When I started lifting weights, I fell into the same trap that most novice lifters do; I overtrained. I didn’t overtrain on purpose. I just loved training and believed that more was better. If I lifted for longer or more frequently I believed, I would get bigger faster. I loved the pump that I would get in the gym and like most newbies I believed that you grew inside the gym. Soon I was starting to develop the symptoms of overtraining:
Below are the most common symptoms of overtraining. The ones that were bolded are the ones that I experienced at the time:
- Chronic fatigue.
- Injury - eventually dislocated my shoulder.
- Sore joints and muscles.
- Lack of ability to get a pump.
- Lack of desire to train.
- Strength loss.
- Lack of appetite.
- Weight loss.
- Sickness - constant runny nose.
- Lack of sex drive.
I thought that my body would get used to the extra workload that I was placing on it. Actually my body was starting to waste away and these symptoms were red flags telling me to slow down or I would get hurt. Because I lacked the knowledge to listen to my body and rest I ended up dislocating my right shoulder one Wednesday night. The injury caused me to get shoulder surgery.
While I was recovering from my injury I started increasing my knowledge of training. I read an article on a bodybuilding website about overtraining. Honestly I thought it was a joke at the time. I said to myself “how can you overtrain.” After reading the article, I realized that my knowledge of training was the joke. Almost all of the symptoms that this article referred to I had. I decide from then on I would do my best to listen to my body and train smarter not longer and more frequently.
Below are some common mistakes that Novice trainers do, which result in overtraining:
Train Everyday - Most novice trainers love the feeling of the pump and decide and make the mistake of training there body everyday. Training results in microscopic tears in the muscles that will only recover and grow when you have rested and given your body the proper nutrients outside of the gym. If you don’t spend enough time outside the gym resting and eating properly your body will never make those gains.
Train Muscle too Frequently - I find that chest and arms are the muscle groups that novice trainers fall victim to the mistake of too much frequency. In the hope of increasing their “GUNS” or there “Bench” novice trainers will end up hit these muscle groups too often. Without adequate recovery time outside the gym your muscle size and strength will not increase and in the case of an over trained muscle most of the time it will atrophy or loss strength. Give your muscles at least 72 hours of rest before hitting them again.
Too Many Sets Per Muscle Group - This is the area where I fell victim too in my early training days. I would do endless sets for all muscle groups in the hope that the more I did the better my results would be. Well, my results were not as good as expected and it was not until I started lowering the overall number of sets and increasing the intensity that my results started to get better.
I have a base line for the average natural lifter for the amount of working sets for the main muscle group:
- Legs (Hamstrings/Quads) - 12-15 Working Sets
- Back - 12 Working Sets
- Chest - 10-12 Working Sets
- Shoulders - 9 Working Sets
- Biceps - 4-6 Working Sets
- Triceps - 4-6 Working Sets
- Calves - 4-6 Working Sets
- Forearms - 2-4 Working Sets
Improper Nutrition - Nutrition is an area where you can continue to learn forever. But there are some staples about your nutrition that you need to know to make sure that your body is getting the right fuel to recover and make muscle gains. Now that you have increased your activity level in the form of proper weight training your body needs the proper amount of protein, carbs and healthy fats to recover and grow from workouts.
Protein is used to maintain and increase mass muscle. Try to get your protein from:
- Whole eggs
- Egg whites
- Top round steak
- Filet mignon
- Quality protein powder (Betancourt Nutrition)
- Other lean cuts of meat
Carbs are used as an energy source to fuel your workouts and are store in the muscles as glycogen. During the day opt for a complex carb so you have a steady stream of energy for the day:
- Brown rice
- Sweet potatoes
- Whole wheat pasta
- Whole wheat bread
After your workout you want to have a simple carb to help increase insulin levels which will help drive the glycogen and protein into your muscle. Simple carbs:
- Dextrose powder
- Wazy maise
- Maltodextrin powder
- Fruit juice
Healthy fats: All fats are not created equal some are better than others. Saturated and trans fats are unhealthy and mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated are healthy for you. Fats are an excellent long lasting energy source and can actually help in the fat loss process. Look to include these types of fats in your diet:
When looking to construct your own diet follow these guidelines:
- 1 - 1 ½ grams of protein per pound of bodyweight.
- 2-3 grams of carbs per pound of bodyweight. This will depend on your body type. The more of a hard gainer you are the more you will need carbs the easier you put on size the less carbs your body will need.
- Include simple carbs only in post workout meal.
- 20-25% of calories should come from healthy fats.
Lack of Sleep - Nothing will affect your recovery from a hard workout and send your body into overtraining mode more than a lack of sleep. When you sleep your body releases most of it human growth hormones (HGH). HGH is a critical hormone in the recovery process and without adequate HGH your body is missing out on a very important hormone for the recovery and growth. Look to get at least 8 solid hours of sleep a night. Also taking small naps during the day will also help your recovery time from workout to workout.
Improper Training Split - This mistake is a little more complicated than the pervious ones listed above. One of the biggest reasons is that most of the symptoms of overtraining are not present. Usually the only symptom present is atrophy and strength loss. Most trainers think that they have hit a plateau but actually they have been overtraining muscles because of a lack of knowledge on how to make an effective training split.
When making you own training split you have to realize, direct training of some muscle groups results in the indirect training of others. For Example:
- When performing any kind of press for either chest or shoulders you are indirectly working your triceps.
- When performing and kind of pulling exercise for your back you are indirectly working your biceps and forearms.
- Deadlifts recruit your entire back but indirectly recruit your legs and forearms.
- Squats recruit all leg muscles but also indirectly recruit your lower back.
So how do I create an effective training spilt and make sure that I don’t fall victim to overtraining my muscle groups? Muscles groups, which are indirectly trained by another muscle groups training should never be worked the day before or after that muscle group. For example: Triceps should never be trained the day before or after chest or shoulders. It is fine to train them in the same workout because once you are done training both muscles will get adequate time to rest, recover and grow.
Below is a sample training split:
- Day 1 - Chest/Triceps
- Day 2 - Back/ Biceps
- Day 3 - Legs
- Day 4 - Shoulder/Arms
- Day 5 - Off
- Day 6 - Off
Overtraining is one of the mistakes that most trainers fall victim to when they start training. The sooner you realize what you are doing and address your mistake, the sooner you will be on the road to amazing gains. Please use some of my guidelines to help you improve your nutrition, be more effective in the gym and hopefully make some great improvements to your physique. I know you love training and there is no place you would rather be then under the bar lifting huge weights but always remember you grow outside the gym not in it. So make sure that after you hit your personal best you give your body enough time to recover before hitting it hard again. Good Luck.