Dec 9, 2010

Evolve Your Workouts and Avoid Overtraining

by Will Hughes, BA, NSCA-CPT

Do you workout much? Maybe too much? Be honest! Maybe you have been working out lately and you feel a little bit more tired before or during your workout. Do you always feel soar or pain during/after your workouts? Or maybe you just feel completely unmotivated to go the gym altogether because that really good feeling you used to get from doing your workouts just doesn’t happen anymore. You may even have noticed that the progress towards your personal fitness goals has become stagnant. These are all symptoms of overtraining (2) and if any of those things sound familiar to you then you may suffer from overtraining. Since I have become a trainer I have become much more aware of the importance of changing my workouts and the workouts of my clients, every so often, to not only help reach goals but to also help avoid overtraining. So I would like to offer you my understanding on the subject of overtraining based on a few readings I have come across recently. I’ll cover what overtraining really is, and a few misconceptions of overtraining. I’ll also talk of ways that you can avoid these symptoms of overtraining that I mentioned previously.
What is Overtraining exactly?
If you have been training for any period of time you may have heard of overtraining or overreaching, which can lead to overtraining (3). In which case you may or may not have a full understanding of what overtraining actually is. Overtraining can be defined as exercising to the extreme in intensity, frequency and/or duration (1). Understand that all three of these factors we get from this definition could include any different number of interpretations. The important thing to keep in mind is that true effects of these extremes in exercise usually result in a decline in performance or your fitness goals, even after an extended period of rest (2).
How can you help yourself avoid Overtraining? 
A good approach to change your workouts from time to time is a commonly known concept called periodization. Since there are so many ways to determine exercising to the extreme in intensity, frequency, and duration there are also many ways to change your program design so that you can avoid such extremes. Periodization allows you to manipulate or change the different training variables (sets, reps, exercise progressions, rest between sets/reps, resistance/loads, tempo, number of exercises during a session, number of training sessions per day/week, recovery between sessions, etc.) that are involved in your program design over a period of time to help avoid overtraining (5). Intensity and volume are terms that are often used when referring to periodization. If we use volume in place of frequency from our definition for overtraining above, then you can see how changing your training variables by periodization could help combat exercising to the extreme in intensity, volume, and duration; thus helping you avoid overtraining.
When in doubt R&R!
As should be the case with periodization or any other approach to training you must make sure to allow for adequate rest time during and in between workout sessions in order for the body to recover. This is not only important in helping you to avoid overtraining but also in reaching your fitness goals. However, you should not confuse the need for rest between workout sessions as a cure for  overtraining. A good example of this would be the 48 Hour Rule. This is used by many as a way to allow the body proper recovery before another resistance session or intense training day. People who use this do not train the same muscle groups within 48 hours of the last time they trained those muscles. While this may be a good approach to help avoid overtraining it does not allow for adequate recovery if you are indeed suffering from overtraining. It’s important to take note of the fact that everything I have talked about thus far has been of ways to help avoid overtraining, not to cure it. It can take anywhere up to a week, to weeks, or maybe even months to recover from/cure overtraining (2). If you feel a little tired before your workout and decided to take a day or two off from training, and everything is better when you pick things back up afterwards then chances are you were never really suffering from overtraining, you simply need a few days to rest and there may have been other outside factors that contributed to your feelings of fatigue.
Having a bad day?
I’m a firm believer that you should never underestimate the effects that stress can play in your workouts. If you don’t feel like today is a good day to workout or you are just not “filling it”, then maybe you should listen to your body and do one of two things. Lower your intensity in that day’s workout or give yourself the day off and rest! Forcing yourself to go through a rigorous workout when you know you’re not up for it, simply because you don’t want to mess up your routine, is a way of overreaching (1) and it could lead to you hurting yourself, overtraining, or both.

William has been in the Santa Barbara area since 2002. Originally from Indianapolis, IN William received his B.A. in Mathematics from Earlham College in Richmond, IN. He played 4 years of football at the Div III collegiate level as a wide receiver and 2 years of Track and Field running the 400m, 200m, 4x400m relay, 4x100m relay and triple jump.

For further question, contact Will:

  2. SYMPTOMS ‐ 
  3. Training and Overtraining: an introduction ‐ Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise – Vol. 30, July 1998 
  4. Overtraining in Sports – Medicine & science in Sports and Exercise – Vol. 30, May 1998 
  5. Periodization ‐

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