How Real is the Risk of Overtraining?
Concern about overtraining is common, but the truth may surprise you.
by James LaSalandra
The Bad News? Overtraining is real. The Good News? You'll Probably Never Experience It.
Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness - aka DOMS
So if You're Not Overtraining, What's Really Happening?
Consider Your Conditioning
The conveniences of modern living have enabled us to become sedentary, and our jobs often require us to sit still for hours at a time. Our pastimes, too, tend toward inactivity. This takes a serious toll on our health, leading to a rise in cardiovascular disease, metabolic disorders, obesity, and shorter lifespans.
To counter this trend, the American Heart Association recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity performed five days a week – minimum. It's worth noting that they don't mention an upper limit, although there are those who would treat recommendations like this as strict prescription - no more, no less.
For people concerned enough about their health and longevity to take these recommendations to heart, the sudden introduction of physical exertion in the form of exercise can be a shock to the system - especially at first.
Newcomers to fitness find themselves feeling sore from using their muscles in ways they're not accustomed to, and more tired than ever as their bodies struggle to adapt to the new demand for energy.
Soreness, fatigue…the process of conditioning looks a lot like the description for overtraining. But as we now know, this isn't remotely the case. And if the goal is to bring the body up to speed, too much rest can be a bad thing. A return to sedentary behavior would only be counterproductive.
As Dr. Stoppani often remarks, the body is designed for constant physical activity. "Our bodies are designed to exercise all day long, and then rest for about 8 hours. And then get up and go at it again. Because it was about survival, and if you didn't do that, you died," he says.
"Lifting, hunting, farming, to survive - all day long, it takes. All day long. The only time you were allowed to sit is when you get a little break, and when you get to sleep."
The body is clearly capable of surviving frequent training, even if a sedentary lifestyle means reaching for that potential requires an adjustment phase.
Improve Your Conditioning with Periodization
However, you don't necessarily need to simply "tough it out". Studies suggest there are methods that can reduce the risk of overtraining. In addition to monitoring yourself for symptoms and managing your training schedule, one of the best options at your disposal is periodization.
As mentioned above, periodization is the gradual change in training volume or intensity over time. Classic, linear periodization is the systematic increase in intensity, or weight lifted. Reverse linear periodization, on the other hand, is the gradual increase of volume, or repetitions performed.
There are other forms of periodization, all of which lend themselves to the achievement of specific goals, but the net effect is the same - through gradual change, the body's adaptive processes are kept at an ideal balance: Conditioning increases while the muscles continue to be pushed to a greater degree, furthering results.
Dr. Stoppani's programs are notorious for making use of this training method, as is the case with his Six Weeks to Sick Arms program referenced above. A longtime proponent of periodization, he includes this style of training in many of his programs, like Super Shredded 8, his Full-Body Shortcut to Size program, and his more extreme training program, Project X.
This principle can be applied to any exercise or activity. In running, for example, gradually increasing pace while running the same distance would be seen as a periodized program. So too would be maintaining the same pace but increasing the distance run.
The main point here is that by respecting your level of conditioning while demanding more of it at a gradually increased rate, your ability to endure training will increase as well. You also need to be mindful of another often neglected factor: Your nutrition.
Adequate Nutrition is Essential
A proper diet composed of adequate, healthy nutrients provides a solid foundation for overall better health. This is true in a general sense, but particularly worth noting in combating the specter of overtraining.
Unfortunately, many people are at a loss when it comes to knowing exactly what a healthy diet looks like. They may be aware of basics like using whole ingredients and avoiding fast food, but the amounts of specific nutrients remain elusive.
Compounding this is the fact that many entering the world of fitness are also focused on fat loss, and inundated with countless fad diets and gimmicks that have them believing less is more when it comes to nutrition.
As explained before, Dr. Stoppani’s Muscle Building Nutrition Rules lay out a series of principles regarding macronutrient intake — the amount of protein, fat, and carbohydrates in your diet — that are designed to fuel both workouts and recovery. His Dieting 101 plan, geared toward fat loss, further details the methods by which you can tailor your diet to help you meet your goals.
To many people’s surprise, both plans call for eating far more food than expected. One reason for this is meeting the demands placed on the body by training. In fact, nutrition is often Dr. Stoppani’s response to the very question of overtraining.
“I laugh when people ask about overtraining,” says Stoppani. “Sure, an athlete who’s training several times a day and isn’t getting the right nutrients can overtrain. But typically most people are undereating, under-providing the right nutrients.” .
Exercise involves the intentional damaging of muscle tissue. It’s repair of this tissue that leads to greater muscle mass. But without enough protein to repair muscle, carbohydrates to replenish muscle glycogen, and fats to facilitate healthy hormone production, the body is ill-equipped to recover.
And so one of the easiest and best ways to prevent the delayed recovery that may lead to overreaching and overtraining syndrome is simply ensuring that you’re fueling your fitness lifestyle properly.
The Bottom Line on Overtraining
As you can see, overtraining is real — and rare. It takes training at high intensity for several hours each day over the course of weeks or even months to reach that state, and let’s face it — the average gym-goer just isn’t putting in that kind of work.
For most of us, it’s an hour or two at most, and even if our program does call for six workouts per week we’re still not getting close to the level of exertion that elite endurance athletes and Olympians experience in their training.
For most people, it’s something as little as an extra workout session in the day or “doubling up” that triggers cautions against overtraining. The reality is, at worst you’d be overreaching, and as we’ve seen that might not necessarily be a bad thing in the end.
It’s important to be mindful of the way your training regimen affects you, and sometimes a little rest can do you some good. But it’s essential to keep your conditioning on point as well or those first few days back can hit you hard, at least with some DOMS.
By following well-designed programs like those found on JimStoppani.com, keeping your nutrition on point, and supplementing effectively, you’ll minimize the risk of developing any of the above-mentioned symptoms — and maximize your overall results.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease