The Overload Principle for Sports Training

The Overload Principle is a basic sports fitness training concept. It means that in order to improve, athletes must continually work harder as they their bodies adjust to existing workouts. Overloading also plays a role in skill learning.

Overloading taps the body’s mechanisms that bring about the desired changes that go hand-in-hand with specificity. Improving cardiovascular fitness involves sustaining submaximal activities for extended periods of time. Increasing strength requires lifting progressively heavier weight loads. The principle applies to duration and volume of training, as well.

For example, if a football player’s goal is to improve upper body strength, he would continue to increase training weight loads in upper body exercises until his goal was achieved.

If the training load was not increased to push him to higher levels of strength, he would show little improvement.

Overload and Sport Skill Learning

Sport skills are learned through a variety of techniques and concepts. It is the quality of practice that counts, rather than quantity and intensity.

Learning movements correctly the first time is ideal. But when learned skills require substantial corrections, overlearning helps.

Overlearning means repeatedly practicing a skill beyond what is required to perform it. Simply, it is a method of overloading learning where quality and quantity are used to overcome errors. Normally, skills are best learned when fatigue does not affect the athlete’s ability to correctly pattern movements.

Tips on Applying the Overload Principle

The following advice is commonly accepted and practiced:

1. Increase loads gradually and progressively. Training loads should become more intense over a period of time, not increased too abruptly or with too much intensity.

2. Test maximums. Through testing, the intensity of training loads can be controlled and monitored.

3. Avoid muscular failure.Burnout sets are not advised for most sports training. It is not necessary to train until muscles fail or the athlete collapses.

4. Allow ample recovery time. Too little recovery over time can cause an overtraining effect. Too much recovery time can cause a detraining effect.

5. Plan and monitor training loads. Design long-range, periodized training programs, test athletes, and evaluate their progress to guide training decisions about overload.

6. Track team and individual progress. Identify general areas where there are common deficits compared to other fitness components and skill qualities. If athletes “run out of gas”, for example, training can be overloaded to improve skilled performances when fatigued.

7. Alternate activities. Organize workouts to allow recovery on some aspects of training while increasing intensity on others. Use periodized planning to link into weekly and daily activities.

8. Coordinate all training activities and schedules. Fitness training loads should be adjusted for technical and tactical activities, travel, competitions, and other factors that could influence how overloading should occur.

The Overload Principle must work in concert with other Sports Training Principles:

The Balance Principle

The Individualization Principle

The Transfer Principle

The Specificity Principle

The Recovery Principle

The Reversibility Principle

The Variation Principle

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