By request, today’s post will be about overtraining. In recent years, as weight lifting has become more popular and an increasing amount of information has been made available online, new buzzwords have emerged. People read about certain conditions, identify with a few symptoms, and then self-diagnose themselves with problems they don’t have.
One such example is metabolic damage, which I have talked about a lot. While there is a genuinely concerning number of people (mostly women) who have damaged their metabolisms through restrictive dieting and too much cardio, there are still many who automatically assume they have metabolic damage when they may just be experiencing a perfectly normal resistance to weight loss.
It seems that everywhere I look, someone is talking about repairing their metabolism – but was it really ever broken? There is a difference between increasing your metabolic rate and teaching your body to eat more, and genuinely repairing a broken metabolism.
Overtraining syndrome is another condition that has increased in awareness over the past few years. We have been cautioned against pushing our bodies too hard and sacrificing recovery. Instead of exercising daily, people have been cutting back in an attempt to avoid this so-called overtraining effect.
What is overtraining?
Overtraining syndrome is when your physical and mental state is compromised by intense workouts which are not followed by adequate recovery. It is caused by either too much frequency or intensity, and generally only presents itself in elite athletes. It is characterised by lack of energy and motivation, a loss of appetite, insomnia, frequent illness, and persistently sore muscles and joints (not to be confused with DOMS).
It is normal to occasionally experience periods of fatigue and down-performance. In fact, if you are periodising correctly, this should be a normal part of your training cycle. Remember that our bodies were designed to move, and the last thing people should be looking for is an excuse to not to do it!
99 per cent of people do not need to worry about overtraining. I work around professional athletes every day. They are doing 6-8 hours of exercise a day – hours of sprints, weight lifting, and match play. They are prime candidates for suffering from overtraining; however, provided that their nutrition is on point and their training blocks are periodised, they survive just fine.
The only time I can truly say I’ve felt like I was overtraining was in the lead-up to my first competition. I was only doing four workouts a week, but each one was having a huge impact on my body and it was common for me to be woken up by muscle spasms. I was doing a lot of 1RM work – with plenty of failed lifts – and it took a toll on my central nervous system.
We are commonly told that we should only hit X muscle group 1-2 times per week, or else we will risk overtraining. Since getting into more of a powerlifting-style of training, I’m yet to meet a powerlifter who hasn’t squatted at least four times a week at one stage or another and I know many that have done daily (and sometimes twice daily!) cycles of squatting. I currently hit my shoulders 3-4 times a week, and I’m only getting stronger.
All that being said, your body does need rest. We all know that lifting weights for three hours a day, seven days a week will not make you more muscular than the person who trains for 45 minutes, five days a week. Rest is extremely important for muscle growth and fat loss. I see the best results when I train four days per week as it means I rarely have to lift on two consecutive days.
What if you have these symptoms?
The problem with the symptoms of overtraining is that they are very common for a number of other conditions. If you are consuming allergenic food without knowing (for example, I always feel tired when I eat grains, even though I’m not technically allergic), dealing with emotional stress or depression, or suffering from imbalanced hormones, you will also experience many of these symptoms.
These symptoms can also be caused by a tougher-than-usual workout, or a sharp increase in training volume or intensity.
If you are suffering from any of these symptoms, I would suggest taking a full week away from the gym. Focus on getting at least eight hours of sleep a night, eating lots of healthy and nourishing foods, foam rolling and stretching, and participating in other stress-releasing activities you enjoy. If you feel better because of it, then slowly re-introduce weight lifting 2-3 times a week and some gentle cardio to clear the mind. Make sure you don’t go HAM every single workout – I vary how heavy I lift from day to day as well as week to week.
If the time off makes no difference to your energy and motivation levels, the problem lies deeper than overtraining so I would recommend seeking help from a medical professional.
Have you ever suffered from overtraining?