Muscles aren’t built in gym while exercising. They don’t grow in real time. They’re built in bed while sleeping and recovering. They’re built through the recovery process that your body undergoes when it is healing from the muscle fiber trauma provided through resistance training.
I enlisted in the Marine Corps when I was 17 years old. Like any young motivated recruit I started hitting the gym every day. I put in a ton of time to improve my strength. My goal was to get 20 pull-ups by the time I went to boot camp.
By the time I went to boot camp I was only able to do about 9 measly pull-ups…
I was disappointed about my performance, even more so at the fact that I didn’t understand why I wasn’t getting stronger.
Eventually I figured out that I failed because I worked too hard… I was overtraining my muscles.
What is overtraining?
Overtraining is a physical as well as a psychological condition that occurs when the intensity of an exercise exceeds the capacity to recover. The body stops making progress and actually becomes weaker.
Overtraining usually happens to people who are training for a specific goal and train beyond the body’s ability to recover. Most people believe that training harder and longer will improve your physical abilities. But without adequate rest and recovery, these training routines can work against you and stop your progress dead in its tracks.
Sustainable growth and strength requires a balance between overload and recovery. Too much overload and/or too little recovery may cause symptoms of overtraining.
What are some of the symptoms?
- You suddenly lack energy
- Muscle soreness
- Performance decrease
- You become ill suddenly without explanation
- Decrease in training intensity
- Grinch like attitude
- Loss of desire to train
- Decreased appetite
- A compulsion to exercise when you shouldn’t
Recognize the problem.
While there are many ways to recognize if you are overtraining, the best way in my opinion is to listen to your body and your thoughts. Are you feeling positive or negative about your training? Most athletes start to think very negatively when they work too hard and realize that they are no longer improving. What is your body telling you physically? Are you feeling sore all the time? Is something hurting?
How to fix it?
- Rest-Take 7 days off to fully recover if you’ve been hitting the gym too hard recently, and if you have symptoms of overtraining.
- Hydrate-I always recommend that athletes drink around 128oz of water every day.
- Massage-This is meant to help your relax mentally.
- Ice Bath/Ice Pack-For any sore muscles. Pro athletes use this technique all the time.
- Cross Train-Do something different, nothing breaks a plateau like shocking your body with new exercises and physical stress levels. When your body adapts, shake things up a bit.
- Active Recovery-Do a very light version of your routine.
- Split Train-Vary the muscle groups your work on every day. For example on Monday I might work on my legs, and on Wednesday I might work on my arms, and on Friday I might work on my back and core. It doesn’t take much stress to stimulate growth. Less is more.
Complete recovery from overtraining can take several weeks and should include proper nutrition, rest, and stress reduction.
How to avoid it?
Don’t work too hard! Everyone has a different recovery time so do what works best for you. I typically train 2-3 times over a 7 day span.
Always remember to eat protein and simple carbohydrates immediately after working out. I can’t stress this enough. The protein will help you recover faster and builds new muscle. Proper nutrition combined with proper rest is when the real growth happens. The simple carbohydrates will replenish your fuel stores.
Use ice in areas where you become sore after a tough workout routine.
If you recognize the warning signs of overtraining, it’s important to objectively measure your training routine and adjust it before you end up getting injured.