Beware of simplifying training principles

In sports and medicine, physical explanatory patterns are often used to describe biological or physiological phenomena. In the process, the functionality of body systems should be simplified using specific models. One tries, for example, to explain the biological regulation of the water cycle by means of a toilet flush.

This comparison is still used in many textbooks of physiology. (1) Similar terms in the regulation and control of machines are often used when describing physiological processes. In these contexts, it is assumed that the biological "machines" follow the same principles as an automaton. Sensors and "effectors" are designed to prevent deviation from setpoints. It is therefore assumed that the physiological processes in the body are organized in a similar way to mechanical control systems. This basic understanding can also be found in sports practice and sport science. On this basis, the supercompensation model attempts to explain the training and adjustments. Dennis Sandig and Sebastian Mühlenhoff describe the pitfalls that such an understanding can have. In addition, ideas for a more open understanding of training are presented, on the basis of which you can make your training more variable.

Physical models for training

The measurable regulatory processes have a biological basis throughout. This includes the blood pressure as well as the regulation of the fluid balance. Man has no volitional access to these processes. (2) Nevertheless, these processes can be influenced, there is no fixed or constant state in the human body. The regulatory processes are forms of the living that are not just "are" but "happen." (3) In this context, connections with cybernetics are often made. This includes, for example, the view of a dynamic equilibrium in the context of "adjustments".

The model of supercompensation

Substantial components of the model of supercompensation are based on research that deals experimentally solely with glycogen metabolism in rats. These investigations took place in the 1970s. The results were transferred to the training process in order to be able to describe and explain the connection between the stress and the training effect with the theoretical model of supercompensation. (2) The adaptation processes to the stress stimuli are regarded as development that follows the "laws" of supercompensation expires. As a result of a training stimulus, it is generally assumed that the performance decreases. In the context of recovery and recovery, a higher performance status compared to the starting situation is to be achieved. The performance has improved - in relation to the "original state".
If you set a new training stimulus in the area of ​​increased performance, a lowering should first take place again and - in connection with the restoration of the balance - an increased efficiency should arise. Setting a training stimulus at the right time should use this model to explain an overall increase in performance.
Even negative developments in performance are explained according to this model. In this case, the activation takes place in an unfavorable phase. That is because the recovery of performance is not yet adequate. As a result of the summed load and stress in the non-recovered state, no increased efficiency is achieved. Instead, the performance continues to decrease following the training stimulus. (2) Therefore, it is recommended to have sufficient pause design for the purpose of restoring performance. Experimentally verified and transferred as a general principle to the training theory of this model by Nikolai Yakovlev (1977), whose work was so considered and input into the general training theory.
The principle of supercompensation is based on the idea that a disturbance in the equilibrium state (homeostasis) of the organism is produced by a training stimulus. The reason for the drop in performance after a training stimulus is an imbalance in the body systems. The human functional systems then endeavor to restore a new equilibrium. This explanatory approach to the adaptation process is transferred to metabolic and morphological effects and even to the possible adaptation in the coordinative domain. This highly idealized idea is often used unreflectively as a general explanation for the adaptation processes of the body. This does not take account of the fact that neither the original source nor subsequent empirical investigations allow these conclusions to be drawn. The human body is assumed to have a deliberate response in this model because it is said that "the structure, as the burden re-emerges, before re-exploiting its capacity" as a protective process, seeks to increase capacity beyond the pre-existing basic level. So, the assumption that training is predictable and goal-directed is transferred to the adaptation response of the body.

How useful is such a model?

This model seems especially reassuring, thanks in particular to its simple structuring and logical context. (2) Since its publication at Yakovlev (1977), it has been continuously applied to all aspects of physical training. In addition to physiological and morphological effects, their summed adaptation processes are also described with this model as well as aspects of nutrition and carbohydrate metabolism.
Basically, the transmission of the model to your training as an athlete but difficult, because empirically, it is based solely on studies on rats. (4) Changes in glycogen metabolism were measured and used in the following for modeling. (2) Statements on other physiological areas as well Transferring to the highly complex training process should ensure safety, for which the simplicity of the model as well as the apparent precision and clear weighting in the planning of the athletic training speaks. (5)

Be critical

The representation of the super-compensation should make it clear to you that the next training stimulus should be at the highest point of the supercompensation phase (see Fig. 1). However, if you started the next training too early or too late, your performance would stagnate or, in the worst case, decrease. This simple modeling is also the problem at the same time: The complexity of the biochemical processes in the various adaptation processes is immense. The mutual influence of the processes can lead to a shift in the regeneration and adaptation processes.
The graphics and content of the supercompensation model often give the impression that you, as an athlete, could read an exact training control with regard to time. In addition, a linear relationship of training, recovery and performance is suggested. However, this does not take into account the many different factors that influence your physical adaptation, as well as the fact that within a training group the same training stimulus can ever result in different demands. Differences in the level of training, in the gender, in the conditional conditions within a sport or even genetic dispositions with regard to the distribution of muscle fibers or oxygen uptake are ignored. Basically, therefore, the model of supercompensation is not suitable to represent differentiated considerations of sporting performance or performance development - it simplifies too much! The variables that influence your training are sometimes chaotic and influence each other. In addition, recovery after a load continues asynchronously over periods of varying lengths of time. Although your energy stores are replenished relatively quickly, your neural structures often require a very long time, for example after a marathon, to return to their normal state.
Even though the model of supercompensation is still considered a general and fundamental explanatory approach from which a variety of training methodological measures are derived, increasingly critical statements are made. (5) This applies above all to the uncritical transfer of this modeling to sports training.

Dennis Sandig MA, doctoral student at the University of Saarland; iQ athletics GmbH

Sebastian Mühlenhoff MA, Sports Science Coordinator Hessischer Radfahrer Verband (HRV); iQ athletics GmbH

1. Zimmermann, M. (1997), Bases of Physiological Control Processes, in: RF Schmidt and G. Thews (ed.), Physiology of Man, Berlin: Springer
2. Lange, H. (2007), Optimal Walking. The path to a coherent training concept and its application in practice, Balingen: Spitta Verlag GmbH & Co. KG
3. Condition (2002), Vol. 12, p. 22-25
4. Yakovlev (1977), sports biochemistry, Barth: Leipzig
5. competitive sports (2008), Vol. 38 (2), p. 21-26

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