Overtraining is more than reps, sets and sessions. Avoiding overtraining also involves taking weeks off all together, and on a regular basis. A lot of trainees would train for months at a time. They probably would have cycles of 8-12 weeks but not take a week off between them. No wonder so many people complain they cannot get big.
Arthur Jones, of Ironman and HIT fame, claimed he could put 1/2 an inch on any athletes arm in one session. The first step however was to have a week off completely. Apparently Jones made good on his claim more often than not with most lifters arms being bigger in the days after the session. Whether this is a load of mumbo jumbo or not it underlies the importance of time off.
When to have time off
As a natural lifter you should never train for more than 12 weeks straight, 8-10 even better. So every 8-12 weeks you really need to take a week off or just give up on your quest for size. Also if your are a believer in training to failure you probably should have a week every 4-6 weeks where you do not take the week off but where you stop all sets 2 reps short of failure.
So a 12 week cycle of a trainer who trains hard may look like this:
Week 1: To Failure
Week 2: To Failure
Week 3: To Failure
Week 4: To Failure
Week 5: To Failure or Two reps short of failure
Week 6: To Failure
Week 7: To Failure
Week 8: Off Completely
Week 9: To Failure
Week 10: To Failure
Week 11: To Failure
Week 12: To Failure
I have always been I big advocator of the week off. However recently I fell into the trap of not taking one. I was punishing my body like never before (up to 10 sessions a week, weights and cardio) and was wasted. I got sick, had no energy and was drastically overtrained. I took the week off, got over my illness and rediscovered my desire to train. My new split involves no more than 6 sessions a week both gym and cardio (4:1-2). After the week off I have improved dramatically both in strength and size.
Remember systematic weeks off ensure you do your best to avoid overtraining by any definition.
Until next time,