What say you – fact or myth? I hear the term get thrown around the gym almost daily. Bro-scientists and veterans alike use the term to describe various lifting ailments, complications, setbacks, and plateaus. Refusing to believe that any setback could seriously be the result of anything BUT the engaging of #BeastMode or #KillingIt, the blanket diagnosis of “over trained” is assigned – affirming that the afflicted is in fact #Hardcore on every possible level.
I suppose I did rush into sharing my view, but if you stay with me for a moment I will try to explain.
Those looking to determine if they are overtraining typically have the same questions:
Is it possible to overwork a muscle?
Can you overwork your central nervous system?
Are two and three-hour workouts just as effective as forty-five minute workouts?
Are two-a-day workout routines the answer to rapid growth?
Will I catabolize after an hour in the gym?
Will I lose muscle on a 7-day workout routine?
To answer these questions, you must first define what overtraining means to you. My experience is that everybody has a completely different opinion on what overtraining really is. If you believe that overtraining is working out anything more than 5 days a week, and you do 6 – then yes, I suppose you have over trained. If you think that more than three exercises for a single muscle is over training, and you go on a chest day rampage consisting of flat bench, incline, decline, flys, cables, and push ups – then yes, I suppose you have over trained.
You may look at it from the other side of the fence, believing that delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is a sign of overtraining. You might consider yourself over trained if are unable to properly move the exercised muscle after the workout or the next day. I have even heard some people refer to the inability to achieve the same weight on a lift as a sign of over training.
For argument sake, let’s break overtraining into two categories; muscle and central nervous system (CNS).
What is muscle overtraining? Is it the same as muscle fatigue? Is a muscle ovetrained when a set is worked to failure? Muscle fatigue is just that, fatigue. Anybody that has ever lifted a weight knows that a muscle will regain strength and stamina within seconds of rest. This is the cornerstone of what we do and why we do it! We pick it up, put it down, pick it up, and put it down. We work, rest, recover, repeat – all for the sake of stimulating and conditioning the muscle, tearing fibers, and then rebuilding them. Whether it is three sets, five sets, or ten sets – the idea, goal, purpose and methods are the same.
If you read my posts regularly, you will have read about various techniques I like to play with, particularly German Volume Training, Cluster Training, Occlusion Training, and Progressive Overload. It just so happens that these methods, with the exception of cluster training, all have me performing 10+ working sets for a specific muscle – and with occlusion training it is mostly isolation work. If you saw me doing 10+ sets of dead lifts, would you say to yourself, “that dude is overtraining,” or would you ask what I was doing, learn that it was GVT, and then dismiss the notion of overtraining because my method had a name? What if I did 15 sets of curls and just said “I love curls.”
What about working a muscle two days in a row or more than once a week? Industry standard is 48 hours rest before working a muscle again. This is generally accepted – but not always the norm. Some people work abs every day. Some people do cardio every day. I used to do full body workouts every other day. Without turning this into a research paper, the purpose of the 48 hours of rest is to allow smooth passage for the growth process. As I said above, we work, rest, recover, and repeat. When we lift, we tear muscle fibers. They then grow back thicker and stronger. This is the rest and recovery process.
Did you ever have a scab when you were a child? Did you pick it? Did it heal despite your picking? Sure it did. Your muscles will work the same way. Much like how a scab will heal and clear faster if left alone, your muscles will heal faster and grow stronger if provided the time to rest. No, you will not die if you do chest two days in a row, you will not halt protein synthesis, and you will not catabolize in a soft bag of skin.
Overtraining the central nervous system is a different ball game – or is it? The human body is resilient. It will take a lot of the crap we do to it and put in it. From drug cocktails that literally contain everything under kitchen sink, to insanity workouts that drive us to the point of vomiting – our bodies will endure, tolerate, and persevere.
I’m not so naïve that I view our bodies as veritable punching bags capable of taking everything we can throw at it. The body has its breaking points – pulled muscles, drug overdoses, nervous breakdowns, broken bones – we’re not invincible; I know this.
Are we again confusing exhaustion with overtraining? I find it difficult to believe that any amount of time lifting weights will tax the body to the point of crippling the very system responsible for integrating information received from the body. How hard must one workout for the body to call it quits?
Obviously, the work your force on your body will of course elicit some sort of CNS response. How else will the body know what you are trying to do and act accordingly? It only makes sense that the most intense of exercises and crippling of workouts will have the body feeling “shocked,” leaving you a shaky trembling mess at the end of your workout. Sometime my workouts are so fierce, I literally start shaking all over. When I get done with the Insanity Press, not only am I shaking uncontrollably, but my hearing dims. This is no joke – my hearing sounds as though I stuck my head in a bag. Shocked the system? I’d say so – but give me ten minutes and I’ll do it again. By the time I get home and get a good meal in me the pain and shakes are just a faint memory.
Granted, not every workout can be like this. Exhaustion will set in and rest will be required. In my opinion this is not being in an overtrained state. It is the natural order of things, just as it is to sleep at the end of the day, eat when you are hungry, and drink when you are thirsty.
I heard an interview of the radio the other day in which a guest speaker was discussing overtraining the CNS. He explained a test he performed on himself where he would take his waking resting heart rate for a week during a week of training. He then continued to take his waking resting heart rate for another week while refraining from weight lifting. This was to determine his true resting heart rate without the influence of stress from weight training. The results? His calculated resting heart rate was found to be 20BPM higher during the week of training. His conclusion? He was in a state of overtraining.
That’s a bold conclusion. I cannot accept a conclusion that a rise of 20BPM during a week of intense training is the result of a taxed CNS. If anything, it is verification that his body is effectively working to manage the stress he has put on his muscles. As the stress is relieved, so too is the amount of work that is required of the body to combat the stress. This really is nothing new to the bodybuilding and fitness scene. The two most important factors to any fitness program is now and always has been rest and nutrition. From rest days to deload weeks, we know the importance of rest and proper nutrition for the facilitation of growth.
Write this down – sleep like a baby, eat like a horse. There is no such thing as overtrained – there is only underfed and unrested.
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