Is Overtraining Real? – Separating Fact From Fiction

Is over training real?

CT Fletcher, a popular YouTube celebrity boasting 22 inch arms, claims that overtraining is a myth and a fallacy.

In reality:

Overtraining is a condition that has been proven to exist through numerous studies 1 2 3 4.

It is important, however, not to completely disregard CT Fletcher.

The point he’s trying to make is:

Many people use overtraining as an excuse to not push themselves harder in the gym.

Is over training real?

The answer is, an undeniable, yes.

However:

Overtraining is a much rarer occurrence than it is usually made out to be.

What is taking place at an internal level?

The intended effect of exercise is to damage the muscle in order for it to recover back stronger.

Overtraining is when muscle damage is induced at a faster rate than the body can recover from.

Overtraining can also result from a deficiency of protein in your diet, i.e. amino acid uptake is faster than the amino acid intake.

Understand:

With adequate nutrition and rest in place overtraining is a rare occurrence.

How much is overtraining?

Repercussions of overtraining can include stagnated progress or a loss of strength1.

Overtraining can be a result of:

  • over exertion during exercise and not allowing for ample recovery time.
  • a monotonous training split that does not incorporate new movements over time, resulting in a performance plateau due to limited stimulation.

Don’t confuse overtraining with overreaching.

Overreaching is a temporary decline of performance. Recovery takes place within a couple of days.

Overtraining, however, can take up to a couple of weeks to adequately recover from2.

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How do you know if you’re overtraining?

You can perform a simple grip strength test to discover whether or not you have overtrained.

At the beginning of a training session, set up a barbell with two 45 lb plates on each side (vary it based on your particular strength).

Lift the barbell up and observe the clock to see how long before your grip gives in.

Whether it is 1 minute or 90 seconds, this is now the benchmark for your grip strength.

Say, for example, you perform the grip strength test again, 3 months later.

If you are unable to hold the barbell for the same amount of time as your previous benchmark, overtraining is likely to be responsible.

Essentially:

Overtraining results in a loss or stagnation of strength.

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Symptoms of overtraining

A study published in the Journal of Athletic Training has found overtraining to have negative physiological and psychological effects3.

Common physiological symptoms

  • Prolonged muscle soreness
  • Fatigue even after significant periods of rest
  • Increased heart rate the day after training
  • Prone to infection

Common psychological symptoms

  • Easily irritated
  • Random depression
  • Decrease/loss of motivation
  • Trouble sleeping at night
  • Loss of concentration

What does overtraining feel like?

Overtraining can have different effects on different people.

Here are a couple of ways overtraining can affect performance4:

  • Unable to complete workouts due to muscular fatigue
  • Decrease of stamina, i.e. decreased ability for endurance exercise
  • Decrease in strength
  • Slower recovery times

Muscles grow during recovery

Remember:

Muscles do not grow in the gym.

Muscles grow during recovery.

The two major aspects of recovery are:

  • Rest
  • Nutrition

What overtraining comes down to is:

The intensity of exercise overcomes the capacity for recovery.

As mentioned earlier:

With adequate nutrition, supplementation, and rest, overtraining is a very rare occurrence.

I recently reviewed a product called Mi40x – The Cell Expansion Protocol which is centred around the concepts of high intensity exercise coupled with maximal recovery techniques

Treating overtraining syndrome

On the occasion that you experience the aforementioned symptoms, here are some tips to treat overtraining.

Take some time off

Take a week off and allow for continuous recovery.

Your body and mind will come back sharper and more motivated.

Reduce intensity

If taking time off is out of the question for you, consider lowering the intensity of exercise.

Lower the volume per exercise.

If you usually do 5 sets per exercise, drop it down to 3.

Massage therapy

Athletes commonly go through deep tissue massages.

A deep tissue massage relieves built up tension in the muscle and allows for the restoration of balance in the skeletal system.

Nutrition 

Track the calories going into your body.

Are you meeting your daily protein requirements?

Is your caloric intake exceeding your caloric expenditure?

A lack of adequate nutrition can be a major cause of overtraining.

Your Training Program

Let’s compare overtraining to getting a tan (strange example, I know).

Your body tans by producing melanin in response to UV light exposure.

If you have too little UV light exposure, your tan will hardly be noticeable.

But if you have too much UV light exposure, you will get a sunburn.

The key is finding that sweet spot in between.

The same logic should also be applied to your training program:

Stimulate your muscles, don’t annihilate them. 

The wrong approach is to lift as much as you can for as long as you can.

When preparing for a competition, athletes go through varying levels of intensity within a twelve to sixteen week period.

Towards the end of the twelve to sixteen week time frame, the athletes go through a taper period.

During the taper period, time spent at the gym and workout intensity are significantly decreased.

The taper period allows for the athlete to adequately recover and be at his best for the competition.

Even if you don’t compete, going through such phases of lowered intensity will be beneficial for you as well.

During such phases:

  • Spend less time at the gym
  • Lower the volume of exercises

If you are someone who goes hard at the gym, incorporating a lowered intensity week every few months will ensure your body reaches full recovery.

Having such a week in your training regimen will ensure overtraining is kept at a distance

Conclusion:

Is overtraining real?

Of course.

However:

It is a very rare occurrence and should not be used as an excuse to slack of in the gym!

REFERENCES

  1. Stone, M (1991). “Overtraining: A Review of the Signs, Symptoms and Possible Causes“. Journal of strength and conditioning research
  2. Fry AC, Kraemer WJ. “Resistance exercise overtraining and overreaching“.  Sports Medicine
  3. Johnson MB, Thiese SM. “A review of overtraining syndrome-recognizing the signs and symptoms“. Journal of Athletic Training
  4. Lehmann MJ, Lormes W, Opitz-gress A, et al. “Training and overtraining: an overview and experimental results in endurance sports“. Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness

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