The whole topic of “Overtraining” is surrounded by myths and misconceptions in bodybuilding circles. Some fitness gurus believe that virtually everyone is overtraining, and then some other fitness gurus believe it’s impossible to overtrain… Obviously, the truth of the matter lies somewhere in between these two extremes.
According to Wikipedia they define Overtraining as:
Overtraining is a physical, behavioral and emotional condition that occurs when the volume and intensity of an individual’s exercise exceeds their recovery capacity. They cease making progress, and can even begin to lose strength and fitness. Overtraining is a common problem in weight training, but it can also be experienced by runners and other athletes.
I think that definition of overtraining is pretty darn accurate.
The big problem I find with most of my coaching students and website followers is they pretty much “know” what overtraining is, but they can’t really tell if they are overtraining in their own workouts or not.
The root of all this confusion comes from the fact that what is overtraining for one person, is not necessarily going to be overtraining for another person. We all have different levels of fitness, different levels of work capacity, and different recovery rates. Not only that, but all of these factors will change within the individual as they get more experienced with their workouts and get in better physical shape.
A common e-mail that I get at least a dozen times a day is one of my followers will send me a copy of their workout routine that they are following and then ask me:
“Am I Overtraining or Is My Routine Ok?”
Are You Overtraining? Click PLAY To Find Out…
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you can watch it right on my YouTube Channel by Clicking Here
And you know what I CAN’T accurately answer that question. Anything I say will only be an educated guess. Only YOU can truly tell if you are overtraining or not by monitoring your progress (or hiring a coach who is going to monitor your progress for you).
But I’ll give you some guidelines here within this article that you can use to help monitor your progress. This will allow you to decide for yourself if you are overtraining and if you should make changes to your workout routine, or if you can keep on doing what you are doing.
1. Strength Gains
Are you making strength gains with your workouts? You should strive to constantly improve your strength on a regular basis by either getting an extra rep on your sets, or adding an extra 5 pounds to the bar.
This is what we refer to as “progressive overload”. Now obviously it’s not alway going to happen each and every workout, but you should be seeing some noticeable progress in your strength as the weeks go by, especially if you have been tracking your workouts in a log book.
For your major lifts like bench presses, squats, deadlifts, rows, leg presses, etc. it should be fairly easy to make 5 pound jumps in weight on a regular basis. For the smaller isolation type of exercises like bicep curls, lateral raises, flyes, etc. the gains will come slower. After all there is a BIG difference between adding 5 pounds to a 200 pound squat compared to adding 5 pounds to a 20 pound dumbbell curl.
So right now do a quick self evaluation…
Have you been making steady strength gains over the past several weeks? Have you been able to set some new personal records with your major compound lifts? If so then chances are you are NOT overtraining.
However, if you have been lifting the same weights for months on end, or even worse you had to reduce some of your poundages on certain lifts, then you may very well be overtraining.
Gaining strength is one of the most easy to measure signs of progress with your workouts. And if you are not moving forwards, then you are moving backwards, it’s as simple as that.
2. Changes In Bodyweight
Another measurable way to monitor your progress is by keeping track of your bodyweight. Any unexplained changes in your bodyweight could be a sign of overtraining.
For example, if you are currently training to gain muscular size and bulk and you are hitting the gym hard and consistently. But you find that your weight is actually going down, when it should be going up, then you may very well be overtraining.
On the other side of the coin, if you are training for fat loss and you are following a very strict diet, doing regular cardio, and hitting the gym consistently. But you are still not losing any weight, or worse you are even gaining weight. Then this maybe a sign that you are overtraining.
You see your body has to be coaxed into making progress, you can’t force it. When you try to force your body to change it sometimes backfires and does the opposite of what you want. And one of the ways it does this is through unexpected weight changes.
A prime example of this is with a lot of overweight people who try and diet themselves skinny. Have you ever known someone who went on a borderline starvation diet or maybe even cut back to eating just one meal a day in effort to lose weight?
What usually happens is that their body basically says “F-ck You” and it ends up clinging to all the stored bodyfat for fuel, while burning up precious lean muscle tissue in effort to slow their metabolism down. It does the exact opposite of what the dieter is trying to accomplish. In fact they may actually gain fat in this calorie deprived state.
Some words of advice that you should follow when trying to change your body, be that gaining muscle or losing fat, is that most people “over estimate” how hard improving their physique will be… But they “under estimate” how long it will take…
Bottom line, you don’t have to force yourself, torture yourself, or any such thing. You just have to be consistent with the basics over the long term in order to get the results you want.
3. Energy & Motivation
The first 2 guidelines are concrete and measurable. Meaning they are actual numbers that anyone can monitor and instantly see if there is any change or not. But this 3rd guideline is more subjective and you have to be extra cautious when monitoring subjective things because human error and inexperience can really screw things up.
If you have been training hard and consistent for weeks or months on end and then all of a sudden you find that your strength, energy, and motivation for your workouts start to drop then this is very likely a sign of overtraining and it’s your body’s way of telling you that you need a rest.
But the problem here comes with less experienced fitness enthusiasts who often times mistake lack of motivation from plain old laziness as “overtraining” and then they may end up backing off with their training, when in fact they need to do the exact opposite and kick themselves in the butt and push it even harder.
For beginner and intermediate level bodybuilders it’s best to focus primarily on the concrete and measurable guidelines to determine if you are on the right track with your workouts and avoiding overtraining. But as you get more advanced in your training and you get in tune with your body, how you “feel” will be more accurate.
A prime example of this occurred within my own training just recently…
During my contest prep for my last bodybuilding competition my daily routine consisted of approx. 2 hours of cardio, weight training workouts, as well as posing practice all while following a carbohydrate and calorie restricted diet.
Now a mild form of overtraining is actually quite normal for competitive bodybuilders in their pre-contest phase, especially when their main concern is pushing the limits with burning off as much bodyfat as possible.
But eventually things can take it’s toll. So occasionally when I’m feeling physically and mentally run down, even during contest prep, I purposely take a couple days off from training entirely…
No Cardio. No Weight Training. No Posing.
And I purposely eat more food as well to help fill out my liver glycogen stores and aid with my recovery.
After just 2 days of this I feel like a new man, I’ll literally gain about 5 pounds (mostly from the extra carbs and water weight) but I’ll be physically and mentally stronger and ready to kick it back into high gear and push it hard again.
Having this sense and knowing when to push it hard, and when to back it off is critical as you get more advanced. It will help keep you on the edge with your workouts and moving yourself in the right direction towards your bodybuilding and fitness goals.
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If you’d like to learn more about how you can push your training to the limit, while avoiding the negative pitfalls of overtraining, then you should become a part of the Total Fitness Bodybuilding “Inner Circle” Community at: www.TotalFitnessBodybuilding.com
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