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Learning from sport burnout and overtraining
Learning from sport burnout and overtraining

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4 Overtraining and burnout

In Session 1 you read a case study about cricketer Jonathan Trott. To overcome poor form, he refused time off to rest and spent extra time practising. An anti-rest and macho training culture was also described by one of the athletes in Gustafsson et al.’s (2008) interviews: ‘To get a day off you had to be more or less in plaster’.

Described image
Figure 4 Is this man slumped, asleep, or experiencing a pre-cursor to burnout?

An overtraining perspective (one of the four main perspectives you learned about earlier) views burnout as the result of doing too much training without having adequate recovery periods. Here, it is not just the training but the recovery that comes into focus. Overtraining is often a precursor to burnout and can be thought of as an imbalance between stress and recovery.

A possible visual representation of the idea of an imbalance between stress and recovery is shown in Figure 5.

This figure looks like a see saw including a pivot point mid-way along the ‘plank’.
Figure 5 Overtraining: an imbalance between stress and recovery

Activity 4 Your experience of stress–recovery imbalance

Timing: Allow about 10 minutes

Overtraining can affect recreational exercisers who may also have a job or family or other commitments. When looking at Figure 5 can you think of any experiences of stress–recovery imbalance in your life, even if it did not lead to burnout?

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Figure 5 largely represents Kellmann’s (2002) perspective of underrecovery often being a precursor to overtraining and perhaps burnout. In your response you may have identified that stress includes all training and competition, as well as additional non-training stress factors (e.g. social, educational, occupational, economical, nutritional and travel factors). Thinking back to the case of cyclist Elinor Barker, it was the compounded stress from three sources (her World Championships, her A-levels and signing for a professional team) as well as her underrecovery that contributed to early signs of burnout.

Kellmann (2010) describes that, when talking to coaches, it is more useful to describe overtraining as underrecovery:

It is the coaches' job to train athletes at the optimal level (which is often at the limit) ... Coaches may be much more receptive to working with the concept of underrecovery because it acknowledges that underrecovery can also be due to factors which are outside of their control.

(Kellmann, 2010, p. 101)

To train athletes to the optimal level requires a sound understanding of physiology and this is what you will focus on in the next section.