The Whiteboard Sessions: Avoid burn-out

Written by Morné Nortier (Morné)

Posted in :Original Content on 21 Oct 2008 at 12:08

We are nearing the end of yet another season, and after the Currie Cup final our top players will embark on yet another end-of-year tour with a gruelling schedule awaiting them next year where player burn-out becomes a risk again.

It is not a new topic and contrary to popular belief, it is not only limited to top, professional athletes either.

The purpose of the Whiteboard Sessions is not only to help you understand issues better, but also possibly to help you with your own training schedule and performance even if it is just social through systems I have been introduced to (not invented over a beer) in the past.

There are many things which contributes to burn-out or athletes not performing at their peak when it really counts. Also it is quite important in a contact sport like rugby where injuries are part and parcel of the sport.

The idea for any athlete or coach, at any level to adopt strategies and methods to limit risk, and in this case the risk of player burn-out, underperformance and injury.

Traditional training principles usually covers things we all already know. Things like intensity, frequency, periodisation and overload are all common in these theories and applications, but the one I want to discuss is ‘Dose-Response’ training.

It is best described in an analogy where when someone is sick, he will go to a doctor, the doctor will prescribe him medicine and the medicine will come with instructions on how to use and for how long.

The ‘Dose’ will be; ”Take 2 tablets twice a day for 5 days”. Now just in this you already have intensity, frequency and duration (some training principles). Now assuming the diagnosis and ‘Dose’ is right, the response (result) is you are cured from whatever you suffered from.

If you however deviate from the dose, only partial treatment is achieved and similarly, if you overdose there are other dangers that come into play – the ‘Dose-Response’ theory works in the same way.

The athlete is unfit, that is the ‘illness’. Training is the dose and performing at their or your potential is the response.

Now of course practically you need to assess your fitness and performance levels to ensure you are not ‘overdosing’ or training too little to achieve your desired results. This is more difficult to assess and will also differ from athlete to athlete as some might take longer to recover or rest than others, but can easily be judged or assessed if you keep a complete record of your training schedule and improvements as you go along.

Certain athletes will also put more emphasis on certain aspects of their body in respect to their position or characteristics of their sport and/or role in a team like a rugby team, so it is vital that you set benchmarks for yourself which is achievable, but also challenging.

(Position specific benchmarks for pro-rugby players is available on request through Sharksworld admin)

Most importantly however is that you keep a detailed record of your training and performance over the period of your program.

Of course in setting goals you will need to ask yourself a couple of questions before you work out your schedule. Questions like these might include;

• If this is my training schedule over the next couple of months, what level of performance could I expect to achieve at that time?

• What training do I need to undertake to achieve a certain level of performance by a certain time?

• I need to peak on a certain date in the future. How should I plan my training to achieve this result?

• I have several competitions on various dates, how should I plan my training so as not to unduly compromise performance at any one of them?

• This has been my training schedule over the last several months. What will happen if I begin tapering now?

• In order to obtain optimum performance on a certain future date, when would be the best time to train hard, and when would it be wasteful?

Of course knowing what to do is quite difficult. Just saying I want to run 20km or be able to do 20 pull-up’s is not good enough – you need a more scientific approach and specific measure that has been devised is something called TRIMP (TRaining IMPulse). Here is some of the essential features to implement and follow the ‘Dose-Response’ theory;

• Regular training induces both fitness (which is good for performance) and fatigue (which is bad for performance). Of course, periods of no training cause both fitness and fatigue to decline.

• Good performance occurs when fitness is high and fatigue is low relative to each other.

• Fitness reacts more slowly than fatigue both when you train regularly and when you take a rest period. This, therefore, is the central principle around which an athlete’s training schedule is managed.  Different athletes have different rates, which make things awkward for team training.

• To discern these rates for any individual requires a period of closely monitoring their training dosages and their performance levels. Analysis of the resultant data will yield these rates, but specialist software is required.

• Starting from an unfit state, heavy training initially produces a short-term decline in performance before improvements are seen.

• The time course for thorough adaptation stretches over several months, and a saturation level can be detected in many individuals after about five months.

• For optimal performance, a short period of abstaining from heavy training is essential. We know this as tapering and the resulting improvement we call peaking.

• Bouts of heavy training with longer rest periods between them seem to be better than training a lesser amount every day. Optimal performance is improved and the overtraining risk seems lessened.

