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Changes in stress and recovery in elite rowers during preparation for the Olympic Games


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: March 2000 - Volume 32 - Issue 3 - pp 676-683
APPLIED SCIENCES: Physical Fitness and Performance

KELLMANN, M., and K-D. GÜNTHER. Changes in stress and recovery in elite rowers during preparation for the Olympic Games. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc., Vol. 32, No. 3, pp. 676–683, 2000.

Purpose: The purpose was to investigate changes in stress and recovery during preparation for the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games.

Methods: Eleven elite rowers of the German National Rowing Team completed four times the Recovery-Stress-Questionnaire for Athletes (RESTQ-Sport). The eight rowers who competed at the Olympic Games filled out the RESTQ-Sport a fifth time, 2 d before the preliminaries.

Results: Trend parameters revealed significant alterations of somatic components of stress (Lack of Engery, Somatic Complaints, Fitness/Injury) and recovery factors (Fitness/Being in Shape) over time that mirrored the average length of daily extensive endurance training sessions. Significant changes in the scales Conflicts/Pressure and Social Relaxation reflected interpersonal processes within the team.

Conclusions: The importance of balancing training stress and recovery for an optimal performance development is highlighted as well as the potential of the RESTQ-Sport for training monitoring.

To avoid overtraining and to optimize performance in sports, physical recovery should be addressed systematically (22). The relationship between stress and performance in competition as well as in everyday life has been well investigated (4,10,30). However, the impact of recovery has received comparatively little attention. Goldberger and Breznitz (4) stated that “a crucial but neglected area in understanding stress concerns the temporal characteristics of recovery from stressful encounters” (p. 5). According to the biopsychological stress model by Janke and Wolffgramm (8), stress is an unspecific reaction-oriented syndrome that is characterized by a deviation from the biological homeostatic state of the organism. Stress is accompanied by emotional symptoms like anxiety and anger, elevated activation in the central and autonomous nervous system, humoral responses, changes in immune functions, and behavioral changes. Stress initiates processes of adaptation and coping. In contrast, recovery is far less precisely defined.

Recovery encompasses active processes of reestablishing psychological and physical resources and states that allow the taxing of these resources again (12,14). Recovery has physiological, subjective as well as action-oriented components. Therefore, a differentiation between physical, mood-related, emotional, behavioral, and social aspects is necessary. Kallus (11) described different features of recovery using a multilevel concept. He postulated recovery to be an individual specific process that occurs over time and depends upon the type and duration of stress. In addition, recovery takes place at different levels of organismic functioning (e.g., physical, psychic, social), and it ends with a psychophysical state of restored efficacy and homeostatic balance. Empirical evidence suggests that recovery is a sensitive process that can easily be disturbed or prevented (13).

In sports, an interaction of stress and recovery has been shown that depends upon the respective activity (21,22). Suitable changes in training volume/intensity and restitution in daily practice that include a temporary short-term fatigue and exertion followed by recovery lead to a long-term performance enhancement (32). Optimal performance is only achievable if athletes are able to recover after competition and optimally balance training stress and adequate recovery (36). The authors pointed out that “too often the recovery element is overlooked as an essential aspect of any training regime” (36, p. 57). As a result of inadequate recovery (deficit and/or disturbances of recovery) psychological and physical consequences such as overtraining and burnout may occur (25,32). Therefore, sufficient recovery during phases of intensive training is needed to prevent athletes from overtraining (7,33).

According to Morgan and colleagues (27), this involves a dynamic, intensive process that is approached in a deliberate and planned manner. Another term that has been used interchangeably with overtraining is staleness. Morgan et al. (27) have made an important distinction between these two similar concepts. Whereas overtraining reflects a dynamic process, staleness is an undesirable outcome of overtraining characterized by an inability to train at customary levels, and sometimes accompanied by symptoms like drowsiness, apathy, irritability, fatigue, anxiety, confusion, disturbances in sleep, and clinical depression. One goal of research on overtraining and staleness is to determine indicators that sensitively predict such a negative development (33).

So far, respective research has addressed the relationship of overtraining and mood. This research is mostly based on the Profile of Mood States (POMS; 24). Morgan et al. (27) reported mood changes in swimmers during the season. Early in the season, swimmers displayed the iceberg-profile (26,28), a profile indicative of positive mental health that is associated with successful athletic performance. During overtraining, mood disturbances significantly increased and were accompanied by a profile reflecting diminished mental health. After the training stimulus was significantly reduced, the swimmers again exhibited the original iceberg-profile. More recently, the existence of a dose-response relationship was demonstrated between training volume and mood disturbances (33). Increases in training volume parallel corresponding elevations in mood disturbance (e.g., greater anger, depression, tension, fatigue, and less vigor and well-being). Mood improvements occur if the training volume is reduced (27,29,31,34). Morgan and colleagues (27) recommend that the symptoms associated with overtraining and staleness should be monitored continuously during the course of athletic training so that training volumes can be adjusted as soon as negative symptoms begin to appear.

One approach to monitor training in elite sports is the measurement of the athletes’ view of stress and recovery at the same time and to examine the balance/imbalance between these two aspects (18). Restricting the analysis to the stress dimension alone is insufficient, especially in high-performance areas, as the management of training intensity and volume is tightly linked to outstanding performance. The recovery-stress state indicates the extent to which someone is physically and/or mentally stressed as well as whether or not the person is capable of using individual strategies for recovery and which strategies are used. From the perspective of a biopsychological stress model (8), recovery and stress should be treated using a multilevel approach, dealing with psychological, emotional, cognitive behavioral/performance, and social aspects of the problem, considering these aspects both separately and together. The systematic inclusion of recovery and stress scales in the Recovery-Stress-Questionnaire (11) provides the opportunity to demonstrate that both aspects are related to different states of a person.

Because recovery cannot merely be characterized as lack of stress but also as an active individualized process to reestablish psychological and physical resources, the use of the POMS, which is the most frequently used measure, may be insufficient to explore recovery processes. The POMS was initially developed as an economical method of identifying and assessing transient, fluctuating affective states (24). Consequently, the POMS only vaguely reflect recovery processes. A more detailed assessment of these processes is needed to systematically develop training plans that combine intensive training and recovery in the form of the dynamic, intensive processes demanded. In their review “Overtraining and Recovery,” Kenttä and Hassmén (20) stated that the Recovery-Stress-Questionnaire is one of the few psychometric instruments that “attempts to address the full complexities of stress and recovery” (p. 12). Therefore, in this study the state of stress and recovery in elite rowers during high-altitude preparation camp for the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games was monitored. One purpose of this study was to identify and examine the dose-response relationship between training volume and the recovery-stress state perceived by the German rowers during preparation for the Olympic Games.

Institut für Sportwissenschaft, Universität Potsdam, 14469 Potsdam, GERMANY; and Deutscher Ruderverband, 30189 Hannover, GERMANY

Submitted for publication October 1998.

Accepted for publication May 1999.

Address for correspondence: Dr. Michael Kellmann, Institut für Sportwissenschaft, Universität Potsdam, Am Neuen Palais 10, 14469 Potsdam, Germany. E-mail:;

©2000The American College of Sports Medicine