A little bit of back-story, just a little bit. In a previous role, as sports medicine coordinator at the Northern Territory Institute of Sport in Darwin, Australia, we serviced elite junior athletes. Not just serviced, but worked plans to bring them along in many areas of their potential future sporting careers. Together with a sports scientist and strength and conditioning coach, we kept an eye on training load and plugged it into an excel sheet I created that accounted for sessional RPE across months.
I used formulae for acute training load and chronic training load, creating a training stress balance in much the same way as the Australian Institute of Sport had been doing. We could monitor, using their 5 year research guidelines, when our junior athletes acute training load (moving average of last 7 days training load) jumped too high relative to their chronic training load (moving average of their last 4-6 weeks, we could choose to look at either). What we found was consistent with what was found at the Australian Institute of Sport – that when ATL:CTL jumped above 150%, the chance of the junior athlete getting sick or injured was higher. This was most common at training camps.
A few things worth mentioning:
• When the chance of getting sick gets higher, it doesn’t mean they do get sick, but in the case of junior athletes balancing school life, home life, strength training, sport training and conditioning, their recovery strategies were not good enough and they usually did get sick.
• The sickness likelihood persisted for up to 2 weeks after the spike.
• When they got sick, they didn’t train, they recovered. This often took at least a week, if not 2. During this time, their training load dropped sharply, affecting CTL and ATL. In other words, affecting fitness. Freshness/form rarely came with this rest, because they were sick.
• Upon return to training, if we didn’t have control over their local squad training, they would often return to volume sharply, causing a large spike in Acute Training Load again, relative to a dropped Chronic Training Load, and we cycled through this again – unless we got a coach on board to slow it down on their return.
• And the big consequence is that the main aim of a training camp – to boost fitness – caused a loss due to illness, and a drop in form.
• The longer term consequences were that when we measured changes in many areas of their performance that were linked to their scholarship, they didn’t change. The training camps spikes, and subsequent consequences, played a major part in not progressing.
A forward “back-story”. I moved on to working in professional sport in China where monitoring training load was more of interest than use, since we rarely could manage their load. The athletes trained in the vicinity of 35 hours/week on court/field/in-gym, so a training camp was nothing to them, in terms of load. Often the training camp was a change of scenery and of use. A rise in ATL was rare, and was protected by the massively high CTL they already had. Plus, they slept during the day and ate huge amounts of food. Now, their ability to change performance outcomes was usually poor because the athletes often held back in all performance testing since they either had a training session before the testing, or afterwards, or were injured most days anyway but still made to train. The point there was that a high training load, plus adequate recovery strategies, could stave off sharp increases in seven-ten day spikes.
So, our athletes in China didn’t bother with Heart Rate Variability (HRV), unless their program was/is almost fully controlled by their western coach, and there’s a few. And our junior athletes in Australia didn’t have the chronic training load, or the recovery strategies to handle acute spikes. On the latter, their scholarships were renewed yearly, and if performance outcomes weren’t satisfactory, they were dropped, which put pressure on sports coaches to blast them and see who was left….a strategy that works in China with a population to replace fallen comrades, and a CTL to support them, but not with junior athletes on yearly performance reviews and coaches without an appreciation for the steadier approach.
In some of our cases, building a huge overload can be managed if we already have a high chronic training load and the freedom to recovery properly.
To your training, on and upwards. And thanks for listening.