Nowadays, it seems everyone is worried about overtraining.
As a gym-goer, there is no greater fear than losing results.
So it’s understandable that we s**t ourselves when we’ve been working hard in the gym week after week, brutal leg day after brutal leg day, only for some guy to pop over and say you’re actually going backwards, not forwards, because you’re “training too hard”…
They cite the reason as overtraining, and proclaim that you’ll never build muscle until you sort this problem out.
Indeed, this is a real thing. But I find that many gym members don’t know what the term actually means.
So today I’m going to explain what overtraining is…
And then I’m going to show you why you’re not doing it.
In every workplace, there’s a guy who goes around telling everyone they’re doing everything wrong in the gym. And one of the things that guy likes to do the most, is point out that you’re overtraining if you go to the gym more than three times per week.
This recently happened to website member, Sarah. Check out her email below:
A friend of mine is insisting I’m wasting my time in the gym, because I go five days per week. He says I should only go 2-3 days, and that I’d literally be better off not training because it’s impossible to make progress my way.
I kinda know it’s bulls**t, but he won’t let it drop, so can you cover this on your blog for me?”
Well, guess what?
Most of my leanest male and female clients hit the gym six days per week!
Our ancestors used to run and hunt all day long. That’s what our body is built for.
Yet that guy in your office will brazenly tell you that it’s “normal” to be sitting at a desk for eight hours, then sitting in a car for an hour hour commuting from work, then sitting on a couch all night… but going to the gym for one hour is too much exercise!
If anything, it’s undertraining!
Why You’re Not Overtraining
The problem with overtraining is that it’s the perfect excuse for a lack of results…
Take a look at the symptoms below:
- Weights not progressing
- Lack of concentration/focus
- Difficulty sleeping
- More susceptible to illness
- Mood swings
The one thing these symptoms have in common is not overtraining. It’s that they’re vague as f**k. Pinpointing overtraining is so difficult that the general medical consensus is if every other potential cause has been eliminated, and still issues persist, then it’s probably overtraining.
Heck, I know plenty of people who don’t even train who could reel off half of these symptoms at any given time.
And that’s the problem with overtraining – it’s impossible to self-diagnose.
Anybody with a bad diet, poor levels of motivation, or a slight illness kicking in, can self-diagnose overtraining and give themselves something to blame it on. And they do.
A lot of this is the doing of muscle building magazines, who began really pushing the “overtraining is holding you back in the gym” bandwagon back in the 1990’s when research was scarce, but I like to deal in scientific facts. So that’s what I’ll do today.
Let’s take a look at what overtraining actually is.
When we go into the gym, we are trying to push our body beyond it’s capabilities in order to cause it to grow back a little bigger and a little stronger.
This is called over-reaching.
If all goes to plan, and you grow bigger and stronger from training, then we deem this to be functional over-reaching because it served it’s purpose.
If your muscles don’t recover as expected, i.e. you find yourself not progressing, or you still feel really week even after a few days of recovery time, we call this non-functional over-reaching.
Overtraining is defined as a prolonged period of non-functional over-reaching.
It’s a lengthened state of being silly with your training, running yourself into the ground, and actually getting weaker instead of stronger, due to the fact that you are physically wrecked as a result of your training. That’s overtraining.
But when you know what overtraining is, it’s fairly easy to avoid, right? I mean, if you know you’re working some insane shifts, or surviving on zero sleep the previous night, don’t try to annihilate your body in the gym. It’s common sense.
It’s less of a case of overtraining, and more a case of under-recovering.
I could use my training regimen as an example of this.
Take a look below:
What do you see here?
(I mean, apart from the fact that I’m one of those weird individuals who likes to train legs first thing Monday, or that I have three abs sessions per week..)
You see a heavy workload, right?
But we can’t call this overtraining until we look at what you don’t see.
I happen to work inside a gym, meaning my sessions are completed with zero travelling time and I can shuffle them with ease depending upon which PT clients I have coming in on that particular day. Also, I’m fortunate to have a job I absolutely love, which significantly lowers stress levels. Finally, I eat enough calories to supply a village.
(If you’re wondering how many, currently around 4900.)
So yes, for someone working a difficult physical job, juggling a few kids, and struggling to find the time to hit the gym or eat the right amount of food per day, this heavy load of training would be insane. But for me, it simply fits my day.
And, as you’re about to see, the human body is capable of handling some insane workloads providing you can give it sufficient recovery and nutrition to do so. Heck, that’s the basis of any of the impressive feats which have been accomplished over the years, whether it’s swimming the channel or Sylvester Stallone’s ridiculous training routine for Rocky III.
When necessary, we are able to survive the most astounding hardships, and given how subjective a training routine can be depending on one’s lifestyle, it makes no sense to worry whether hitting the gym for one hour per day is “too much”.
But don’t just take my word for it…
The Overtraining Myth
In 2010, researchers from Brazil conducted an interesting study which proved what every gym enthusiast has known for years:
The human body can handle it.
They worked with over four hundred subjects, each of whom were classed as heavy exercisers (working out for over 11 hours per week) at various gyms across Brazil.
After analyzing blood samples, and studying the responses of each subject to detailed questionnaires, the research team found virtually no participants were at risk of overtraining. Despite their heavy workload of almost 2 hours training per day, six days per week, the participants were convincing themselves they had issues which simply didn’t exist. (1)
In order to really overtrain, you’d need to be training at an athlete’s level.
This gets back to something I’ve said for a long time – it’s not overtraining, it’s under-recovering.
If you are eating enough food, getting enough quality sleep, and allowing a muscle to fully recover before smashing it again, there is absolutely no reason for you to worry about overtraining!
In most cases, that means if you are currently following a full body routine it’s wise to leave a day between sessions to let the target muscle groups recover. But if you’re following a popular bodybuilding split (i.e. leg day, chest day, back day, etc) you can get away with training more frequently without compromising recovery by planning out your sessions accordingly (i.e. your legs are able to recover even though you’re in the gym, because you’re training upper body).
- Ackel-D’Elia, C., et al. Absence Of The Predisposing Factors And Signs And Symptoms Usually Associated With Overreaching And Overtraining In Physical Fitness Centers. Clinics (Sao Paulo). (2010)