There are basically two camps when it comes to the topic of overtraining:
- There is no such thing as overtraining, only undereating and not recovering adequately.
- Overtraining exists and can bring progress to a screeching halt very quickly.
The first group stands firm with their belief that if you eat enough, rest enough, and recover, there is no way that you can overtrain.
The second group contains mere mortals and makes up the large majority of the people that train — including myself.
I understand the machismo component of pushing the idea that overtraining doesn’t exist. This pushes people to train their asses off while constantly evaluating their recovery based on nutrition, sleep, etc. Obviously, there are plenty of people that do not progress simply because they don’t understand how to maximize recovery and they don’t do what is necessary outside of the gym to grow. However, making a statement that something doesn’t exist, simply to get people to focus more on all aspects of their progress, is misleading and unfair and can cause a lot of frustration and wasted time.
Typically, it is genetically superior individuals who claim that overtraining doesn’t exist and the rest of us KNOW it exists. Logically, this makes sense because if you have the genetic ability to recover quickly from workouts, then you are likely to not believe such a phenomenon exists.
Let’s quickly cover the basics of what overtraining is so that we are all on the same page.
There are essentially two different ways to overtrain.
- You can overtrain one specific muscle group.
- You can push yourself into a systemic and chronic overtrained state where the CNS is taxed so badly that progress with all muscle groups is stalled.
What does this look like?
- Aches and pains.
- Minor nagging injuries.
- Potential for major injuries.
- Low motivation to train.
- Low energy and lethargy.
- Sickness due to a compromised immune system.
- Regression of strength.
You can also maintain strength and be in an overtrained state, as well. Typically, though, regression of strength is an obvious sign of overtraining as long as the regression of strength is not directly related to other factors like short periods of time where calories are significantly lower, sleep is compromised, stress is high, etc. Just because you have a few workouts where your strength may seem to have regressed from outside variables doesn’t necessarily mean you are overtrained. It takes more than a few days to analyze whether you are in an overtrained state.
For most of us, training too frequently or with too much volume/workload is the most likely culprit that leads to overtraining. To be more specific, training too hard or too much causes overtraining unless you find yourself in that category of the genetically gifted. The large majority of people reading this article will not find themselves in that category. When you read about someone training the same muscle group twice per day for weeks on end and growing, THEY are in the genetically superior group.
My personal opinion on overtraining is that it is absurd to think that it doesn’t exist, but that is easy for me to believe because I have dealt with it for decades. It’s a balancing act because we know we need to train hard enough to induce growth, yet if we get too close to that line and our toe starts to go over it, our efforts become wasted very quickly. I use myself as an example and have found that once I start to pass six weeks of brutal training, I am going to need to kick back and train easier — for about a week — to allow my body to reset and “catch up,” increasing recovery and resting my body. Otherwise, I find regression will start to happen in only two or three more weeks. I also struggle to recover from high-intensity techniques like drop sets, rest/pause sets, etc. If I want to add these methods into my training plan, I know I have to cut the total workload considerably or I will find myself in an overtrained state relatively quickly.
The average person will deal with overtraining if they are dancing close to that line of maximum gains with brutal workouts. If you don’t dance close to that line and don’t risk sliding into an overtrained state now and then, you won’t know where that line is. If you don’t know where that line is, you can’t possibly know how hard you can push and what your limitations are. In fact, I would go so far as to say that for those who don’t believe overtraining exists, I would question if their training is being maximized enough to realize their best gains.
Keep in mind that taking advice from someone about how to get ripped — if they are always ripped — is likely not going to benefit you. Likewise, taking training advice from someone who has little problem growing more muscle tissue is not going to bode well for you, either. I haven’t worked with someone, ever, in my 35 years in this sport. If I did, though, I would want to work with someone who struggles to get ripped and who struggles to grow muscle tissue because that is how my body works, too. Plus, it would tell me that they knew what the hell they were talking about and didn’t come by their results primarily due to picking their parents right.
Use your head when taking advice from someone. The Internet is full of self-proclaimed experts. And before you respond to this article with a shitty response saying something like, “Maybe you are one of those self-proclaimed experts, too,” just know that I have admitted my genetic mediocrity and have fought for decades to be only slightly better than average. If you want to take advice from someone who is a genetic freak, you go for it. When you find that you aren’t a genetic freak and don’t respond well to the information provided to you, I’m that little voice in your ear whispering, “I told you so.” Just Sayin’.