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Incorporating One Week of Planned Overreaching into the Training Program of Weightlifters

Pistilli, Emidio E PhD1 ; Kaminsky, David E PhD2 ; Totten, Leo M MS3; Miller, David R4

Strength and Conditioning Journal: December 2008 - Volume 30 - Issue 6 - p 39-44
doi: 10.1519/SSC.0b013e31818ee78c
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SHORT-TERM PLANNED OVERREACHING CAN BE AN EFFECTIVE TRAINING STIMULUS IN EXPERIENCED WEIGHTLIFTERS TO PROMOTE GAINS IN STRENGTH AND POWER. HOWEVER, TRAINING VARIABLE MANIPULATION IS VITAL TO ENSURE ATHLETES RECOVER AND DO NOT ENTER A STATE OF OVERTRAINING AFTER THE OVERREACHING STIMULUS. THIS ARTICLE DESCRIBES A WEEK OF WEIGHTLIFTING-SPECIFIC TRAINING DESIGNED TO PROMOTE A STATE OF SHORT-TERM OVERREACHING IN A GROUP OF EXPERIENCED WEIGHTLIFTERS. TRAINING VARIABLES (I.E., VOLUME LOAD, SETS, REPETITIONS, NUMBER OF WORKOUTS) ARE PRESENTED, ALONG WITH THE TRAINING VARIABLES FROM A WEEK OF PREPARATORY PHASE TRAINING AND A TAPER WEEK OF TRAINING, TO COMPARE THE DRAMATIC INCREASES IN TRAINING PERFORMED DURING THE PLANNED OVERREACHING STIMULUS.

1Department of Physiology and Pennsylvania Muscle Institute University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia; Pennsylvania; 2AlphaBioCom, Radnor, Pennsylvania; 3Werksan Barbells, Moorestown, New Jersey; 4East Coast Gold Weightlifting, Moorestown, New Jersey

Emidio E. Pistilliis a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Physiology and the Pennsylvania Muscle Institute at the University of Pennsylvania.

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David E. Kaminskyis currently a medical writer for a scientific and medicalcommunications agency in the Philadelphia area.

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Leo M. Tottenis a Senior International Coach with USA Weightlifting and the head coach of the East Coast Gold weightlifting team.

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David R. Milleris a Regional Coach with USA Weightlifting and the Executive Vice-President of the East Coast Gold weightlifting team.

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INTRODUCTION

The sport of weightlifting requires training methods that elicit high power production during the execution of the snatch and clean and jerk. Weightlifting coaches can use the principles of periodized training to plan and organize fluctuations in volume load (weight × sets × repetitions) and training intensity (percentage of 1 repetition maximum) to elicit gains in qualities such as strength, power, and rate of force development (4,10-12). During the course of training, planned periods of deliberate increases in volume load and/or training intensity can result in a delayed increase in performance after a subsequent reduction in volume and intensity (3). These periods of reduced volume load and/or training intensity must be planned appropriately to avoid causing symptoms of overtraining.

The purposes of this paper are 2-fold: 1) to characterize the training variables (i.e., volume load, training intensity, sets, repetitions, number of workouts) that took place during a 1-week weightlifting camp designed to promote a short-term period of overreaching; and 2) to compare the training variables from a “normal” training week to what is recommended during a short-term overreaching period and a taper week. Our comparisons will point out the dramatic increases and subsequent decreases in training variables that are recommended to be performed during and after the overreaching stimulus and aid in the implementation of this type of training into the periodization of weightlifters.

