Overtraining? WTF?

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Perhaps many of you are familiar with this scenario: you work your guts out in the gym; you spend a lot of time working out and never skip a training. Moreover, you might do some supplementary exercise to spend your rest days more actively. Everything seems to be OK with food, too. Still something is not OK. You’re not gaining strength or weight; you might even lose weight unintentionally; you are unmotivated; you experience fatigue or pain. But you are not sick, that’s for sure... what’s wrong then? The answer is written above: you might be overtraining! But what does overtraining exactly mean? Well, read a bit further: I hope I can help you avoid this unpleasant condition. Or, if it has already caught you, the following tips might help you put an end to it ASAP.


Muscles are built in the gym

You go to the gym regularly to bomb your muscles until they blast. Let your skin tear!THIS is the feeling you wish you could take along for the rest of the day. Your muscles are twice their size as they are full of blood; you simply love it. And you are also looking better, aren’t you? Many still think this condition is muscle growth itself. I remember back then, when my father saw me with bulging muscles, he always felt an urge to show me who is the king of the castle: “Come on,  beefcake, show your old man what you can! Beat me in arm wrestling if you can!” And then he came with his arm-twisting handshakes like they do in arm-wrestling, only standing in an upright position, as a “foolproof” standard to decide who’s stronger. But it can be a tough challenge to demonstrate your strength after an exhausting workout. Sure, I often joined the game. I wish I hadn’t. My old man wrecked my totally worn-out muscles like an Abrams squad would do to a tacky wooden catapult base. I had no chance. I had no chance anyway, let alone in this condition. After a few injuries and inflammations I drew the conclusion that it is not fun to play arm wrestling on rest days either, following e.g. a devastating arm day.

You should rather rest after workout.

So, after all, my body forced me to turn down my father’s challenges. Sure he was puzzled: “Are you kidding me, son? How can you be tired after workout? This is the time when you should feel the strongest!” But I answered: “No, it’s not like that.You work out, you get exhausted, then you recover. And this circle goes on and on.” I explained to him. His answer was: “Why the heck do you work out then, if you have no strength after workout? One works out to be strong! You are a piece of cheesecake compared to me... what do you need muscles for, if you cannot use them?”

See, that’s how the older generations perceive this whole thing. Father saw it simply: he saw me with my muscles bulging out and this was like a red rag to a bull for him. He automatically thought that I am the strongest right after training (sure, when I am tired like shit): “one works out to be strong”. Sure, father, and this works like that, instantly! He still likes to play with his weights at home but he never works out so hard to become totally exhausted.He just pumps a bit and thinks his muscles are growing at the same time. Nevertheless, this invigorates him: his eyes open up and he gets a good kickstart for the day. But this has nothing to do with classic weight training, when you attack your muscles from several directions, often until total failure.

Muscles are built in the gym, during workout. This misconception is still holding on firmly in people’s minds. Muscles are not built in the gym, during workout. On the contrary: during workout, muscles are actually being DAMAGED. And this will continue unless you act against it with appropriate diet. After workout, the best you can do is rest and supply your muscles with nutrients in sufficient quality and quantity to ensure recovery. That’s when your muscles are growing, not during workout. Workout is just a stimulus that triggers muscle growth. From then on, your success will depend on whether you make sure all the conditions of muscle growth (diet, rest etc.) are met. Many think that the more they work out the more muscular they will become and the sooner they will achieve the desired results. This is a typical beginner’s fault.

More is not necessarily better?

Not only it is not necessarily better: It is not better most of the time. You might spice up your exercise plan with various intensity-blasting techniques like supersets or strip sets, but these should only be applied intermittently. You should not massacre your muscles constantly to the extremes, because it will backfire. Some guys, typically those who only work out to look good on the beach, are obsessed with doing pecs and biceps 3 times a week. No wonder they crap out in a month. The reason is generally their poor overall physical condition. But exercising a muscle (group) more than once a week is not recommended for fit people either, if it is a really hard and intensive training program based on the classic principles.

Overtraining? WTF?

You can exercise a given muscle more than once a week. You are free to do so. But in this case you should be prepared for overtraining. Let’s make something clear before you would even think of it: Overtraining is not the same as getting “too muscular”. It is something completely different. Overtraining is a condition when your muscles and nervous system are overloaded during workout and you cannot fully recover. You are not fully recovered, still you are forcing yourself from one workout to another. You are trying to deliver the same performance constantly, or even to surpass it, instead of putting your damn ego aside, skipping a day or two and relaxing. But overtraining is not only about training. The reason why you cannot fully recover often lies in your diet: you might not get enough from one or more nutrients or your overall dietary regimen is inappropriate for your body to recover and build muscle after workout. But most of the time, overtraining is a mutual consequence of too frequent and too intense workout and inappropriate diet.

