These days, you can't spend more than five minutes in a locker room, or read three pages in a magazine without coming across the term "overtraining." In a way, overtraining seems to be like sub-prime mortgages: nobody really knows what it is, but it sure is responsible for some bad things.
So today we shall analyze:
- What constitutes overtraining.
- If you are affected and how to fix it.
- How to use overtraining (or better said: overreaching) to your advantage.
What is Overtraining?
Basically, overtraining occurs whenever the volume and intensity of someone's workouts are exceeding their ability to recover. This means progress is coming to a screeching halt, due to delayed recovery and elevated cortisol levels.
You are likely to lose mass and strength in the process. Other symptoms include irritability, lack of appetite, sleeplessness, loss of enthusiasm and motivation. Even depression is in the cards for you. You are more likely to get sick and/or injured, and your little injuries will take longer to heal.
So, do you see yourself as having these symptoms? Yes, I am overtrained! Not so fast, I am afraid. I believe that true overtraining is extremely rare in today's gym world.
Muscles recover within 48 hours, which is when protein synthesis rates levels off. This is why Steve Shaw is such a fan of whole body workouts ( I also believe that the majority of gym goers is wasting their time with complicated splits and would be better off following a simple push pull routine, but that leads us away from the topic of the article.)
So in reality, actual muscular overtraining is rare if everything else is in place. By everything else I mean recovery and nutrition. In my humble opinion, most people are underfed and not sleeping as much, as opposed to overtrained.
A bit of personal history here: in preparation for the 2000 Olympics, we trained 20 times per week (or 3 times per day 5-6 hours daily). Yet, nobody was overtrained. Why? Diet and sleep were on point, no clubbing, no eating crappy foods, just the dull life of professional athletes.
So if you experience any of the above symptoms I would recommend a 48-72 hour hiatus from the gym with a solid calorie surplus and a daily nap. Within 3 days, you should be able to return to the gym and continue on your path to eternal glory and total awesomeness.
Cases of Severe Overtraining
Unfortunately, not all cases of overtraining are cured so easily. If the central nervous system (CNS) is overstimulated, the recovery process will take a much longer time. In those cases, the athlete often experiences a light to medium depression, loss of libido, elevated pulse rate and deep seated fatigue.
Very often, this condition goes hand in hand with adrenal burnout (those pre-workout stims have their down sides, for sure). Here the first order of business is: caffeine, yohimbine, ephedra etc out, passion flower, melatonin, L-tyrosine and ZMA in. Also, you will need to take a whole week or 10 days of from the gym.
This also includes a mental break. Try not to spend too much time at the muscle and strength website - just this once though! You can engage into other activities, just no weight training or spending time inside a gym. Additional recovery measures such as acupuncture, cryo therapy or massage can be extremely helpful during that time.
You should start taking your resting pulse rate in the morning, in order to have a baseline. Once it has dropped by five or more beats per minute, you can make an attempt to return to the gym - but you should cut your workload in half (at least for the first two weeks). From there on you can work your way back.
Planned Overtraining - Overreaching
However, for all the negativity surrounding the term overtraining, there is a way to use planned overtraining - or more precisely overreaching - to your advantage. The following program was developed by the Soviets and East Germans. It utilizes micro cycles. Beware, it is not for the faint of heart. In fact, most people will quit in the middle.
During this program you will be purposely overtraining for two weeks, then taking a week off. During the off week, you will most likely experience some serious growth. Once you are back in the gym, you'll be shocked how much strength you have added.
Here is an outline of how it can be done. The key is to treat every set as an all out set. Most likely, your performance will drop off during the week. Try to get as close as possible to your starting weights. Come Friday, you may build a voodoo doll with my face on it. If that helps you get through the last two workouts, so be it.
Workouts - Week One
Add as many warm up sets as you see fit. Squats every day, take Sunday off.
Monday, Wednesday, Friday
- 4x12 - Squats
- 4x8 - Stiff legged deadlifts
- 4x10 - Incline dumbbell flyes with a 90 degree elbow bend
- 4x10 - Pull ups (add weight)
Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday
- 5x5 - Sumo squats
- 4x10 - Sissy squats with added weight if possible
- 4x8 - Standing overhead presses
- 4x8 - Kneeling rope rows
Workouts - Week Two
Monday, Wednesday, Friday
Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday
- 5x6 - High incline parallel dumbbell press
- 5x10 - Pull ups (add weight)
- 4x12 - Hack squats
- 3x10 - Face pulls or rear delt flyes
Take week 3 off.
A word of caution: do not attempt this program if you are having any unusual stressors in your life at this point in time, be it a move, a big job project, teething baby, etc. Ideally, you take two weeks off to sleep, eat and lift.
That brings me to my next point: do not attempt to diet while on this routine. You will wither away. A calorie surplus is critical. I recommend taking BCAAs during your workouts, as well as taking liver tabs during the day. Both would be a good idea.
The above mentioned recovery methods can and should be implemented here as well. Lastly, try to sleep your eight hours a day. If you can nap during the day, even better (that's how Arnold did it).
That's about it for today, I ll be curious to hear who is brave enough to undertake this 2 week program.