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PERIODIZATION OF TRAINING AND OVERREACHING VERSUS OVERTRAINING

In simplistic terms, periodization can be defined as the planned manipulation of training variables over time, with the goals being to “peak” an athlete for competition, minimize fatigue, and prevent accommodation to training and overtraining (1,14,19). Periodization theory states that training is broken down into blocks of time (microcycle, mesocycle, macrocycle) with discrete training goals for each block (21). Training variables are manipulated in these blocks, such that periods of high volume load and low volume load occur in a cyclic fashion (14). An example of this is the strength training model presented by Stone et al. (19). In this model, training is broken down into 4 basic phases with targeted goals for volume load, intensity, total sets, total repetitions, and the number of training sessions. As the athlete progresses through the hypertrophy, basic strength, strength/power, and peaking phases, volume load is reduced whereas training intensity is increased to prepare for the competition. These fluctuations in volume load and training intensity allow for recovery of one phase of training as the athlete enters the next phase.

Periodization of training is based on the general adaptation syndrome (GAS), originally presented by Selye (16). Selye described 3 phases: the alarm stage, the resistance stage, and the exhaustion stage (2,18,19). During the alarm stage, the initial response to the stimulus is to recognize the stressor and mobilize the body's processes to deal with the stress. In the resistance stage, the body adapts to the stresses and improves its capacity to deal with the stress. The final stage, exhaustion, occurs if the stress becomes intolerable and the body is not able to adapt. Exercise training that results in positive adaptations is analogous to the resistance stage of the GAS, in which the body is able to adapt effectively to the stress of the exercise. In a similar fashion, periods of extreme exercise intensity or chronic periods of increased volume load without adequate rest can result in maladaptation and be analogous to the exhaustion stage of the GAS.

The phenomenon of overtraining has been the subject of considerable research (5,17,18) and is said to exist along a continuum (17). Overtraining can be defined as any increase in volume load and/or intensity of exercise training in which adaptation does not occur and results in long-term performance decrements (5,6,18). A milder form of overtraining, known as overreaching, can occur on a short-term basis in which athletes can easily recover over the course of a few days of reduced training (5,6). Along the continuum, overreaching can be further broken down into functional overreaching and nonfunctional overreaching. Functional overreaching can be used as a training stimulus to elicit improvements in performance (5,17,18) if athletes are able to adapt to the increased training. In contrast, nonfunctional overreaching occurs when athletes cannot adapt to the training load and the first signs of overtraining can appear.

The signs and symptoms of overtraining and overreaching have been reviewed previously (18) and can include psychological factors, body composition changes, changes in hormonal levels, and decreases in performance. Daily manipulations in training variables can elicit changes either toward or away from a state of overtraining. It is often very difficult to diagnose whether an athlete is experiencing a bout of fatigue from an increase in training or progressing toward a state of overtraining. The key is that an athlete should be able to recover from mild, functional overreaching in a few days when volume load is reduced, whereas athletes that are near to or currently experiencing overtraining will take weeks to months to fully recover (5,18).

If training and recovery periods have been planned correctly, a delayed increase in performance will manifest during these recovery periods. The fitness-fatigue model illustrates this effect (3). After periods of increased training, both fitness and fatigue aftereffects are maximized. However, the duration of the fatigue effects can be minimized while the fitness effects can be maintained. Upon resumption of “normal” training, athletes will be able to take advantage of the increase in fitness to train at a higher level. This delayed training effect should manifest within approximately 2-5 weeks upon resumption of normal training (14). Thus, athletes can maximize fitness gains through structured increases in volume load and/or training intensity, followed by a taper period to minimize fatigue after-effects.

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PREVIOUS RESEARCH ON SHORT-TERM OVERREACHING

Studies have been performed in experienced weightlifters to determine the effects of planned periods of overreaching. The training programs used in these studies consisted of 2-4 workouts per day, a 100-200% increase in volume load, and exercise intensities of between 70% and 100% (9,17,20). In a study by Warren et al. (20), performance measures as well as blood indicators of overwork (i.e., overreaching) were examined in a group of elite junior weightlifters after 7 days of a high-volume load training camp. No immediate detrimental effects of increased volume load on subsequent weightlifting performance were observed in these junior weightlifters' snatch performance after 7 days of overreaching. In addition, the changes in blood lactate and ammonia after 7 days of high-volume training also suggested no negative effect of training in the time immediately after the 7-day training period.

