Dynamics of athletes' health and physical development in long-term training process

PhD, Professor A.K. Talibov1
PhD, Associate Professor N.V. Gushchina2,3
PhD, Associate Professor O.V. Lyashenko2,4
Y.S. Dmitrieva2
1Lesgaft State University of Physical Culture, Sports and Health, Saint Petersburg
2Higher Economics School, National Research University, Saint Petersburg
3North-Western Mechnikov State Medical University, Saint Petersburg
4Saint Petersburg State Institute of Cinematography and Television, Saint Petersburg

Keywords: athletes, training, monitoring, overtraining, arterial pressure

Background. Multiannual surveys and tests in training process are critical for the initiatives to profile individual progresses and find ways to maintain high cardiovascular system functionality to timely track potential disorders and assess their immediate and potential effects on health and competitive performance. Such surveys and tests, however, are difficult enough in many organizational and practical aspects, and this might be the reason for the multiannual surveys being so poorly represented in the relevant scientific literature [1, 3].

Objective of the study was to analyze the health, phsycial progress and competitive performance variations in a multiannual training process.

Methods and structure of the study. Sampled for the study were the 20-38 year old (20, 20-24 and 28-35 year-olds making up 30.5%, 58.3% and 11.2% of the sample, respectively) physically healthy skilled athletes trained on a systemic basis – split up into endurance-intensive Group 1 (running, walking, skiing and swimming sports, n=100); Group 2 (sprint, n=32); and team sports Group 3 (mostly football, n=225). Overtraining effects were diagnosed under the study by instrumental tests including the Holter daily blood pressure tests and echocardiograms. The surveys and tests were launched when the skills and physical fitness levels of the sample were relatively underdeveloped and run every year in the same conditions, training stages and by the same test methods [3].

Results and discussion. Groups 1 and 3 were subject to the longer surveys and tests since the athletic adaptability in the endurance sports is maintained longer at high levels. In the endurance Group 1 swimmers were tested earlier than the others, whilst the middle-distance runners, skiers and marathon runners were the most senior by the end of the surveys and tests.

The competitive performance variability analysis showed the physical and competitive regresses starting in the sport disciplines normally by 26-29 years of age; with a significant share (31.2%) of sprinters, for instance, tested with the individual competitive regresses before 25 years of age – that is not unusual for this highly-intensive sport as demonstrated by some age-specific adaptability studies; with only 3 sprinters tested to maintain high competitiveness till 30-33 years of age. The same premature (before 25 years of age) competitive regresses were diagnosed in half of the swimmers’ subgroup, with neither of the swimmers being able to keep the individual best sport form after 28-30 years of age.

The situation was different for the middle-distance runners, walkers and skiers, with 30% in each subgroup tested with the competitive regresses not sooner than by 30-36 years of age; and only 5.8% of the subgroups were tested with the competitive performance sags prior to 25 years of age. Furthermore, 60% 19% and 5.2% of the footballers were diagnosed with the competitive performance sags by the ages of 27-30, 30 and before 26-27 years, respectively. The individual best competitive performances were found to stay stable for 5-8 years in most of the subgroup (59.7%), with only 18.2% being able to maintain the top form for above 8 years; and with 12.1% of the subgroup being able to keep the best sport form for only 3-4 years.

The shortest top competitive performance lifetime (averaging 4 years for 40% of the sample) was diagnosed for the sprint subgroup. The highest competitive longevities were demonstrated by the runners and walkers (5-12 years, with 67.2% competing for above 6 years), cross-country skiers (5-16 years, with 90% competing for above 6 years), footballers (5-18 years, with 78.6% competing for above 6 years), and swimmers (25% competing for 4-8 years).

On the whole 8% of the sample for the period of survey was tested with a stable uninterrupted competitive progress; 34.6% with the early-stage progress followed by a stable no-growth period; 45.4% of the sample showed stable results for the whole survey period; and 12% of the sample was diagnosed with gradual regresses with time. It should be noted that 16.2% of the sample was tested with the premature regresses unexplainable by the age-specific natural performance sags; and 8.7% of the sample came to regresses apparently due to the irregular trainings i.e. the training process mismanagements rather than some sport-specific issues. In the group tested with the premature competitive performance regresses, at least 23 people were unable to maintain the top sport form due to injuries and chronic (traumatic, inflammatory and degenerative) musculoskeletal disorders caused by minor injuries and/ or overtraining.

The competitive progress variability analysis found overtraining symptoms in 8 people (2.2% of the sample), with 2 cases reported for absolutely healthy individuals – one associated with too fast rise of the training workloads and the other apparently associated with neurasthenia. It should be mentioned that we fixed no one acute overstress for the whole survey period in support of the opinion [1] that only undertrained athletes are exposed to overstresses. Chronic heart overstresses were diagnosed in the study by echocardiograms.

Of special interest for the purposes of the study was the analysis of the repeated burnout cases for the survey period. Burnout was interpreted as the unhealthy individual condition virtually free of clear symptoms of overtraining and diagnosed by short-term apathy, unwillingness to train, decreased stress tolerance, longer time claimed for rehabilitation, and stalled competitive progress if not a regress; with virtually no objectively detectable changes, save for the sagging stress tolerance. Prudent training process individualization normally helps reverse the negative condition for a few days without a special health service [3]. We would consider this condition as the first manifestation of overtraining that needs to be detected as soon as possible to take timely corrective actions.

