Overtraining – how used that word is, and how worryingly often that word is used, by the wrong people. Does overtraining even exist? Or should you always just keep pushing? Is overtraining just that last excuse, when you lost the battle with your mind, and cannot push yourself any further?
Having spent 5-6 weeks preparing for a short-deadline competition in CF(my first ever), I ramped up my intensity and workload by a factor 4-6, and was absolutely not sedentary, up until that point. I was really impressed of, how much the body is able to adapt, as long as you keep a few things in mind. But looking at overtraining as a concept, you should always look at it, in the light of what you are trying to accomplish. Are we discussing overtraining in the context of optimal muscle growth, peak performance, ultimate flexibility or maybe maximal work capacity.
Taking it to the extreme, you could argue, that if no such thing as overtraining existed, then the best thing you could do was to train as much as possible. Would you be able to do squats all your waking hours, I suppose you where, given enough food and enough sleep – which I will get back to – I actually believe that your body would adapt. But this is a very far way from saying, that this would be optimal for anything other, than adapting your body to do exactly that. If your goals were muscle growth, this would not be ideal. If your goal was to build maximum strength, this would not be ideal. But could you get away with it, yes I think the abilities of your body to adapt is absolutely exceptional.
Keeping adequate sleep, enough good quality food – then you can really push it, and I mean REALLY push it.
As I am one of those that believe the concept “overtraining” actually exists, I better define how I see it manifest itself. I see overtraining more as a thing that is not only related to training. I see it more as over-stimulation, or over-stress. Allow me to explain.
My belief is, that the body is highly capable of taking care of itself. It is to an extent; self-regulating. If you treat it well, in all aspects, it is very compliant and can take tremendous amounts of stress. Meaning that, if you give it all the right food it needs, all the good sleep and relaxation that it needs – you can absolutely abuse it in the gym for several hours, day after day after day. It will grow, it will be stronger, it will adapt.
But if you start messing a bit, with one of the other factors and for instance introduces a stress-inducing work, where you walk around with worries in your mind all day long, that keeps it hard for you to sleep at night and totally relax, then over time your body will react.
And how does this reaction manifest itself?
People report having trained for instance a ridiculous amount of pushups each day, then they suddenly felt not able to do as many in a row, as they started out with, then they just keep pushing and all of a sudden, they end up with a pulled muscle in their pecs – is this pulled muscle a sign of overtraining? NO! Now you just completely ignored your body for too long – now you are not overtrained – now you are injured!
You can of course measure your progress, by doing a very strict program, if you are not getting stronger, you are perhaps not pushing hard enough. Perhaps pushing to hard? How would you know? My belief in the body as highly self-regulating, leads me to the theory, that one of the first things the body will do to signal that you are overtraining, is regulate your energy levels. If you haven’t got high energy, you are less likely to train, thereby giving yourself more rest. If the goal you set for yourself, starts to vain, stops being as desirable. If you always loved going to the gym, but now feel like it is a chore, that you do out of guilt – then perhaps you should take a step back and see if you are trying to push too hard on too many areas at once. But as I started of by saying, often times, the people who worry about these things, are not pushing anywhere near hard enough. If you just started training yesterday and you do not feel like going today – then this lack in motivation, is not a sign of overtraining; it is a sign of weak character!
Therefore summing up, I believe there is a thing as “overtraining”. You can push too hard. But it is often used in way too many discussions about how to do things, where the word “optimal” should take up a far greater space in the discussion, than “overtraining”.