Most people exercise with the goal of improving themselves. This can be with the aim of a physical (look or function) or mental improvement. Exercise is widely publicised as being good for our health? With benefits for our physical and mental well-being, sometimes this line can be crossed and exercise can do us more harm than good. We all know that a poor gym instructor delivering poor technique on a lift can damage you, but even a well delivered session from a Personal Trainer may not be beneficial for our health if there are other factors affecting our life. The art of a good coach is to understand his athlete (or client), the factors that affect their performance and plan appropriate sessions around these factors – getting the balance right.
There are factors outside of a coaches control that affect how the athlete (client) performs above and beyond gym sessions. We may be aiming to reduce body fat %, get stronger on a lift of throw more combinations during a round of boxing but if our balance is not right we can end up regressing, not progressing and this can lead to a cycle of over training. We have to learn to identify this and not fall into the over training cycle, this cycle is a hard one to break. Poor performance in the gym will be followed by guilt, so training volume and intensity will be increase and performance will regress further, this is counter-productive for physical and mental health.
We need to look at the whole programme and look at factors that affect performance and make sure we get the balance right and ensure we are not over training. This is covered by multiple factors.
Sleep: Sleep affects recovery and cortisol levels. Are you sleeping less than you used to or have you factored in extra sleep for the extra training you are now doing? You may have been previously sleeping six hours per night and coping fine, but now you are Olympic lifting three times per week with your two runs – you have gone from exercising twice to five times per week! Performance is reducing and are you sleeping enough? The solution is to sleep more or train less.
Lennox Lewis on fight camp would sleep 11 hours per day with 8 hours at night and two scheduled daytime snoozes!
Stress: Lifestyle factors will affect your performance. A pro boxer in fight camp may train three times per day, but in between they optimally nourish, rest and relax between sessions – most people don’t have that luxury. Common sense would indicate that a labourer on a building site will have greater stress than someone who sits at a desk due to the greater physical demands of their job? – not always the case. Mental stress and external pressures will take their toll on your performance. High pressure at work, a divorce, moving house or a new baby are just some of the examples that may affect your stress levels, which can hinder performance. Sometimes the gym can become another stress on your body. Elevated stress from over training will elevate cortisol levels and will lead to fat storage around your mid-section.
Many coaches now get their athletes to meditate and work on relaxation techniques to reduce stress.
Nutrition: We need to look at two major factors here. Firstly, is your calorie intake enough and are you refuelling well enough between sessions to ensure you are ready to go again? Secondly are you getting enough micro nutrients to prevent your body becoming run down and ill? There are so many factors to consider but nutrition will affect your training more than anything.
Pro body builder Ronnie Coleman once stated ‘There is no such thing as over training, only under eating’
Training: The volume and intensity of sessions will affect if you over train. You need to ensure that you balance energy systems and muscle groups if you are going to increase your training volume to above one session per day. You also need to be progressive and systematic with your approach to sessions. Inevitably when people start stepping above the 2-3 times per week recreational gym user they step into the athlete’s domain and either need some guidance from an experienced coach and/ or need to be mindful of their own programme and listen to their body.
When performance is plateauing do less, eat more, sleep more and chill out… don’t do more.
Increasing the time spent in the gym is a great idea, but you need to get the balance right to ensure you don’t over train.