You Are Not Over Trained.
The fitness community tends to split right down the middle when it comes to overtraining.
You’re either going to get someone who thinks you train too hard and are bound to get injured just because you like to actually break a sweat when you train. Or you get a David Goggin’s wannabe telling you that there’s no such thing as overtraining, questioning why you aren’t willing to run on your 27 stress fractures #stayhard.
As with almost everything related to fitness…the answer never lies in the extremes. Yes overtraining is a thing. On the flip side, it’s much more common to be undertrained than it is to be over trained. Extremely more common. Topping the charts of health concerns for the United States more common.
Going even further than that, I’d say what most people diagnosis as overtraining tends to be symptoms of fatigue due to factors completely unrelated to training in the first place.
Chances are you aren’t over trained, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t issues you need to address…
1. Overstressed and Undertrained:
In all likelihood you are not over trained. You are over stressed.
Lifters and coaches alike can oftentimes get stuck looking at training from a very one dimensional standpoint…just…training.
Like it or not, however, training success and failure factors in EVERYTHING about your life. How well you sleep, your nutrition, your work life, your general stress levels, your relationships/social health, substance abuse issues, all of it.
Problems in any one of these areas can easily leak over into your progress in the gym. The issue being that most people will ignore these outside variables and immediately jump to “I’m over training” when they need something to blame.
Are you tho…?
- Are you over trained or were you binge drinking for the entire weekend…every weekend…?
- Are you over trained or have you only slept 3-4 hours every night this week?
- Are you over trained or have you been taking on more and more responsibilities at work?
- Are you over trained or are you hustling each day to make sure your family is fed, safe, and taken care of?
Start looking at your training load from a standpoint of cumulative stress from all areas of your life. Your actual training stress being just one of those many variables.
Barring the guy who comes in and maxes out every single day in the gym, your training is likely the least troublesome area of stress in your life. No offense but those 5 sets of 5 aren’t exactly taxing…
Unresolved life stress on the other hand…
2. Lack of Progress/Motivation/Energy Are NOT Signs of Overtraining
Google any articles with the search term “signs of overtraining” and I guarantee the first three points will be as follows
- Your Progress is Going Backwards
- You’re Not Motivated to Train
- You’re Fatigued
Go ahead, google it. I’ll be here.
Problem is, how do you know for sure any of these “signs” are due to overtraining in and of itself? Like…you’re certain it’s overtraining? Couldn’t possibly be anything else? …Really?
Your progress could be going backwards because you are undertrained all the same as if you were over trained. Or get this, maybe it’s just a bad program/not made for you specifically. You may not be motivated to train because you don’t enjoy the movement selection, or you haven’t found the form of physical activity you enjoy, or you are experiencing genuine life stress which is hindering your motivation. Your fatigue could be from lack of sleep, work stress, life stress, relationship troubles, anxiety, depression, along with a long list of medical ailments.
Point is…while there are plenty of “signs” you could say are symptoms of overtraining…none of them are conclusive. There are so many variables to consider that it’s irresponsible of a coach to cherry pick a “sign of overtraining” and conclusively state they know your training is to blame.
Especially, if they don’t bother to ask what else may be going on in your life.
3. On The Off Chance That You Are Over Trained
So yes, despite the fact that I doubt you are over trained, overuse injuries are still a thing.
I like to look at overtraining more so as you trained too fast than you trained too much.
Most overuse injuries such as shin splints, stress fractures, and tendinopathies come down to you increased your training frequency/intensity/volume or some combination of the three to a large degree all at once, and this sudden change was too quick for your body to have a chance to adapt to it.
Shin splints are a fantastic example of this issue. If you’ve been running 10 miles every week and suddenly all in one week jump up to 40 miles, you’re likely to experience shin splints. This would be a textbook overuse injury, and yes an example of the fact that over training is indeed real.
However, that’s not to say that running 40 miles is bad for you/ “is too much training“…you just tried to do it too soon. If you had worked your way up from 10 miles a week, to 12 miles a week, to 14…you get the point, you’d eventually reach 40 miles a week with no issues. The amount of training really isn’t the issue, more so how fast you tried to do that amount of training is.
Our adaptability as humans is genuinely quite incredible. Given enough time, you can increase your work capacity for any given physical feat to such a degree that overtraining becomes nearly impossible (Think of how hard it would be to over train as an ultrarunner who can run 200+ miles). But that’s the key. You have to give it time.
So long as you are progress yourself in gradual steps overtraining is an issue I believe athletes should spend much less of their time worrying about. Use that time instead to make sure you’ve got all other sources of life stress in check.