Fatigue and overreaching: the good markers you have to adopt.


For decades, the myth of the rebound has governed part of the mores of the sports world. This myth suggests overcompensation of performance following a high training load period. Thus, the higher the level of fatigue generated, the greater the progress recorded following recovery would be. On paper, the idea is appealing. In reality, it is better not to stick your hand in it. Explanations.


Strategies for progression in endurance activity are not lacking. Despite this diversity, one common denominator remains the dose-response phenomenon: in reaction to a given training load, a transformation proportional to the initial stress occurs thanks to all the adaptations developed by the body during the recovery phase. Empirically, as we know, each new learning we undertake reinforces this observation. This tends to make the logic of the rebound intuitive…



Over the past few years, a series of scientific studies have been carried out to investigate this myth, focusing on the veracity of the phenomenon of overcompensation. One study in particular just threw a stone in the sand… The protocol in question compared, during 4 weeks of tapering, the evolution of the performances of subjects subjected to a prior overload with that of a control group. This overload period was of three weeks, during which the triathletes (already well trained) pumped up their weekly training volume to 140% of the basic volume (i.e. 21h per week for an athlete initially at 15h, maintaining training intensity and frequency). Meanwhile, the control group maintained its usual training.



At the end of the three weeks of overload, even though severe fatigue was reported by the experimental group as a whole, two responder profiles could be distinguished: some of the participants saw their performance level drop by 2% during the maximum effort test (the “overreached”) while the other party managed as best as it could to maintain its efficiency level (the “tired”). The tapering period which followed then had to clarify the debates.



While a performance test was carried out during each of the four weeks of tapering to be sure not to miss this famous rebound, the much expected overcompensation for the “overreached” did not exceed 1% of the starting level. Worse, this “rebound” was even lower than the performance achieved by the control group, which also benefited from the tapering phase (~1.5%). In reality, the surprise came from the “tired” athletes: although they had experienced the same increase in training volume as the “overreached” athletes, this group showed an improvement in performance level of ~5%. This improvement generally occurred in the second week of tapering before sliding back towards the original level at the end of the protocol.



By dint of protocols – and very complaisant participants – this same research team was able to begin to disentangle the ins and outs of the overreaching process thanks to the measurements made each day of the protocol and each day of the test! In other words, through workouts, some measures foresaw the step by step occurrence of this decrease in performance. These indicators were initiated in the “tired” and exacerbated in the “overreached”, which makes them true regulators/training benchmarks for any endurance sportsman.



As overload sets in, three dimensions can alert to the decadence of the body’s functioning. These dimensions determine the probability of underperformance and are interrelated.

  1. As indicated by the “tired” participants, the first symptoms are first perceptive. The daily feeling is disturbed: the usual tasks seem more difficult, getting active becomes a real challenge.
  2. Push the plug a little more in training and the previous disorders will gradually affect your behavior. You are more irritable, unable to stay focused, less patient, even impulsive and intolerant. In fact, you simply lose your ability to regulate yourself because you lack the nervous resources to regain control. And it’s not over.
  3. By continuing to push yourself during training (or in your personal life!), a global deactivation of the body occurs. In addition to a monster effort to complete an anodine session, the physiology of your body keeps reminding you: your heart rate struggles to rise, the heart rate recovery is in free fall, the technique becomes coarse and the slightest pain torture.



Anticipating such decadence does not require being obsessive about your state of form but strategic. And this, whatever the volume of training, from 5h to 20h / week, because stressors (sport-related, professionals, personal) accumulate and systematize comparable effects on the body. So, if you are not in the perspective of relaxing, remain vigilant at least to key elements: a particular attention paid to your feeling and your heart rate during a known session (ex: a 10x400m at controlled pace) will be largely sufficient. In periods of overload, these landmarks can inform you about the progress of your state of fatigue. Aim for a greater than usual feeling of exertion and a maintained HR (as shown by the “fatigued”). Then cut. No more overload. Time for recovery.


The myth of the rebound is perhaps not so illusory as that. It simply remains to define which parts of yourself to let drift, and on which parts to remain intransigent.