As an enthusiastic weight trainer for many decades I have seen my fair share of overtraining. Overtraining impedes progress and it is therefore important for trainees to know the signs of overtraining. If you look online today on many of the social media groups and bodybuilding sites, you will find trainees asking questions about for example, optimal training frequency. Amazingly, beginner trainees are often advised to train 6 days a week or more and sometimes twice a day for 2 hours at a time. This advice is grossly innacurate and irresponsible.
Less is more
It is important to understand that there is a point where exerting more effort in training actually becomes counter-productive. Most people are aware of this concept to some degree, but they aren’t aware of how easy it is to overtrain, or all the signs of overtraining, how to spot and prevent it. Unfortunately I see people overtraining all the time.
There is a guy that trains at a local commercial gym near to me. I recognised him as a young man who used to train at another gym which I also formerly trained at years ago. When I arrive at the gym he is already usually well into his arm routine. When I vacate the gym 45 mins later after completing my entire workout, he is generally still there. He is usually still training his biceps. I believe that he spends upwards of an hour training a single muscle group, doing set after set after set. He is, bless him, overtraining without realising it, and probably doesn’t understand why he doesn’t get bigger or stronger despite his long, gruelling workouts. He is unaware of the signs of overtraining, and like many others he is under the misguided belief that the longer and harder you train a muscle, the bigger it becomes.
Principles of physical adaptation dictate that’s not how it works, though. Your body can only endure so much before it kicks back and you suffer from what’s commonly known as “overtraining syndrome.”
The inability of our bodies to recuperate from too high levels of stress manifests itself in a number of undesirable ways.
The common signs of overtraining include a state of chronic fatigue, depression, and underperformance despite being rested. These are the more obvious manifestations but the condition can be insidious and creep up on you. You need to be aware of the more subtle signs of overtraining.
Appropriate training volume and frequency
If however, you are a natural trainee and you are training for example five days week or less, and your workout doesn’t exceed one hour, then its unlikely that you are overtraining. A training frequency of four times per week is optimal in my opinion for a natural bodybuilding trainee with hard training at approximately 70% of one rep max on big compound moves.
I frequently see trainees advised to increase their training frequency if they are not making gains, or to train with higher volume. Both of these practises will inevitably be counterproductive and lead to overtraining. You should be able to get an optimal workout in 45 mins to 1 hour maximum.
You do not need to train for two hours, or more frequently than once per day. Those that are achieving positive results with these kind of regimes are no doubt chemically enhanced, and are therefore able to train harder and recuperate more quickly than you are.
Despite what you may have been told, or what you have read online, or in the muscle mags, the following statement remains valid: The natural trainee who can undergo intense physical training everyday and still recuperate effectively does not exist. This is the main reason why trainee bodybuilders for example should not follow the workouts of the pros.
It’s imperative therefore that you enjoy at least two days a week away from intense training.
The following is a list of signs that you may be overtraining…
9 Signs Of Overtraining
Inability To Complete Your Workout
If the weights feel unusually heavy you may just be having an off day. However, the inability to complete your number of sets and reps with your usual training load may be one of the signs of overtraining. This goes for the performance of any discipline – if you find that you are becoming progressively weaker, slower, and more lethargic.
Excessive Muscle Soreness
Whilst soreness is to be expected, and we are all familiar with delayed onset of muscle soreness (DOMS) – it should not last for more than about 72 hrs. If it does then you may be overtraining. Excessive soreness is usually a result of inadequate recuperation and/or under nutrition. Further training will only exacerbate the problem. Take a short break from training.
Insomnia is another of the signs of overtraining if its persistent. Be aware however, that this malady might be due to other factors. Another habit which frequently causes insomnia is training too close to bedtime, especially employing exercise which ramps up the metabolism – so ensure youre not doing that.
Additionally high levels of stress and it’s corresponding effects on increasing the hormone cortisol, will derail sleep. I know this feeling and have encountered it more than once, feeling absolutely wasted but unable to sleep. This is usually due to cental nervous system overload.
This is especially common in those who do an excessive amount of aerobic training. The sympathetic nervous system can remain constantly excited causing restlessness. Your sleep will consequently be disturbed and broken.
Depression can be one of the signs of overtraining. It may initially manifest as a lack of desire to train and generally feeling low. Other mood changes can also become apparent such as irritability.
Training appropriately has many psychological benefits and will normally lift your mood and raise confidence and self esteem. This is usually apparent post workout, when you should feel uplifted and invigorated, rather than drained or exhausted. If you feel irritable and uncomfortable after working out, you may be overtraining. Exercise should always elevate your mood. If you’re feeling negative instead, it may be prudent to take some time off. Additionally prior to your workout if you feel low in mood and lacking in any drive and not remotely interested in training then you are likely overtraining .
Altered Resting Heart Rate
One of the physical signs of overtraining is a raised metabolic rate. This is the body’s means of meeting the perceived increased physical demands of training. This can be ascertained by taking your resting pulse when you wake up in the morning, if it is elevated there is a good chance that you are overtraining. Remember also, if your resting heart rate is unusually high or low, you should probably talk to your doctor.
Lack of Noticeable Progress
Another one of the tell-tell signs of overtraining is stagnation, and lack of progress over time coupled with a lack of enthusiasm regarding training. Continuing to train under these conditions will likely cause regression. Take a break from training for at least a week.
You Have Unusual Aches and Pains In Your Limbs.
I can relate to this one as I have recently recovered from a bout of overtraining. It began with pain in my left shoulder, which I put down to a minor niggle and stupidly ignored and continued training. I then became aware of pain in both my wrist and hip which I knew were unusual, so stopped the weight training and did an intense heavy bag workout instead. I should however have taken a break. The next day I awoke with a sore throat which quickly developed into an upper respiratory tract infection.
If you feel continually tired and fatigued there is a very good chance that you are overtraining. Lay off for a while, after 3-5 days of rest, you should feel rejuvenated enough and ready to commence training again.
I generally get ill when I overtrain which thankfully is not often these days. It has nearly always manifested itself as an upper respiratory tract infection and usually derails my training for a couple of weeks.
If your nutrition and recuperation are on point and you are still getting regular colds, congestion or other minor illnesses on a regular basis then you may be compromising your immune system as a result of overtraining .
As you become more astute and in tune with your body you will know when you are in danger of overtraining, but as I recently found out, if you get complacent and overdo it, it can still happen