In my position as a strength and conditioning coach in professional baseball, I am often asked for extra work by players looking to achieve an edge. I understand their requests, as baseball history is littered with stories of successful MLB players who ran the extra miles, did the extra reps in the weight room, and pushed themselves to their limits in order to make the big leagues. Extra work in baseball is a piece of the culture, particularly for those players who love and dedicate themselves to the game above all else.
Extra work is not a concept unique to baseball. Many college athletes seek to perform additional workouts for a multitude of reasons, including but not limited to vanity and improving perceived weaknesses. Additionally, many successful strength and conditioning coaches likely performed their own versions of extra work throughout their careers. Most worked for free in order to gain experience, volunteered to take on more responsibilities, sacrificed personal time to improve their programs and seek out continuing education, and undertook activities that proved to be their own equivalents of extra work. With this in mind, I cannot help but identify with players who seek to perform extra work. That said, extra work can be a double-edged sword and one must be aware of the pitfalls in order to maximize potential benefits.
This will be the first in a series of posts outlining the potential pitfalls and benefits of extra workouts, as well as ideas on their implementation. For the purpose of this series, extra workouts are supplementary workouts that are performed in addition to the regularly programmed team training.
Pitfalls: Fitness and Fatigue. Players engaging in random extra work can sabotage their results from planned training. If the volume of training is too great in a program, athletes can exceed their ability to recover, leading to performance decrements as fatigue increases.
Preparedness accounts for all physical components related to an athlete’s performance at his/her sport overall (think preparedness to play his/her sport). It includes a number of current and historical factors related to their training, practice, sport, and general health histories. Readiness accounts for the more acute factors that can affect an athlete’s performance on a given day. This includes recovery, nutrition, recent injury, etc. (think readiness to play that day).1 These will be concepts that we return to in this and subsequent posts.
The two-factor theory of training provides fitness and fatigue as the two components of athletes’ readiness and preparedness.2 When a workout occurs, fatigue detracts from readiness for a period of time. The length of this period of lowered readiness and the magnitude of reduced readiness depends on how high the workout load was. In simple terms, harder and/or longer training sessions will impose higher levels of fatigue on the athlete. Higher levels of fatigue will negatively affect the athlete’s ability to perform on a given day (readiness) for a longer period of time. As the athlete recovers from the workout, fatigue will dissipate, thereby improving readiness. As the athlete’s body adapts to that stress, the athlete will make gains in fitness, and therefore, preparedness.
A good strength coach accounts for the load of training sessions by planning periods of recovery. This planning ensures that athletes are loaded sufficiently in order to eventually gain fitness and improve preparedness while spending the least amount of time in a fatigued state (a period of decreased readiness). This is especially important in team sports like baseball, where games occur almost every day and athletes cannot afford to have their daily readiness negatively affected too much, for too long.
Many athletes subscribe to the harder is better mantra, even with extra workouts. Athletes can drive themselves into a state of chronic fatigue through extra workouts if the workouts are of too high of a load or performed at inappropriate periods within the training cycle and season. Chronic fatigue means a chronic reduction in readiness. This frequently leads to even more extra work being performed in order to “correct” athletes’ decrease in perceived “fitness” (what is really low readiness). This cycle often continues until a period of forced rest occurs, typically through injury. Athletes who possess the requisite levels of preparedness are labeled as “unfit” (low preparedness) when they are actually overly fatigued (low readiness).
Consider Chronic and Acute Workloads. If an athlete is pushing for extra work due to a perceived decline in fitness, it is important to examine the athlete’s typical total training, practice, and game loads (chronic workload). If a player is suddenly performing a higher workload than they are accustomed to (higher acute workload), this perception of low fitness may simply be a fatigue issue. Prescribing extra work for this player would further reduce their readiness and make them appear less fit. The right tactic in this case, would be to reduce one of the other variables to account for additional volume or to simply explain that it may take time for the athlete to adapt to the higher loads imposed upon them.
On the other side of the coin, an athlete may have a reduction in chronic workload. If unaddressed, this reduction in chronic workload could lead to a reduction in preparedness. An acute drop in workload would temporarily improve readiness, as the athlete should have less fatigue in comparison to his/her ability to recover. However, chronic under loading would result a reduction in preparedness if the athlete was later called upon to return to his/her previous volume of work. Let’s use an example from baseball. If an everyday player is benched for a few weeks, he will perform less total work if his practice and training loads remain the same as when he was playing every day. At some point, his preparedness to perform the previous higher workload would decline unless additional work is added. In this case, extra work could be beneficial. Extra work would allow the player to maintain a similar chronic workload to that which he is accustomed to and therefore maintain his current level of preparedness.
While this post barely scrapes the surface of fatigue issues with extra work, I hope that it sparks some thought on whether extra work may or may not be appropriate for an athlete.
- Schmitt, Eric, Understand the Preparedness-Readiness Curve, p. 2
- Zatsiorsky, V. M., & Kraemer, W. J., Science and Practice of Strength Training(2nd ed.), p. 11*
- *Author’s note: Zatsiorsky and Kraemer only use preparedness when defining Two Factor Theory. Contextually and with specificity in mind, this also includes readiness in this post.
Max Torres, M.Ed., CSCS is a Physical Performance Coach for the Colorado Rockies Baseball Club, where he develops and implements the Rockies’ Physical Performance program at the Rockies’ Baseball Academy in the Dominican Republic. If you enjoyed this article be sure to check out his blog at https://ironandinference