Tests in the multiannual training period under survey found 16 out of 24 athletes diagnosed with the repeated burnouts suffering from chronic infections aggravated by the competitive stresses and trainings on sick days. In the other cases the burnouts were apparently caused by the excessive workloads beyond the age-specific limits and individual abilities without due rest time in the weekly and yearly training cycles.

The morbidity statistics showed half of the sample (47.5%) being virtually healthy for the whole period under survey or contacting occasional uncomplicated diseases (mostly gastrointestinal and colds) not greatly detrimental to the trainings (42.1%); and only 10.4% of the sample (mostly those with the chronic infections) have been sick relatively often for the period. The diseases were dominated (40.6%) by acute respiratory diseases and flu plus gastrointestinal diseases (12%); with 42.2% of the registered cases attributable to exacerbations of chronic diseases including 20% of chronic respiratory infections (mostly chronic tonsillitis); 10.8% of exacerbated chronic radiculitis and neuritis of peripheral nerves; 11.6% biliary tract/ gastrointestinal diseases (cholecystitis, gastritis, hemorrhoids etc.); and 5% were diagnosed with the cardiovascular diseases caused mostly by overworks with no serious detriment to the working ability.

The health variation analysis showed 29% of the above cases attributable to overloads; 31% to the past inflammations in biliary tract; and causes of 40% of the cases were uncertain. Painful liver syndrome was diagnosed in different training stages mostly in the middle-distance runners (11.2%) and footballers (15%). The sport groups under survey were found equally exposed to injuries and musculoskeletal system diseases, with the only exclusion for swimmers and skiers; and to chronic infections, with the swimmers being more sensitive to the respiratory diseases than the others. On the whole, the long-period health variation analysis found virtually no serious changes in the health standards in the absolute majority of the sample (75.7%), save for some short-term ailments followed by a full recovery of every function.

Health services and disease prevention initiatives (focused mostly on the chronic infections) for the survey period helped improve the health standards, immunity to diseases and physical fitness rates in 15.4% of the sample; and only 8.9% of the sample was diagnosed with some health regresses for the period. The regresses were attributable to the chronic musculoskeletal system diseases (n=12), chronic infections (n=8); physical overloads (n=7, including 5 cases of aggravated health disorders); and the past sport-unrelated ailments.

It should be mentioned that the above health disorders were considered mostly in the context of their negative effects on the competitive performances and accomplishments. As far as the popular health standards are applied, the sample could be qualified virtually healthy and much more physically trained than the non-sporting peers [2]. It may be concluded, therefore, that most of the sample was not diagnosed with any serious health disorders attributable to the multiannual intense trainings and competitive activity.

Conclusion. The sample was mostly tested with physical progress for many years under the study despite the initially high level, with the progress often secured by growth in the muscular mass and strength and respiratory system functionality. The multiannual survey and test data give us the grounds to believe that the high-intensity athletic training systems geared to attain the individual top sport forms for competitive successes – when prudently designed and managed – are no less healthy under the general biological logics as any other systemic physical training system.


  1. Belotserkovsky Z.B., Lyubina B.G., Smolensky A.V., Sagitova V.V. Strukturnye i funktsionalnye osobennosti serdtsa u professionalnykh futbolistov posle prekrascheniya mnogoletney sportivnoy deyatelnosti [Structural and functional characteristics of the heart of professional football players after retirement from long-term sports activity]. Fiziologiya cheloveka [Human physiology].2007, v. 33, no. 4, pp.119-125.
  2. Solodkov A.S. Fizicheskaya rabotosposobnost sportsmena [Athlete's physical performance] lecture. St. Petersburg: [s.n.], 1995. 43 p.
  3. Talibov A.Kh. Funktsionalnaya kardiologiya zdorovogo cheloveka pri adaptatsii k sistematicheskim fizicheskim nagruzkam [Functional cardiology of healthy man when adapting to systematic physical exercises]. Doct. diss. (Biol.). St. Petersburg, 2017. 322 p.

Corresponding author: nadeguahina@rambler.ru


The paper assesses the athletes' fitness level based on the data of lesson observation and biomedical control over elite athletes' training. The study involved 357 physically healthy people aged 20-38 years, doing sports regularly. Observations began with a relatively high level of sports qualification and fitness with the age of the subjects being up to 20 years old (30.5%), 20-24 years (58.3%), 28-35 years (11.2%).

Dynamic observations showed that the absolute majority of leading athletes (75.7%) did not experience any significant changes in health over the years of intense training (except for various short-term illnesses that ended in complete functional recovery). An improvement in general health indicators in the training process due to the treatment and prophylactic measures taken (mainly, foci of chronic infection) and an increase in body resistance due to improved general fitness was observed in 15.4% of athletes. And only in 8.9% of athletes, the health indicators have deteriorated somewhat over a number of years of intense training. This is caused by chronic diseases of the musculoskeletal system and injuries - in 12 people, chronic infections-  in 8 people, in 7 people- overtraining phenomena (of which in 5 testees - against the background of the existing health disorders), past illnesses not related to sports - in 5 people.

Thus, the overwhelming majority of those studied had no negative changes in their state of health under the influence of intense long-term sport training.