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The Myth of Overtraining


Jan 18, 2023
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Q: I’ve heard you say that “overtraining” is nonsense and virtually impossible to achieve. Should I be worried about overtraining? Do you have science to support your stance?

Everyone is familiar with “overtraining syndrome,” which is a real problem with negative side effects, but the truth of the matter is that 99 percent of people reading this will never even come close to experiencing the true definition of overtraining.

In fact, sports scientists are overwhelmingly coming to the conclusion that individuals will never reach a true overtraining state. Research on elite athletes has found an ability to tolerate a threefold increase in training volume for up to three weeks. Think about that for a moment. A threefold increase in training volume, not for a single day or week, but for three weeks straight!

I tripled my training volume while at Charles Poliquin’s 5-Day Hypertrophy Bootcamp (15 workouts in five days) and felt like George St. Pierre’s punching bag. I couldn’t imagine repeating that for an additional two weeks! Again, it’s extremely hard to reach a truly overtrained state, and I don’t mean to bore you with the science, but read these researchers’ findings:

“Overtraining typically requires a greatly prolonged period of stressful training to achieve.”1,2

“In preparing elite training programs, we will not underestimate the adaptive abilities of the human body.”3

“Sports scientists are overwhelmingly concluding that individuals will never reach a true overtraining state.”4

“Previous research in elite athletes has found an ability to tolerate a threefold increase in training volume for periods up to three weeks.”3,4

“A conclusion reached by Lehmann is that overtraining resulting from load and intensity factors seems to resolve faster than overtraining resulting from excessive training volume. Overtraining from increased loads or training intensity should resolve within a few weeks of rest.6,7,2 It is my recommendation that instead of total rest, if one feels they are in an overtrained state, a taper would be more optimal.” (Wilson, J., and Wilson, G., 2005)

So you can see why I am convinced that people suffer from “undertraining syndrome” and don’t come close to overtraining. It’s not just my opinion. The science supports it. Let’s look instead at “overreaching,” a concept crucial to your bodybuilding success, and the science behind it.

What exactly is the difference between overtraining and overreaching.

Losing your appetite, altered sleep patterns and mood changes are often a reflection of overreaching, not overtraining. “Overreaching,” or overwork, means a short period of increased work that deliberately exceeds your abilities. It’s an intentional stress that you place on your body for a brief period of time followed by a period of undertraining, or deloading, to allow for a greater supercompensation aftereffect.

You can recover from overreaching after one or two weeks. It took me approximately seven days of doing nothing to recover from the 15 workouts in five days. Here are a few more practical applications from some of the world’s leading scientific experts:

Kramer: “Overreaching (OR) is where one increases the training stimuli in order to create a decrease in performance but one that has a “supercompensation” response or a rebound with increased performance at some point in time after the OR phase is completed.”8

O’Bryant: “Overreaching is a type of periodization where short-term (one to two weeks) increases in volume or intensity are followed by a return to normal training. This brief phase can result in a delayed performance increase approximately two to five weeks after return to normal training.”8

Plisk: “Overreaching is an advanced training strategy where volume loads are increased for two to three weeks and then reduced to normal levels to enhance adaptation and performance two to five weeks later by virtue of a ‘rebound’ [supercompensation] effect. It requires careful planning and understanding of cumulative and delayed training effects. Overtraining (OT) is a maladaptation syndrome resulting when OR-type workloads are applied inappropriately; for example, over prolonged periods or without adequate recovery or regard for the additive effects of other stressors. Long-term performance decrements and fatigue seem to be the universal indicators of OT and may or may not be accompanied by other symptoms.”8

Stone: “Overreaching is a condition produced most often by sudden increases in training volume. OR may produce some of the signs and symptoms of OT but not as severe. A reduction in training volume or intensity and return to normal training can produce an increased performance several weeks after the OR. Sometimes a supercompensation effect will occur boosting performance to new levels. Thus, OR can be planned (carefully) into the periodized program (usually one to two weeks of increased volume) and may result in a performance boost.”8

Q: Why are there warning about “overtraining” everywhere on the Internet?

In my opinion, overtraining has been blown out of proportion for commercialism. It certainly exists (primarily in endurance athletes, not bodybuilders) and can absolutely hinder your progress, which is the reason I include deload and recover weeks in my program design. Even so, I’ve watched the concept of overtraining become blown out of proportion and distorted over the years.

Most exercise gurus are capitalizing on the desires of lazy people looking for an easy way out with messages like, “Train more than three times a week, and you’ll overtrain.” Really? That type of marketing has created a generation of lifters who are more concerned with how much rest to take than how much work to perform. Most people who discuss overtraining are using it to justify not working hard, as opposed to working harder.

In my 10 years in the business I have never met anyone who was overtrained. Think about it—have you? Sure, I have had clients who experienced staleness in their workouts and even used phrases like “burned out.” Even so, it was nothing that one or two weeks of rest and good nutrition couldn’t fix.

Now that you can take the fear that you’ll become overtrained and throw it in the dumpster, it’s time to address a bigger problem—undertraining. I’ll take that up next time.

Editor’s note: Vince Del Monte packed on an amazing 40 pounds of muscle in 24 weeks. He’s know as “the Skinny Guy Savior” and has a number of courses to help you go from twig to big, including No Nonsense Muscle Building.