Overtraining 101 - What You Need To Know

What is overtraining? This article tells you what you need to know about overtraining, how to tell if you're overtraining and what to do about it.

Overtraining I hear the word “overtraining” thrown about all over the place these days. Some people say training 5 days is overtraining, 12+ sets is overtraining, full body workouts are overtraining, 2 body parts is overtraining…you get the picture. There are so many muscle building and weight training programs out there, and many of them totally contradict each other.

We’ve got…

  • Train your full body in 1 session
  • 3 day split routines
  • 4 day split routines
  • 5 day single muscle group routines

Many Russian and Bulgarian weightlifters and bodybuilders even train twice a day for 5 days per week!

So how do you know if you’re overtraining? Who do you listen to? Well, the truth is there is no black and white line that you must cross to be overtraining. Everyone is different and everyone responds to weight training differently.

You can’t just read an article and think “oh, I am overtraining”, because what might be overtraining for the author of the article may not be overtraining for you. So in this article I’m going to teach you about overtraining and how to identify if you’re overtraining and what to do about it.

So…what is overtraining?

Here’s my definition of overtraining:

“Overtraining is where you train your body above its capacity meaning it cannot recover and adapt quickly enough to be prepared for the following training session”

Basically, this means you’re training too hard with not enough rest. I’ve read in-depth explanations of what overtraining is and it all comes down to too much training and not enough rest. There are other factors like diet to consider, but these are rarely the cause of overtraining in 99% of cases.

Symptoms of overtraining:

You may or may not experience these symptoms when you’re overtraining. With some people you only have to look at them before they start training and you know they’re overtraining. Here are some common symptoms you may feel:

  • You can’t seem to get any bigger (lack of weight or muscle gain)
  • You don’t have enough energy at the beginning of your workout
  • Your target muscles are still sore from the previous workout when you work them again.
  • You find it hard to get to sleep and have a good nights rest
  • You have a general lack of energy throughout the day
  • And in extreme cases you may feel depression and anxiety

Diet and overtraining:

Diet may also play a vital part in overtraining. In particular calorie intake, water intake and carbohydrate intake. Without enough calories, carbs and water your body will have trouble recovering and repairing muscle tissue after your workouts. The same can be said for essential fats and protein if the deficiency is great enough. Diet is usually only the cause of overtraining in extreme cases, for example when a bodybuilder is preparing for a competition or an athlete is trying to lose weight fast and keep training up.

How to tell if you’re overtraining:

Seems obvious doesn’t it? Do you have any of the above symptoms? If so, it’s possible you may be overtraining.

One not-so-obvious symptom that is often missed is lack of muscle gain. This is commonly referred to as a plateau. A plateau is when you do not make any strength or muscle gains even though you continue your workout as usual.

What often happens when a novice lifter hits a plateau he/she starts working out more. More sets, more reps, more often. This is a very big mistake and is one of the leading causes of overtraining. Doing more sets does not build more muscle, but that’s for another article.

OK, so I’m overtraining. What do I do?

Before you start thinking about your routine, take a week off. Seriously. Don’t train at all for 1 week. Your body needs the rest and recuperation time. You will find that the week after your rest week your body will be fired up and ready to go!

Now you have to look at your daily life and plan a routine to fit in. When you look at your daily life you need to consider things like:

  • How much free time you have
  • How much time you have to rest
  • What type of job do you have? Is it manual or office based? Do you work long hours? This will affect the amount of energy you have to workout.
  • How fit are you? Be honest.
  • What goals do you have for your training?

Some of these things you can change, like your fitness, diet and rest time. But others you can’t, like your job. What you do in your every day life really affects your workout. For example, if you worked as a laborer on a construction site for 8-10 hours per day and hit the gym 5 days per week I would expect you to have little results. Your training intensity would be low and you would have no energy. However, you may have better results with a 3 day split routine.

So the best person to design your muscle building routine is you (with some help from the info on Muscle&Strength!). We’ve got heaps of workouts over on the muscle building workouts section. Our database is searchable, or you can view all workouts and choose.

A good point to remember is quality over quantity. You’re better off doing 6 sets with perfect technique than 12 sets with bad technique. Ideally, you need a routine that gives you enough rest time, fits your schedule and is suited for your goals. Remember what I said about quality over quantity. Focus on what you do in the time you have in the gym, not how much time you’re going to spend in the gym.

Preventing overtraining:

Overtraining prevention is up to you. All you need to do is follow a few of the basic principals in muscle building. Quality over quantity, eat big including lots of carbs and protein and rest up between workouts.

Seems simple doesn’t it? Well it is. Good luck with your training.