In most endeavors in life, you can expect to receive rewards in proportion to what you give in time and effort. Work more and harder in your career, and you’ll grow your business or earn promotions and raises. Spend more time with friends and family, and you’ll build stronger, more fulfilling relationships. Practice longer and more diligently on your golf swing, and you’ll shave strokes off your game. Exercise—and weightlifting in particular—is a bit different, however. There’s a point where exerting more effort actually become Overtraining.
MYTH: Overtraining and Longer Workouts are Better
Most people are aware of this concept, but they don’t know how easy it is to overtrain or how to spot it. You see people overtraining all the time. The guys that spend 2+ hours working for a single muscle group, doing set after set after set, are overtraining without realizing it. They don’t understand why they don’t get bigger or stronger despite their long, grueling workouts. The more effort they put into growing their chest, they figure, the more it will grow. That’s not how it works, though. Your body can only take so much before it becomes afflicted with what’s known as overtraining.
Overtraining is simply an imbalance between work and recovery. When you put too much stress on the body and don’t give it the proper amount of rest, various undesirable things happen. The common side effects are a state of chronic fatigue, depression, and underperformance despite rest, but it’s not always that extreme or obvious. There are other, subtler signs of overtraining that you should know and watch for so you can stop the process before you hit the point where you require an extensive—several weeks’ long in some cases—recovery.
What follows is a list of signs that you may be overtraining.
If you’re only experiencing one of the symptoms, it may not indicate overtraining. But if you’re experiencing several, chances are you need to take a rest week (5–7 days of no exercise or very light training has always handled it for me). Getting a proper amount of sleep is also a key part of preventing overtraining. Seven to eight hours per night is generally considered optimal. The last crucial element is a proper diet that fully provides your body with everything it needs to repair itself.
YOU SIMPLY CAN’T FINISH A PROPER WORKOUT.
When your body is overtrained, you won’t be able to lift the weights you normally can, you won’t have the energy to do as many sprints, you won’t have the stamina to run your normal route, and so forth. Even though you’re hitting the gym every day, you’ll feel progressively weaker, slower, and more lethargic. I’ve had it so bad before that I couldn’t stop yawning in the gym and couldn’t possibly push myself to do another set.
YOU’RE GETTING FATTER DESPITE OVERTRAINING
When hormones are normal, losing fat is simply a matter of increasing energy output over caloric intake, but when you’re overtraining, this no longer holds true. What gives? Your hormones get thrown out of whack. Testosterone levels plunge, and cortisol levels rise, which causes catabolism (the breakdown of muscle tissue) and increases insulin resistance and fat deposition. The end result? You train harder and watch your diet closely, but you get fatter.
YOU’RE OVERTRAINING EVERY DAY OF THE WEEK.
I’ve yet to meet someone, not on drugs who can lift heavy, sprint hard, or engage in otherwise intense training every day of the week and still adequately recover. Unless you have Wolverine’s gift of regeneration, it’s absolutely vital that you take at least two days off weights per week and schedule at least one day of absolutely no exercise.
What I like to do is lift weights Monday–Friday and do cardio Sunday– Tuesday or Wednesday. That leaves Saturday as a full rest day.
You can intersperse your rest days throughout the week too:
Day 1: Weights Day
Day 2: Weights & cardio Day
Day 3: Cardio only Day
Day 4: Weights & cardio Day
Day 5: Weights & cardio Day
Day 6: Weights Day
Day 7: Full rest
You can play with this as much as you want so long as you take two days off weights and let yourself have one day of no exercise whatsoever. If you want to give your metabolism a little boost, don’t take two full rest days in a row.