One of the most difficult concepts for up-and-coming athletes to understand is the inherent risk associated with overtraining. Most young athletes are brought up to believe that the harder they work the better they will become, a statement that is often reinforced by anecdotes of athletes who were not blessed with elite athleticism but worked day and night to overcome whatever athletic limitations threatened their prospects for sporting success.
According to John Pryor, strength and conditioning coordinators at the highest levels of sport do indeed believe that hard work pays off, but they also feel there is a greater need to understand that there is always the risk that too much training will lead to less-than-optimal results and the greater potential for injury. In order for training to yield the greatest possible result for the athlete, the program has to be oriented around the idea of working at the optimal effort level and not the maximal effort level.
For John Pryor, rugby athletes at the highest levels of competition must often be convinced to dial it back just as often as they have to be motivated to work harder in training. A training program that frequently calls for the athlete to “max-out” or give an effort reasonably close to the maximal level is very unlikely to be sustainable over any length of time, with the most likely result being that the athlete becomes burned out, injured or simply reaches a training plateau that they cannot break through.
In developing a sustainable training program, rugby coaches rely on scientific feedback to create a great deal of training specificity that focuses on achieving the program’s goals in the most efficient manner possible. Coaches who implement programs that value a high degree of specificity are more likely to be able to generate exceptional training results without risking athlete burnout or injury, which is absolutely critical when it comes to the most elite levels of international athletic competition.
For up-and-coming athletes seeking to reach an elite level of their sport, it is absolutely critical to realize that the risk of overtraining is much more dangerous than the risk of undertraining. It is incredibly difficult to recover from injury or burnout caused by overtraining, and the potential reward of this sort of maximal effort is not nearly great enough to make the risk even slightly worthwhile.