Your car will also jerk around as long as there is fuel in its tank. It is strongly recommended though, to fill it up from time to time, take a look at the parts and perform the necessary maintenance activities every now and then, or change the oil. If there is no fuel, your car will not start. If there is fuel but no oil, your engine will go to rack and ruin. And if you do not perform the necessary maintenance activities, the parts will give in, no matter how full the tank is.

The human body works similarly. Even if you eat enough, it might not pay off to exercise a muscle twice or more times a week, if you work out just as a hobby. Your joints will be overloaded, which will lead to injury sooner or later, especially if you are a complete idiot (but even if you are not). Plus, your nervous system will run low, too, if you don’t get enough sleep. Remember: weight training, as well as other types of exercise expose the central nervous system to considerable stress.

The most frequent symptoms

If you experience some of the following symptoms, you are most likely overtrained:

  • Fatigue, overall discomfort;
  • Lack of motivation;
  • Irritability;
  • Muscle or joint pain;
  • Continuous muscle strain;
  • Continuously high pulse, even in a relaxed state;
  • Deterioration of physical and mental performance;
  • Weight loss (Not fat loss!); shrinking in muscle size.

This can all be yours: all you have to do is bomb each of your muscles massively at least twice a week, hoping that this will make you stronger or look better. You cannot do this in the long run. No matter how precisely your diet is set or how much quality food you consume: you cannot escape overtraining.

Overtraining can easily be yours

Now let’s assume that you are following a good exercise plan and bomb each muscle only once per week. You do weight training 3 or 4 times a week. But on the rest of the days, say, you do kettlebell, crossfit, exercise with your body weight or play football. Or, it’s the other way round: you basically pursue a different sport but you like weight training, too, so you add 3 weight trainings to your 4 football trainings a week to gain some muscle. These two cases are basically the same. Remember: any kind of physical activity, even if it is not as exhausting as weight training, works your muscles and consumes energy. This means, you need more nutrients. And if your nutrition is not adequate for your activity, you can take overtraining for granted. And this is only one part of the pack: Getting enough rest is also vital. If you neglect it because you are a hyperactive moron, you can only blame yourself.

Imagine: right when the results are starting to show, you are forced to take 2 or 3 weeks off because you had not been thinking proactively. Use your brain! Calculate, plan, eat properly and get enough rest. There is no other way.

What to do if you have already overtrained yourself...

It’s time to reconsider your program, both the diet and the exercise part. As I mentioned above, it is no use to mess around with any extra activities, playing the tough guy. If you normally have 4 weight trainings a week, that means 4, not more. On the other days, have some rest, or, if you wish to improve your stamina, you can do some aerobic workout (or cardio, provided that you are fit enough for that). But in the latter case, you should take extra care of nutrition. If your diet does not support your activity level, you will end up in a disaster. And if enforced rest is your last resort because you are so exhausted that you can not even lift your arm, the only thing you can do is rest as much as you can. Get enough sleep; don’t stay up late; give your system enough time and energy to recover. You might spend several months struggling in a state of overtraining, if you are persistent enough. As a rookie, I didn’t care the least about the pain I felt in both my elbows, knees and shoulders; I spent months on the level I got stuck at, until it finally dawned on me that I might had been doing something wrong. And it was not difficult. Bench press with 30 kgs can be maintained for quite a long time, even in an overtrained state. Maybe even forever.

Enforced rest

In the first few days of your enforced rest, keep your dietary regimen unchanged and consume as much of all nutrients as you would normally do. Around the second week, you will need less carbs. To avoid gaining too much body fat, decrease your carb intake by 20-30% and increase your protein intake to 3 grams per kilogram of bodyweight. If you consume the above amounts by default, you do not need to eat more. In this case, some extra amino acids, BCAA or glutamine can help you a lot. Plus, if you have also ruined your joints, joint support supplements like NEM can accelerate your recovery. No need to explain, a strong multivitamin and 3 to 5 grams of vitamin C per day are essential.

As you are getting better, you will most likely feel a strong urge to rush to the gym. But hold your horses: starting to exercise again too soon is a typical fault. You are 100% again if all the pain is gone; if you do not experience pain even from small strain; if you feel alright and that general “something is not OK” feeling is gone, too. I know, I could have put it more clearly. But let’s face it: even we, humans are basically driven by our instincts. And your instincts are usually right. Only your ego tends to overwrite it,

but you should be smarter and not let you ego take over. After you have taken enough rest and are ready to return to the gym, you should put your pride aside and not aspire to do bench press or biceps with the same weights as when you were on the peak of your performance. You cannot make it anyway. But you will put yourself at risk of breaking down again. Have some light exercise in the first few days and you will see how far you can go. You should return to the weights and training program you used before slowly and gradually, and everything will be alright.

Next time you will know: in bodybuilding, you need to use your brain at least us much as your muscles. Do not put yourself under pressure. And if you are just a hyperactive moron and you cannot sit still on your butt for a minute, take my strong advice: remove 2 batteries and run in economy mode for a while. :)



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