In a follow-up study, Fry et al. (9) analyzed whether amino acid supplementation altered hormonal and performance measures in a similar 7-day overreaching training protocol. The results of this study support the previous study by Warren et al. (20), in that weightlifting performance was not altered after the increased volume of training. Furthermore, amino acid supplementation had no impact on performance, blood hormones (testosterone, growth hormone, cortisol), or blood lactate. Taken together, these data suggest that short periods of overreaching do not negatively affect weightlifting performance of experienced weightlifters in the period immediately after the stimulus.

In a study by Stone and Fry (17) in experienced weightlifters, a test battery was administered before the start of a week of overreaching, immediately after the overreaching stimulus, and 2 weeks after the completion of the overreaching stimulus. The test battery consisted of performance measures, including snatch performance and vertical jump height; physiological measures, including heart rate and blood pressure; and blood measures, including hormones, lactate, glucose, and free fatty acids. Interestingly, athletes showed an improvement in performance measures immediately after the overreaching week and 2 weeks after its completion, indicating a positive adaptation to the training stimulus. Resting heart rate and blood lactate were both lower at each test compared with the initial test. Positive changes also were noted in testosterone and the testosterone/cortisol ratio (T/C). The T/C has been used as a measure of the balance between anabolic and catabolic states (7), and an increase in this ratio would indicate a positive anabolic state. In summary, the test battery performed in this group of experienced weightlifters indicated a positive adaptation to the increased training, both in performance and in physiology, which persisted for 2 weeks after the overreaching stimulus. This occurred despite the authors' stating that the training program was specifically designed to induce overreaching.

Previous exposure to periods of increased training volume seems to reduce the likelihood of detrimental effects in experienced weightlifters. Fry et al. (8) examined the effects of an overreaching stimulus in a group of weightlifters before and after 1 year of training, using similar methodology as their previous study (9). Interestingly, when the overreaching stimulus was performed by the weightlifters at the end of a year of training, testosterone concentrations were increased immediately after the test. This result was in contrast to reduced testosterone concentrations immediately after the test session that took place before the year of training. Although strength increased as a result of the year of training, strength was not altered immediately after the overreaching stimulus. The positive adaptation observed in the weightlifters may be a product of the weightlifting-specific training performed by these athletes as well as having experienced the overreaching stimulus previously. In contrast, when resistance-trained men performed a 4-week period of exercise to induce short-term overreaching, muscular strength and power were reduced at the end of the stimulus (15). In summary, short-term overreaching performed by experienced weightlifters can lead to positive adaptations in anabolic hormones (8) as well as subsequent strength and performance (17) and, if properly planned, can be an effective training stimulus.

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ONE WEEK OF OVERREACHING

To induce a state of short-term overreaching, the volume load, training intensity, or both must be increased above that which the athlete normally experiences. In the following example used by members of a weightlifting team, volume load was increased for 1 week such that it was approximately 100% greater than the volume typically experienced during normal training. Volume load was increased by performing 2-3 separate workouts each day, composed of a large number of maximal lifts in the snatch and clean and jerk exercises. The number of workouts performed each day was adjusted to allow the athletes to recover for the following days' training schedule. Note that a total of 15 individual workouts were performed during the course of 1 week of training, with 2 workouts performed on days 1, 4, and 6 of the camp, and 3 workouts performed on days 2, 3, and 5 of the camp. In general, more maximal snatch and clean and jerk-related lifts were performed on the days in which 2 successive workouts were performed and more strength-related lifts were performed on the days in which 3 workouts were performed.

