The inability of most bodybuilders to recognize the symptoms of overtraining is at the root of their training problems. But recognizing the symptoms is only the start. You need to know how to respond to the early symptoms—immediately—if you’re to escape the misery that accompanies chronic overtraining.
This is a very serious issue for all bodybuilders.
Serious hard-gaining bodybuilders have the persistence required to soldier on even when the going gets tough. Persistence is usually a desirable trait. But when it comes to dealing with the warning signs of overtraining, persistence can be destructive.
You must train within your body’s ability to recuperate. Never mind what someone else can recuperate from. Someone else is not you.
Overtraining arises when the body is exposed to more stress than it can deal with.
It may be that you’re training too frequently for the exercise load you’re under, or that you’re training too much each workout for the frequency you’re using. But overtraining is usually much more complex than that.
Overtraining doesn’t occur overnight unless you greatly increase your training load and/or have some drastic reduction in the quality of your rest, sleep and nutrition, and/or have a crisis in your personal life that wipes you out. Overtraining is usually an accumulative process of weeks and months of demanding too much from your body, and ignoring the warning signs of impending chronic overtraining.
When on the edge of overtraining you may still creep forward in the gym; but things will fall apart as you reach the exhaustion point of your recovery abilities. Then, unless you back off, your body will crumble.
Growing bigger and stronger is your body’s response to the stress you impose on it from training hard on appropriate routines. Getting unusually strong and big demands an unusual degree and type of stress, but there’s a fine line between doing enough and doing too much.
Even when you think you can cope with a very heavy stress level, such as at the end of a training cycle when you’re pushing full-bore, your body is taking such a battering that your immune system is suppressed to a degree. This increases your chance of sickness.
When you’re riding the crest of a wave of effort and progression in the gym, don’t think that you’re indestructible. At such a time, take an extra day or two of rest between workouts, reduce your training volume a little, sleep more, eat better, and be super attentive to recovering fully between workouts. Do all this so that you don’t go from being “indestructible” one day, to being laid low with an illness the next.
Stress itself isn’t bad, but an excess of stress relative to what you can deal with is bad. An over-stressed body regresses. This is Nature’s way of forcing you to cycle your training intensity. Whether you like it or not, you’ll end up cycling your training intensity to some degree, whether you do it intentionally (by deliberately backing off at times) or have it forced upon you by injury or illness.
Before you can take action in response to warning signs of overtraining, you need to know what those signs are. While the following 17 symptoms are accurate for the typical non-competitive bodybuilder, including those who are advanced, the very advanced and competitive elite may exhibit different symptoms of overtraining. This list isn’t presented as an exhaustive study.
1) Stagnated training poundages, perhaps even before you’ve reached your most recent best training weights. One or two bad workouts doesn’t necessarily mean you’re overtrained. All bodybuilders have the occasional bad workout that should be written off. But when you have three or four consecutive bad workouts, you’re almost certainly overtrained.
2) Reduced enthusiasm for training, i.e., not looking forward to training as much as usual, and having trouble getting a workout finished without cutting corners. (This could, however, be caused by out-of-the-gym distractions.)
3) A body that’s more tired and sore than usual in the days following training. You’ll not bounce back from the healthy feeling of fatigue that follows a great workout, despite perhaps sleeping more than usual.
4) Even though you feel very tired, you may have trouble getting to sleep and/or have trouble getting back to sleep when awoken during the night.
5) An increasing number of minor aches and pains, and ones that don’t heal.
6) Reduced appetite and food intake.
7) Reduced level of concentration during each set.
8) Being more irritable and less patient in your life in general.
9) Being anxious about your training not going well.
10) Feeling under the weather.
11) Getting frequent colds.
12) Diminished endurance—formerly moderate-intensity aerobic work starts to feel demanding. The perceived exertion from the aerobic exercise increases.
13) Legs feel heavy, in and out of the gym, and all activities seem to involve more effort than previously.
14) Increased resting heart rate.
15) Increased diastolic blood pressure.
16) An inclination for corner cutting in any training-related issue, including your nutrition.
17) Losing interest in reading bodybuilding magazines and books.
Many of the above can, however, be the result of out-of-the-gym factors. Even in those cases it’s still wise to back off to a reduced training intensity until your life and recovery machinery are back to normal.
Be honest with yourself. Discover if you have any genuine symptoms of overtraining. You may suffer from at least several of the symptoms. If so, face the fact that you’re overtrained and need to adjust your training so that the symptoms of overtraining don’t persist. Don’t be guilty of denial.
You’ll not increase your muscle mass through overtraining!
Local soreness and systemic fatigue are part and parcel of training. There is, however, a huge difference between post-workout systemic fatigue that’s a high from training, and the fatigue that’s almost debilitating. To train hard, and have a shower followed by a good meal, leaves a sense of achievement and a well-worked feeling that’s a joy. To beat yourself into the ground once you’re already tired and dragging yourself around, as in an overtrained state, produces no post-workout high.
The above is an excerpt from Chapter 14 of BEYOND BRAWN. For the causes of the overtrained condition, how to react to signs of overtraining, and the full account of how to avoid overtraining ruining your bodybuilding progress, please see the rest of Chapter 14.
Please check out this book’s table of contents to discover the extent of the guidance provided in this famous bodybuilding guide.