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Can We Overtrain?

Can We Overtrain?

Aviation Division Chief
Directorate of Analysis and Prevention
U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center
Fort Novosel, Alabama

Feedback from Army Aviation’s safety stand-down day this summer noted an increase in training task complexity in support of large-scale combat operations and challenges in training prioritization. These two factors combined could lead to an increase in levels of operational risk as training complexity increases without a corresponding increase in train-up and recovery/retrain time.

The medical community has well documented the pitfalls of overtraining the human body during physical training. The National Institute of Health describes the issue by stating, “Performance increases are achieved through increased training loads. Increased loads are tolerated only through interspersed periods of rest and recovery — training periodization. Overreaching is considered an accumulation of training load that leads to performance decrements requiring days to weeks for recovery. Overreaching followed by appropriate rest can ultimately lead to performance increases. However, if overreaching is extreme and combined with an additional stressor, overtraining syndrome may result.”

As described in the book “Super Thinking” by Gabriel Weinberg and Lauren McCann, the term “deliberate practice” is used to describe how practicing increasingly difficult tasks with consistent real-time feedback is the best way to acquire “expert performance.” This model is very similar to the U.S. Army’s progressive training (crawl, walk, run) doctrinal methodology. Another important concept in the book is “spacing effect.” Spacing effect conceptualizes how learning effects are greater when learning is spaced out over time, rather than doing the same amount on a compressed timeline (cramming).

To really become proficient at something meaningful, repetition is required and, as proficiency increases, the spacing between continuation training can be increased. The concept of spacing effect illustrates the importance of Step 7 (Conduct after action reviews) and Step 8 (Retrain) in the Army’s 8-Step Training Model. Without adequate time before and after training events, units are unable to mitigate risk by first conducting progressive training and then by assimilating lessons learned to increase performance for future training events.

In high operational tempo environments, time becomes precious, and the temptation exists to reduce preparation and recovery time between training events. This results in cramming in preparations just prior to an event and dividing a unit’s concentration between multiple tasks. This multitasking often leads to slow or poor performance. For low-consequence activities, this could be acceptable, but what about high-consequence activities? Recently, safety investigations conducted by the U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center have demonstrated the catastrophic effects of aircrews performing tasks they were not yet fully prepared to safely execute. These were high-consequence/high-concentration activities that led to catastrophic losses.

Army Techniques Publication (ATP) 5-19 (Risk Management) states not to accept unnecessary risk. Unnecessary risk is defined as “any risk that, if taken, will not contribute meaningfully to mission accomplishment or will needlessly endanger lives or resources.” With this in mind, tightly packed training without deliberate progressive training, time allocated to retrain deficient tasks and inadequate time during recovery to conduct after action reviews does not meaningfully contribute to mission accomplishment. Only by avoiding these unnecessary risks can we have the time to focus on the essential elements of aviation risk management as stated in the Commanders Aircrew Training Program manual by ensuring:

  1. Leader training and certification
  2. Leader positioning
  3. Progressive training (crawl, walk, run)
  4. Shared understanding through mission command philosophy
  5. Rigorous pilot in command, flight lead and air mission commander programs

These essential elements help mitigate the increase in training task complexity in support of large-scale combat operations by focusing on the building blocks of unit readiness. They ensure aviation units are ready to conduct tough, realistic training and leader development is conducted to standard under realistic operational environment conditions that are the cornerstone of combat readiness. Or, as ATP 5-19 puts it: “Allowing subordinate commanders more time to plan and conduct risk management at their level increases their ability to identify risk, gather and emplace controls, and ultimately succeed.”

  • 10 December 2023
  • Author: USACRC Editor
  • Number of views: 365
  • Comments: 0
Categories: On-DutyAviation