Day after day you’re smashing yourself in the gym and training harder than anyone else you see. Afterwards you’re feeling sore, mentally exhausted for most of the day and your mood is all over the place. All this and the much wanted gains just aren’t coming, but yet people training not as hard as you seem to be progressing at a much faster pace.
This leads to the question, are you overtraining? Maybe not. Overtraining is very rare to come across and usually misunderstood. However, what’s more likely is that you are overtaxing yourself.
Overtraining Is & Isn’ts
The name overtraining is actually quite misleading. Just because you did a million bicep curls, doesn’t mean to say you’re overtraining. It wouldn’t be the smartest move in the world, but it’s not classed as overtraining. On that same note, training too much doesn’t mean you’re overtraining either. Everyone has their own recovery capacities, with some people being able to cope with more compared to others.
The actually definition of overtraining in the science world is this;
“A physiological state caused by an excess accumulation of physiological, psychological, emotional, environmental, and chemical stress that leads to a sustained decrease in physical and mental performance, and that requires a relatively long recovery period.”
Looking at this definition, there’s three key points that are highlighted;
- Physiological state: this means that overtraining isn’t something you do, but a state similar to burnout or illness.
- Excess accumulation of physiological, psychological, emotional, environmental, and chemical stress: any type of stress has an effect on the body. However, this isn’t just limited to the structure involved, such as performing a deadlift doesn’t just stress your muscles. When stress is caused it releases hormones and overexerts the adrenal glands. Bear in mind that other factors, such as things outside of the gym, can contribute to causing stress aswell.
- Sustained decrease in physical and mental performance: just because you’ve had a few poor workouts, doesn’t mean you’ve overtrained. It could just be down to poor recovery or fatigue. The key word we’re looking at is sustained. This means a prolonged period of time where you’re not getting the most out of your sessions.
After looking at those points into a little more detail, you might be starting to think you’re not overtrained, but overtaxed. Realistically, most people train on average 6-8 hours a week. That’s nowhere near enough time to cause enough stress on the central nervous system to cause overtraining. However, that may be enough time to suffer from poor training.
Chasing the Stimulus
If you are one of those people that read up on as much as they can about new workouts and spend all day at work just thinking about getting to the gym and making your workouts better and better, you’re probably a stimulus addict.
Now, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If you’re a stimulus addict, you train for the fact you love the feeling of training, not necessarily the gains associated with training. The pros of this are that you never really lose motivation, you’ll stick with training for long periods of time and won’t shy away from hard work.
However, as much as all of that sounds good, being a stimulus addict can also have cons. Being a stimulus addict makes you a prime candidate to train excessively, push yourself too hard and for too long and far too often. This means that you can sometimes feel that you’ve hit a brick wall with progress and just feel crap all the time.
What Causes You to Feel Crap?
If you feel crap most of the time, you’re probably suffering from a workout hangover. Lack of focus and energy, no motivation and moderate headaches, these are all signs that you’ve probably stressed your nervous system just that little bit too much. This can also have an effect on your hormonal system.
If you start stressing your hormonal system too much, it can lead to too much cortisol being produced. This doesn’t mean to say that cortisol is the enemy here. In fact, cortisol is important for mobilising energy during a workout, helping break down glycogen and fat stores to produce energy to fuel your working muscles. However, the problem with too much cortisol being produced is that it is produced from the same place as testosterone and estrogen. This means that cortisol takes over and not enough testosterone and estrogen can be produced. Greedy cortisol.
When cortisol is over produced, this lowers your testosterone levels and makes it 10x harder for the testosterone you do have to do its job. This can lead to a decrease in muscle mass, increase in fat mass and dent your libido. A fun fact for you is that a clear sign of low testosterone and high cortisol is a lack of morning wood for the gentleman.
Going back to stressing your nervous system, anyone who has competed in a sport where you’re pushing yourself to the maximum, i.e. powerlifting or weightlifting, know how much of a toll it takes on your body. It basically fries your central nervous system and can take up to 7-10 days for you get recover. If you’re training with heavy lifts, explosive movements or going to failure regularly throughout the week, you’re just going to run yourself into the ground. Training at that intensity will just require your body more recovery time, which will mean you won’t be able to train as frequently or to that same intensity each workout.
Along with that, any workout will cause inflammation, which is a necessity for muscle growth to occur. However, too much inflammation, from pushing yourself too hard, too often and for too long, can actually reduce your progress of muscle growth. This is because the resources in your body used for muscle growth will have to fight the inflammation problem. Remember, it’s normal to feel sore after a workout, but not if it’s lingering for prolonged periods of time. Think back to the definition of overtraining.
Signs & Symptoms
Below is a list of signs and symptoms that may indicate if you are over stressing your nervous and hormonal systems;
- Lack of libido
- Water retention
- Decrease in grip strength
- Decrease in explosive power
- Weights feel heavier on your joints
- Feel out of the groove when lifting
- Increase in resting blood pressure
- Itchy eyes
- Prolonged muscle soreness
- Frequent or long lasting illnesses
- Takes longer to wake up on a morning
- Feeling like you have a hangover
If you’ve read through that list and made a link with 3 or more of those points, then I think it would be best if you re-evaluate your training programme.
Training Your Nervous System Too Far
Below is a list of training methods that will push your central nervous system too far. If you use any of these methods regularly within your training, I would see how much progress you’ve made and reassess your programme.
- Psyching yourself up or feeling anxious/nervous before a lift
- Training until failure
- Doing more than 4 reps of 90% of your 1RM
- Doing more than 6 sets to muscle failure
Effecting Your Hormonal System
The thing about your hormonal system is that it takes longer to change than your central nervous system. This means that it might be months before you start to realise you’ve got a problem. Check out the list below and if any of the bullet points start ringing alarm bells, I think it’s time to make a change.
- Becoming a stimulus addict
- Training longer than 75-90 minutes
- Continuing to perform sets for a muscle even when you don’t feel a pump anymore
- Continuing to train even if you feel a drop in motivation during a session
Throughout this article, I’ve covered quite a few points that may make you think about if you are pushing yourself too hard in training and not seeing results. If you have made a link with any of those points and you’re not sure how to change your training, get in touch and I’ll be happy to help.
The ultimate goal of training is to lead a healthy, happy lifestyle. Training shouldn’t lead to your ultimate destruction.
Thanks for reading,