Lovorn, J. L., Bartholomew, J., & McLean, S. P. (2006). Effect of overtraining on psychology, physiology, and biomechanics of collegiate swimmers. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 38(5), Supplement abstract 1547.

This study assessed if a negative affective shift due to overtraining is related to physiological or biomechanical markers. Collegiate swimmers (N = 10) completed a six-days of training during which daily training volume increased 49% over the previous training cycle. Two dimensions of affect, pleasure-displeasure and sleepiness-arousal, were measured daily using the Affect Grid. Biomechanical markers of swimming performance included average stroke rate and speed during the middle 91.5 m portion of a 366 m swim at a self-selected pace completed at the beginning of each workout. Physiological markers of stress, salivary cortisol and alpha-amylase, were collected daily upon waking.

By the training-midpoint, pleasure-displeasure affect and sleepiness-arousal affect were reduced by 14% and 16%, respectively, and self-selected swimming speed was decreased by 4.6%. Speed reduction was not due to changes in stroke rate which remained unchanged suggesting that changes in stroke length were responsible. Neither salivary cortisol nor alpha-amylase levels changed significantly by the training-midpoint. While pleasure-displeasure and sleepiness-arousal affect recovered by the end of the training period, self-selected swimming speed did not.

An isolated period of substantially increased training volume resulted in a suppression of both dimensions of affect, but not physiological markers of stress. The suppression in affect correlates with a slower self-selected swimming speed at the midpoint of training. This suggests that overtraining has negative consequences that appear by the training-midpoint, but that swimmers recover from these effects by the end of overtraining. The athletes were previously aware of the substantial increase in volume associated with overtraining and that this period would be followed by a return to normal training volume. This suggests that the swimmers' expectations could explain the rebound of affective responses to pre-overtraining levels.

An alternative explanation for these results is that Ss were reacting to an unusual excessive overload. A partial pattern of the Stress Adaptation Syndrome (SAS; Selye, 1951) was exhibited. In the early days of adaptation, psychological factors reflected depressed performances (without physiological markers) that usually characterize the Shock Stage of the Alarm Reaction Phase of the SAS. The ensuing recovery of affect, but the depression of performance could be construed to represent the Counter-shock Stage of the Alarm Reaction Phase. This interpretation is feasible if a sudden 49% increase in training volume is experienced as being novel and excessive by the already trained Ss.

Implication. Excessive training overload (overtraining) results in psychological breakdowns/alterations before physiological markers are altered. This "first stage" psychological response should serve as the indication that training demands are excessive.

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