Considering the audience for the following topic and its importance for both coaches and athletes, we will explore the phenomenon of sports training. We will do this by looking at how changes occur in the body in response to stimuli and also in terms of the improvements that are lost when the stimulus stops or is inadequate.
Scientifically, athletic training is defined as “the systematic and deliberate activation of muscles to improve performance through morphological (structural) and functional adaptations” (Hollmann 1990). Therefore, it is considered training when muscles are activated. Although nutrition and eating habits can influence training success, muscle development, and, consequently, performance in competition, they are not considered part of training. However, mental training does induce muscle activity, so it fits the above definition and will be considered a form of training.
Performance in competition depends on several key components divided into 3 main classes (Table 1):
A Matter of Perspective:
A coach aiming to prepare an athlete for high-level competition must ensure that all these components are emphasized in the training plan. Despite having a high level of physical conditioning, a swimmer who cannot control or handle competitive pressure will never reach their maximum performance potential or fully utilize their physical capacity.
What Happens if We Don’t Have This Type of Athlete under Our Responsibility?
This is an interesting question that leads us to consider several important factors:
• Family life.
• Work-related stress.
• Bad habits.
• Social context.
• Economic resources.
• And others.
In some way, if we cannot balance these and other aspects related to our environment, we may misinterpret what is happening and perhaps not fully understand it. Often, the simplest answer lies in simplicity.
Despite having a high level of physical conditioning, a swimmer who cannot control or handle competitive pressure will never reach their maximum performance potential or fully utilize their physical capacity.
A healthy human body adapts to the stimuli provided by the environment, and this adaptation is essential for survival. It involves modifying the body’s responses and increasing its capacity to perform work in a challenging context. To illustrate this, let’s consider someone traveling to La Paz, Bolivia, located at an altitude of 12,000 feet above sea level. Initially, they will experience difficulties breathing and have problems even with light activities. However, after a few days, their body will adapt to this extreme altitude, and, after a period of adaptation, they will be able to resume almost normal activity. Similarly, when one travels to a country with a “warmer” climate, it’s natural to feel discomfort in the early days. But over time, the heat becomes tolerable, and discomfort decreases because a healthy human body always adapts to continuous stress.
Similarly, a body that is regularly exposed to a consistent level of exercise, after a period of adaptation, acquires the ability to handle heavier workloads and, as a result, can perform better in competition. This adaptation phenomenon follows the “principle of supercompensation,” which consists of 4 distinctive phases:
During this phase, the swimmer completes a large volume of training, becomes fatigued, and their physical performance decreases (downward curve).
The recovery phase, known as very low-intensity training (regeneration training or active rest) and rest between training sessions, allows physical performance to return to the initial level (the curve’s increase corresponds to compensation for hard work).
This phase allows several biological adaptations to occur, such as:
I. Normalization of the cellular environment: When you engage in intense exercise, your body produces waste products that can affect the environment inside your cells. During the recovery phase, your body works to eliminate these waste products, restore pH values (an acidity indicator) to normal, and repair any damage to cellular structures. This ensures that your cells are in a healthy state and ready for the next effort.
II. Recovery of neuromuscular stimulation processes: When you are tired, your muscles may not respond well to nerve signals telling them what to do. During the recovery phase, your muscles are restored and become receptive to these signals again. This means they can contract and work efficiently once more.
III. Restoration of enzyme and hormone concentration and activity: Your body uses enzymes and hormones for many important functions, such as metabolism and growth regulation. During recovery, your body works to restore the proper concentration and activity of these chemicals. This ensures that all bodily functions return to normal.
IV. Replenishment of energy sources: When you exercise, you use energy stored in the form of glycogen and other fuel sources. During the recovery phase, your body replenishes these energy sources so that you are ready for the next effort. This is important for maintaining endurance and physical performance.
The super-compensation phase involves an increase in physical performance above the initial level. The swimmer can now handle the same workload as before with less effort or a more intense workload with the same ease.
If training is not continued, the improvement in physical capacity will gradually be lost.
Without going into too much detail due to the extensive nature of the topic, we know, through theory and practice, that swimmers accustomed to high work volumes often perform better with a certain degree of fatigue. On the other hand, athletes focused on speed, requiring precision, finesse, and coordination in a short period (power), need more pronounced periods of rest and lower, more intense volumes. The key lies in understanding the concepts of chronic load, acute load, and stress balance, which have opened our eyes to new possibilities for training our athletes.
Chronic Load (Blue):
This term refers to the amount of training an athlete performs over an extended period, such as weeks or months. Imagine it as a long-term average of how much work an athlete has done. If a swimmer is used to doing a lot of exercise for a long time, their body adapts and becomes more resilient. This means they can handle fatigue better and perform well even when tired.
Acute Load (Pink):
This is the amount of training an athlete does in a short period, such as in a single day or a week. It’s like the intense work you do in a specific training session. If a swimmer has an intense training period for a few days, they may temporarily feel more tired, but if done correctly, their body will recover and their performance will improve.
Stress Balance (Yellow):
Imagine that your body is like a balance scale. On one side, you have the stress of training (acute load) that makes you feel tired. On the other side, you have the adaptation to that stress (chronic load) that makes you stronger. Stress balance means finding the right amount of intense training and rest for your body to adapt and improve performance without getting exhausted.
In the graph, we present a typical example of an aerobic development series for long-distance and middle-distance runners. It is clear that, at the beginning of the season, the routine consists of 10 repetitions of 400 meters with 30-second rests. Under conditions of fatigue (negative TSB), the average time per repetition is 4 minutes and 40 seconds, which represents a sustained effort 30 seconds above the athlete’s personal best in this distance. This reflects that the swimmer has not yet fully adapted to the most recent training.
At the beginning of the following mesocycle, the series is repeated and a slightly more positive TSB is observed, despite the high stress levels. An improvement of 2 seconds per repetition is noted, indicating progressive adaptation and cumulative super-compensation. Towards the end of the load cycle, where volume and intensity are increased, the series shows a significant improvement of 8 seconds on average per repetition, reflecting an optimal balance between ATL, CTL, and TSB.
We know, through theory and practice, that swimmers accustomed to high work volumes often perform better with a certain degree of fatigue.
It is important to consider the following aspects:
- Higher fatigue (ATL) usually correlates with a lower TSB, indicating a generally inversely proportional relationship.
- With a higher assimilated load (CTL), and despite high stress levels, the swimmer is capable of maintaining higher quality and quantity power production. This contradicts the common intuition that suggests that to achieve good performance, one needs to be completely rested.
In summary, athletes need to find a balance between hard work and rest. The amount and intensity of training over time (chronic load) and at specific times (acute load) must be balanced so that the body can adapt and improve its performance. In other words, it’s like finding the perfect recipe for the body to become stronger and faster without burning out!