to partake in or enjoy sports – you can simply do it for the fun and/or social aspects! If you are a professional sportsperson or want to be one then you’ll probably already have a coaching team and a professional plan or will want to seek one. If you’re not then you might still want to take part in a one-off competition or event someday (e.g. a marathon or mountain climb) to see how well you could do – and if so you’ll need a sensible plan and that’s what this post has been trying to get you to think about (don’t be one of those people who think they can make it up Mount Everest just because they have the money and the gear!)