• These ideas have been researched and proven in practice, but the effort required is not trivial. They have yet to produce a world champion!

To reach your peak at your desired time requires intense monitoring of training loads to ensure you are not under-prepared or unfit or that you over-extended yourself. The above however will give you a scientific base for monitoring and implementation.

The practical aspects of this should also be very clear. This means that you should;

• Develop a more scientific means of recording the volume of training that you undertake. (Position specific in-season, pre-season and off-season programs can also be requested – ask Rob, he already has one from me – whether he is following it is a different story however… 😉 )

• Keep this accurate and up-to-date.

• Use this to know when it’s been (or needs to be) heavy and know when it’s been (or needs to be) light. (You would usually have two different alternative training sequences or sessions which you could follow each day and depending on how your body recovered you can switch between the two.)

• Use it to plan both training sessions and rest intervals.

• Recognise that you cannot perform optimally week-in week-out.

• Recognise the importance of rest: between training sessions, just prior to competition events, and on occasions through the season.

So there you have it, maybe the ‘Dose-Response’ training method will help you, your team or just a social team you support train and perform better – hey one of you might just become the next Bok coach and its my duty to help you prepare!

**These studies were tested and published by Prof R. Hugh Morton of the Massey University. The ‘Dose-Response’ theory was initially studied for individual athletes but have been adapted to work in team sports like rugby. Additional references available on request.


  • Very interestign article and something I’ve started wading into in the last few weeks as I’ve started running more and more.

    Over-training is real and can seriously hamper performance, in running and on the rugby pitch I would imagine.

    I’ve just finished reading a book by Bruce Fordyce and he also espouses the virtue of trianing in moderation and allowing your body to recover before training hard again.
    Failure to do this inevitably leads to injury, both muscualr and skeletal.

  • Comment 1, posted at 21.10.08 13:00:38 by VinChainSaw Reply
  • Other reads I can recommend Vin;

    Banister, EW. Modeling elite athletic performance. In Physiological testing of the high-performance athlete (2 Edn). Edited by MacDougall, JD, Wenger, HA, Green, HJ. Human Kinetics, Champaign, 1991.

    Busso, T. Variable dose-response relationship between exercise training and performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 35, 1188-1195, 2003. Fitz-Clarke, JR, Morton, RH,

    Banister EW. Optimising athletic performance by influence curves. J Appl Physiol, 71, 1151-1158, 1991. Morton, RH. Modelling training and overtraining. J Sports Sci, 15, 335-340, 1997. Morton, RH, Fitz-Clarke, JR,

    Banister, EW. Modeling human performance in running. J Appl Physiol, 69, 1171-1177, 1990. Taha, T, Thomas, SG. Systems modelling of the relationship between training and performance. Sports Med, 33, 1061-1073, 2003.

  • Comment 2, posted at 21.10.08 13:09:11 by MorneN Reply
  • Eish,vrak busy today, mr admin please mail me this thread as well as the Position specific benchmarks for pro-rugby players .


  • Comment 3, posted at 21.10.08 13:57:03 by PJLD Reply
  • @PJLD (Comment 3) :

    Since its you and you have my addy, you can mail me directly pal.

  • Comment 4, posted at 21.10.08 13:58:56 by MorneN Reply
  • Oh well, I suppose I chose to play rugby for another 2 or so seasons so I might as well get he most from it.

    MorneN, you got some more of those **cough** **cough** pro **cough** **splutter** rugby position specific articles lying around?

  • Comment 5, posted at 21.10.08 16:04:43 by Ollie Reply

  • @Ollie (Comment 5) :

    Haha, sure dude, mail me and we can chat on what you need.

    I already got fat-ass Claytie going on a program so why not hey!?

  • Comment 6, posted at 21.10.08 16:06:56 by MorneN Reply
  • @MorneN (Comment 6) :

    Cool, thanks. We need to talk clubs sometime again as well.

  • Comment 7, posted at 21.10.08 16:09:32 by Ollie Reply

  • @Ollie (Comment 7) :

    Yeah I am slowly getting back into the groove.

  • Comment 8, posted at 21.10.08 16:12:19 by MorneN Reply
  • @MorneN (Comment 6) : 👿
    Im not fat, im chunky!

  • Comment 9, posted at 22.10.08 08:28:54 by PJLD Reply
  • This thread makes me feel guilty 😳

  • Comment 10, posted at 22.10.08 08:50:32 by bryce_in_oz Reply


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