You're on your third and last set of squats. You take slow, deliberate breaths, feeling the adrenaline surging through your veins. With a growl of rage, you lift the bar off. With so much weight, the bar bends across your back.
You smile internally, and proceed like a machine. Through each rep you howl with adrenaline inducing fury. You are the epitome of form and balance. With extreme deliberation and control, you rack the bar after your eighth and final rep.
Your workout partner slaps you across the back, telling you what a great set that was. You smile sinisterly into the mirror. Life is good. Then you hear a semi-muffled voice saying, "you see those guys, they're over-training." You turn to see one of the personal trainers has just showed up with his newest trainee. Your initial thoughts are ones of insult and anger. You then notice the confusion on the new guy's face. He's checking out the size and definition of your ripping muscles.
Real results, brought on by months of sound dieting and fierce training. He glances sideways at his trainer, who has arms the size of toothpicks and the cardio capacity of a sloth. Yet this guy is supposed to be 'one of the experts.' In fact, one that he is paying $40 an hour no less. Your thoughts then turn to both amusement and pity for the newcomer. You smile and wink at them and proceed to your next lift.
Sound familiar? Unfortunately this is a situation becoming more and more common in gyms these days. Sadly, many well-meaning trainers are mistaking high intensity for over-training. They are then passing on less than accurate information to those they train, which in turn leads to beginners attaining less than satisfying results.
This leads to frustration, as they see other gym members training intensely, and getting real results. The problem lies in the fact that over-training has only been brought into the spotlight recently, and has caused paranoia among many.
What is Over-training?
Over-training is the result of doing too much of a good thing. Those who trained and trained yet were getting less than desirable results initially brought it into the spotlight. Many had the idea that 'if three sets is good for my biceps, five set should be great.' A common practice was for people to bench-press three to five times per week.
Yet they were getting little to no growth in either size or strength. This is because the muscles were broken down excessively and repeatedly, without being given proper rest time. The pros picked up on this, and quickly started dispelling the myth that you have to train four hours a day to get results. Ronnie Coleman and Jay Cutler each have stated that they spend maybe an hour and a half weight training each day.
What are the Signs of Over-training?
If you are wondering whether you are over-training, or just being paranoid, let's look at the symptoms.
- Inability to Sleep
- Easily Aggravated / Quickened Temper
- Fatigue / Loss of Motivation
- Extreme Soreness that Lasts More than a Couple of Days
- Loss of Strength
- Digression in Strength or Size
If you are exhibiting any of these symptoms, do not automatically assume it is from over-training, as there are many other factors to consider. However, over-training is a very real problem that faces many athletes, and you should review your workout schedule to see if this is happening to you.
So How do I Avoid Over-training?
Over-training can be avoided by following a few simple guidelines:
1) Avoid following 'the pros' exact training regimes.
Every month, all of our favorite muscle magazines have countless new workout programs sanctioned by the pros. These are a great source for finding new lifts to stimulate our muscles.
However, following ANYONE'S exact routine is rarely good. The routines you see in muscle magazines often involve too many lifts and sets for the natural athlete. Unless you are on steroids, use the workout programs in magazines as an idea, nothing more.
2) Limit overall sets to no more than 12 for each bodypart.
The simplest way to break this down is to do four exercises of three sets each per bodypart. Too many sets will overly break down the muscles, which will slow down or stop your gains altogether. If done with the right amount of intensity, 12 sets will be enough. When training for strength, do a weight that allows you to perform no more than 4-6 reps. If training for mass, go for 8-10 reps. For endurance, no more than 12-15 reps.
3) Train each bodypart no more than once or
twice per week.
Ten years ago this would have been unheard of. Recently, it has been found that after an intense workout, muscles optimally recover over the course of a week. Most bodybuilders now train each bodypart only once per week, twice in extreme cases.
4) Get plenty of sleep.
This one would be a no brainer, if we all didn't have lives and real jobs. Between work and family, many have enough trouble just finding the time to work out. However, to avoid tearing your body down too far and to allow time for recovery, eight hours of sleep per night is required. The key word is 'required.' This is not optional. Remember, your muscles grow while you are resting, not during your workout.
5) Allow for Downtime.
This can be difficult, especially when you are feeling extremely motivated. A good guideline is to allow for two days each week. At the end of an intense 4-6 week cycle take 4-7 days of downtime. Downtime is optimal for solidifying the gains you've made, and allows your body to fully recover before hitting it hard again.
You want to schedule your downtime well before you start experiencing burnout. Once you've burned out, it is a lot harder to regain the motivation to start again. If you allow for downtime before then, you will be anxious to start again, which will lead to higher intensity, more productive workouts, and better results.
Is it Possible to Over-train on Cardio?
Absolutely! Any kind of physical activity can be overdone. A good rule of thumb is to not exceed 45 minutes per cardio session. Anything beyond that, and your body starts to break down muscle fibers. Perform cardio 3-4 times per week for cutting bodyfat, 2-3 times for maintenance. Train with maximum intensity for best results.
Intensity and Paranoia
With all the emphasis that has been put on rest and recuperation, somehow the general population got the idea that training with too much intensity can lead to over-training. This has lead to paranoia among many. Nothing could be further from the truth. The whole reason for limiting your lifting sets and cardio time is so that you CAN train with maximum intensity.
If you are doing little more than just going through the motions, you are hamstringing your gains, which will lead to frustration and ultimately failure. Keep your sets limited to those stated above, and train with maximum fury and intensity. Treat every set as if it's your last, and make every rep count.
This will allow you to tear the muscle fibers down as much as possible, while allowing for optimal recovery and gains. Make no mistake; you will be sore after every workout. However it should subside within a few days, even if you are new to bodybuilding.
Over-training is a very real threat to your gains as a bodybuilder. By following the guidelines outlined here, your risk of falling victim to this will be minimal. And don't buy into the paranoia about intensity. If anyone tells you otherwise, the easiest thing to do is to look at their physique and think, "do I really want to look like that?" I guarantee the answer will almost always be, "no".
It is laughable the number of people with no athletic abilities whatsoever, who think they are experts on the subject. They convince people through scare tactics and intimidation. The best thing to do is ignore them, because they don't matter. Months later, when you are a rock solid killing machine, they will still have the same sad physiques they started with.
Train With Maximum Intensity or Don't Train at all!