Lately, I have been subject to those who consistently want to train THEIR way, yet questions are still being asked such as, “Why am I not getting stronger, why am I not getting bigger, and why am I not looking forward to training?” The actual answer is complex, however, most of the time; it can be found after simply recalling your routine. If you keep a training log, use this tool in evaluating your progress. This can shed light on why you aren’t growing or reaching your goals. The universal solution, most of the time, shows you are overtraining. For those who are new to this concept or have a vague idea of it, read this article and see whether or not this has happened to you.
Overtraining is defined as excessive frequency, volume, or intensity of training, resulting in fatigue (NSCA). This is sometimes defined as “hitting a wall” or “burned out.” Whatever your definition may be, it’s all referring to putting your body through too much without enough rest. There are multiple stages involved, which eventually contribute to the devastation of your physique. This first, “overreaching”, can usually be corrected promptly by just giving your body a rest for a couple of days. This means total rest, no cardio included! If stubbornness is your downfall, you will slowly slide into fatigue and eventually into all-out overtraining.
Overtraining Stimulus→ Overreaching→ Fatigue→ Overtraining
This can come quicker than you think, and if too late, it may take quite some time to recover from. Recovery time can range from 1 week – 6 months dependent upon what was done and who did it. A genetic freak is going to be able to bounce back, whereas the guy who wasn’t “blessed” could be canceling his gym membership indefinitely. There are some tale-tale signs, however, that can alert you as to what is too much:
- Muscle Physiology – Loss of coordination, muscle fatigue, soreness, lack of soreness, decreased glycogen stores, plateau of one rep max (stuck at a weight)
- Cardiovascular – increased resting heart rate, high blood pressure
- Psychological – depression, lack of enthusiasm (gym, home, work), sleep disturbances, mood swings, anxiety
- Immune – Sickness and infection, low immune system, altered hormonal levels (low testosterone).
Although drastic, this generally doesn’t happen to most, but it can! Don’t be fooled, for it can ruin athletic careers, less alone upcoming bodybuilding shows. So what’s the cause of all this disaster? Well, there are many aspects to look at when dealing with overtraining. Aside from a good diet, strength training is the perpetrator here. If you’ve read my article titled, “So your natural and you wanna grow”, I touched a bit on how natural guys are always caught up in these bodybuilding magazines (Muscle and Fitness, Flex, etc.) that tell us to do these monster sets for each body part (Ex. 10 sets of 10 with drop sets for biceps?). There is a reason, the guys you’re seeing in them are pros, and half of them have a pharmacy bigger than Walgreens. What you may not know is that this exercise prescription is for non-natural competitors who are permitted to over train. Overloading testosterone gives them this permission because they recover and heal quicker (glycogen restores faster in addition to muscle rehabilitation). So if this kind of lifestyle is not for you, you need to get a few things straight.
First, limit your major muscle groups (back, quads, and chest) to no more than 10 sets per muscle group. I’m not saying you’re going to die if you hit 10 sets, but remember your body can only take so much. So trim these sets back in addition to limiting your smaller muscle groups (calves, biceps, triceps, forearms, etc) to a range of 6-8 sets of any hypertrophy range of 8-12. This routine should allow at least 2-5 days of recovery (rest in between workouts) in order to fully recover. In relation, sleep time is vital. 6-8 hours of sleep is mandatory for those who want to build. Why do you think GHB is so popular with professional bodybuilders? The reason is because sleep is peak time to release growth hormones. Our muscles need time to rest and re-grow after the immune system replenishes it, but if we keep hitting monster sets every other day, we are constantly breaking down muscle tissue, and this leads to muscle atrophy. A good split to follow is what I use, referred to as “2 on, 1 off”
- Mon – Chest, Shoulder, Triceps
- Tue – Legs (Calves 1st, Hams 2nd, Quads last)
- Wed – Off (Cardio)
- Thur – Back, Bi, Traps (superset these last two to cut down your time)
- Fri- Chest, Tri, Shoulder
- Sat – Off (Cardio)
This routine offers adequate rest, in addition to, getting two workouts of the same muscle groups in the same week. This will double your gains and allow proper rest in between. Don’t be that guy that does his bench press 3-4 times a week to have a stronger flat bench.
So, to re-cap, keep your sets low, unless you are using, then you may have a free pass to over train your body. The point to make here is that if we are training too much, something is bound to go wrong.
In relation, high intensity training (HIT) is to be done in a specific order and frequency, and should not be implemented into several other training styles you may like. Incorporate one style and use it. If you see a guy who trains for track and is hitting 10 sets of quarter squats and then off to power cleans followed by sprint sessions, you will see this athlete dwindle in size. Avoid constant negative training (slow eccentric lifts). This can be helpful in plateaus, but not in every workout for a micro-cycle of 8 weeks. This does too much damage to the muscle spindle and needs tremendous recovery time.
Lastly, consider the amount of time spent in the gym. One hour is ample time to get your pump going, so why waste the excess time? Guys ask me all the time why they can’t grow, and yet they’re puzzled when I tell them stop coming to the gym 2-3 hours a day. Muscles need to be warm with blood to deplete glycogen completely, so taking 5 minutes to talk in between sets aint gonna cut it. Another method to consider is simply taking time off. Everyone needs a dead period, regardless of the sport. If you are bodybuilding, this applies to you guys especially! The brutal training your bodies go through must have a dead period of a week or so after hitting it hard for a couple of months. Give it a try and see what happens when you get back under that squat rack or bench press?
To wrap up, overtraining is a mind-blowing catastrophe to fitness that has multiple steps leading to its demise. Don’t let yourself become a statistic by just never giving it a rest. Listen to your body and stop being stubborn. If you have forgotten, here are some quick bullets.
- Have good rest, 8 hours of sleep, give yourself days off
- Don’t do monster sets from magazines (you’re not a pro yet)
- Give 2-5 days in between sessions
- Keep workouts within a good time frame (1-1.5 hours)
- Have a dead period every so often