Volume load increased each of the first 3 days of the training camp, reaching a maximal level at the completion of day 3 (Figure 1A). After day 3, volume load was decreased daily and reached a minimal level at day 6 of training. Two components of volume load, the number of sets and repetitions, followed a similar pattern of change throughout the week. In both cases, the maximal numbers of sets and repetitions were reached at day 3 and were subsequently reduced until day 6 of training (Figure 1B and 1C). An example of the set and repetition schemes used for the competition lifts and strength lifts are presented in Table 1.

Table 1

Table 1

Figure 1

Figure 1

The number of maximal snatch and clean and jerk-related lifts performed throughout the week of overreaching was inversely related to the values for volume load (Figure 1D). The largest number of these maximal lifts was performed on day one of training. These values decreased for days 2 and 3 of training, coinciding with the large increases in volume load performed on those same days. The number of maximal lifts increased slightly toward the end of the training week but still never reached the values performed on Day 1. These fluctuations in training intensity were deliberately planned. Maximal lifts in the snatch and clean and jerk require precise technique, which would be compromised if these lifts were performed during training sessions in which volume load was increased.

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“NORMAL” WEEK OF TRAINING VERSUS ONE WEEK OF OVERREACHING

We have previously presented an 8-week mesocycle performed by members of a weightlifting team in preparation for a national level competition (13). Training variables, including volume load, total number of sets, total number of repetitions, and relative intensity fluctuated on a weekly basis. Training variables were at their maximal levels at the start of the mesocycle, 8 weeks before the competition. Conversely, these training variables were at their lowest levels during the week immediately before the competition. The percentage of strength-related repetitions (i.e., squat, pull) also were reduced throughout the mesocycle, with the number of snatch and clean and jerk-related repetitions and training intensity reaching their maximum as the competition neared.

As a comparison, the average values for the training variables performed 8 weeks before a competition were significantly lower than the values attained during the 1 week of planned overreaching. Specifically, during the 1 week of planned overreaching, volume load was 94% greater, the number of sets performed was 200% greater, the number of repetitions performed was 55% greater, and the number of total workouts performed was 300% greater (Figure 2A-2D). The increase in volume load during the training camp was accomplished by the performance of a large number of maximal lifts. Of the 2 training variables that are used to derive volume load, the increase in the number of sets performed contributed greatly to this increase, compared with the 55% increase in repetitions. This increase in volume load should produce gains in strength and overall fitness that should be observable 2-5 weeks upon the resumption of normal training (17).

Figure 2

Figure 2

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TAPER/REST PERIOD VS. ONE-WEEK OF OVERREACHING

For an athlete to fully realize the fitness aftereffects of a drastic increase in volume load, planned periods of reduced work must be incorporated into the training plan. When comparing the training variables from the week of normal training to the week immediately after the overreaching stimulus, the values were drastically reduced. Specifically, volume load was 74% less, the total number of sets performed was 52% less, the total number of repetitions performed was 78% less, and the total number of workouts performed was 50% less (Figure 2A-2D). It is possible for athletes to move from the overreaching status to an overtraining state if this recovery period is not planned correctly. In addition to a reduction in the number of workouts and weightlifting-specific exercises, coaches can encourage athletes to take part in other sport activities not related to weightlifting training (i.e., running, stretching, swimming, court sports) in what has been termed active rest (10). The goals of the taper period are to not only allow complete recovery from the stress of training but also allow a psychological break from training so athletes are prepared to begin another mesocycle after the competition.

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CONCLUSIONS

Stone and Fry (17) state that periods of overreaching should last no longer than 1-3 weeks, with an increase in performance occurring approximately 2-5 weeks upon resuming “normal” training. The 1-week overreaching period presented here consisted of an increase in volume load of almost double that normally performed by members of a weightlifting team. Previous reports have demonstrated this type of training resulted in an increase in performance several weeks after a return to normal training levels (17). Thus, short periods of overreaching can be an effective stimulus for performance gains in experienced weightlifters, provided the training program allows for complete recovery from the increased stress of training.

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Keywords:

overtraining; periodization; volume load; weightlifting

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