By Shannon Grady, CEO/Founder GO! Athletics
Amongst the sports science and medical research on the topic of “Overtraining Syndrome” there are no truly defined parameters or conclusive laboratory findings to diagnose “Overtraining Syndrome”. Most athletes are considered to be “overtrained” by subjective and unmeasurable parameters such as; fatigue, performance plateaus, appetite decreases, or muscle soreness. “Overtraining Syndrome” is simply deemed by symptoms alone and “abnormal” readings in a multitude physiological biomarkers but rarely are individual baselines to used compare the athlete when they are considered appropriately trained or “overtrained”.
The topic of “Overtraining Syndrome” has always been an area in which answers are unclear and diagnosis is even more unclear but the detrimental effects on athletes can be acute, benign or long-term with serious health implications. Even the term, “overtraining” implies that the load was the only thing at fault for the athletes’ performances. Most often, the training load that was given to the athlete is appropriate if the athletes was in a fully functioning, healthy metabolic state. If the athlete is not in a fully functioning, healthy metabolic state, a training load that is otherwise appropriate, now becomes inappropriate for that athlete at that time. I describe the scenario of athletes’ negatively adapting to training load as inappropriate training rather than a blanket scapegoat of saying they were “overtraining”. The most difficult part of prescribing appropriate training load is that fact that an individual’s metabolic and physiological state is very dynamic and can be influenced by many factors that blaming “overtraining” is not always the correct resolution.
Although, my intentions with utilizing PPT was to study positive physiological responses to training, I was also able to gain valuable insight on negative physiological responses to training amongst a sample size of 1000s of “well-trained” athletes. PPT gives a snapshot of physiological functioning in all Systems. The PPT data has many implications such as; overall physiological functioning, training responses, overall System functioning, and nutritional status. PPT will enable a athletes and coaches to identify if any Systems are becoming less functional.
Frequent assessment of individual physiological profiles depict the training adaptations in the energy systems from one assessment to the next. The changes in physiological profiles are induced by the training stimulus, training performed, and changes in nutritional status by the athlete from the previous training phase or phases. Given proper nutrition and recovery days the subsequent profile changes are the intended, predicted responses due of the prescribed training stimulus in the previous phases. If physiological profile test changes are negative with the given training stimulus other factors may be involved such as daily nutrition, recovery days, iron, ferritin, hematocrit, hemoglobin, red blood cell count, and other physiological performance rate limiters.
Frequent physiological profile testing determines optimal training load that each athlete can handle at any point in their training cycles, which stimulus will create a positive response, as well as evaluating what other metabolic factors may be causing increases or decreases in training or performance. For instance, if an athlete is tested in June and training parameters are set to increase Aerobic Foundation and the subsequent test in August shows decreases in Aerobic Foundation, the training response is negative. An athlete or coach can then re-evaluate if the training stimulus was adequate to achieve desired physiological response or determine if other limiting factors such as inadequate fueling, limited hormone production, or illnesses can be considered. PPT is a direct, measureable, and repeatable assessment of physiological functioning and adaptation.
PPT analysis of athletes who have had many symptoms of what others may describe as “Overtraining Syndrome” demonstrate significant and sequential changes in their physiological profiles. When evaluating significant profile changes the question always becomes which factor is responsible for the negative response; training, fueling, recovery, iron levels? Sometimes the answer can be many of these factors but the PPT diagnostic value in tracking declining physiological functioning, regardless of the cause, is what I have observed and termed as System Shutdown.
Throughout my 20+ years of testing and analysis of physiological profiles the cases of performance decreases or plateaus the athletes demonstrated System declines in capacity and functioning. The human “machine” was literally shutting down one System at a time due to inappropriate training load or inadequate fuel. The astounding similarities amongst all these cases are classified along the continuum of System Shutdown (SS) that will correlate the individual’s Physiological Range;
Full System Functioning: No System Shutdown
Stage I SS – Mild System Shutdown
Stage II SS – Moderate System Shutdown
Stage III SS -Severe System Shutdown
Each stage of SS can range from 2 weeks to a year of decreased training load, depending on how severe the case and how adherent the athlete is to adjustments in training load. For Stage I SS typically athletes can have immediate performance improvement with just 10-14 days of Non-Glycogen Depleting Training Protocol (NGDT protocol is discussed in more detail in my book) and an athlete can return to Full System Functioning and resume normal training load.
PPT analysis carries immense benefits in that it is a direct and repeatable protocol that can easily identify positive and negative training responses along with physiological capacity to perform activities at varying work loads and intensities.
The value of PPT analysis for training optimization and preventative measures for performance declines is unparalleled in human physiological performance evaluations. The training load is the major variable that a coach CAN control which is the most challenging stressor for human homeostatic feedback systems. If training load is beyond what an individual can handle given their current physiological state the ability for the body to maintain homeostasis post workout will become increasingly more challenging. If a coach, KNOWS the adequate training load capacity for each athlete performance improvements will be prompt and optimal.