We’re all familiar with the term Overtraining and I’d wager the majority of resistance athletes have experienced overtraining firsthand. Constant overtraining, however, can lead to something called Overtraining Syndrome. Yes, that’s right, syndrome. First things first though, lets take a closer look at overtraining as we might encounter it on a more common level. Wikipedia defines overtraining as: The point when the volume and intensity of an individual's exercise exceeds their recovery capacity. They cease making progress, and can even begin to lose strength and fitness. In fact a web search found several defintions which varied little from wikipedia's. Which tells me we can define overtraining but does that mean the average gym-goer understands it? It is generally accepted that the two most common and readily apparent signs of overtraining are: 1) Loss of motivation spreading well beyond exercise and 2) continual feeling of exhaustion/lethargy. More often than not these two symptoms are accompanied by one of the following: Cold-like symptoms or a tendancy toward prolonged illness Depression Insomnia Injury (such as sprains, strains and tendonitis) Insecurity Irritability Anxiety Distraction Chronic muscle soreness Joint pain Decreased performance Appetite loss Insatiable thirst/excessive dehydration Headache Now take a good long look at that list. How many of us have had handfuls of those symptoms and dismissed them? I can speak from personal experience and say that I’ve suffered from both 1 and 2, as well as cold-like symptoms, insomnia, insecurity, joint pain, headache . . . and probably more if I really sit and think about it. Under normal training loads, resistance training has small, short-term effects on immune function, but overtraining can lead to general immune system suppression, resulting in increased susceptibility to infections, and decreased ability to fight off infections. In female athletes, overtraining may also be associated with amenorrhea. Although the causes of overtraining are not well understood, many cases of overtraining are believed to be due to overstimulation of the sympathetic nervous system. This stimulation is a result of all the stresses in your life, including training, sleep deprivation, nutritional deficits, job stress, family stress, etc. all of which can have deleterious effects on the human body when left unchecked or unmanaged. Typically when we hit the gym we expect 100% from our bodies but in order to GIVE 100% it has to be AT 100%. That means rest. Mike Mentzer speculated it can take as long as two weeks to three weeks to recover from a single workout depending on intensity. Two to three weeks. Most of us cant wait one. Remember just because you’re not sore doesn’t mean you’re completely healed. Still, the universal sign of being ready to go back to the gym is when the soreness goes away. So we find ourselves back at the gym, pushing ourselves as hard as ever despite the fact we’re not at 100% yet. As lifters we’ve all had the “no pain, no gain” mentality beaten into our heads. When we have “off” days we tell ourselves to suck it up and push through it, never once thinking that our decreased performance, fatigue, lack of motivation and distraction are our bodies ways of telling us we’ve pushed too hard for too long. Enter the initial stages of overtraining. Overtraining is difficult to diagnose due to the mundane nature of most of the symptoms. Decreased performance can simply be due to a difficult day at the office or a poor nights sleep. Distraction can simply be due to, again, a poor nights sleep or a preoccupation with some other aspect of life. Insomnia, depression, insecurity are all things we can encounter from a variety of other sources in our lives that it becomes easy to dismiss them and tell ourselves to simply push through what might be the tell tale signs of overtraining. A handy way to help you determine if what you feel may be overtraining symptoms versus simply the effects of “life” is to carry a training log and notate the way you feel each morning and then again prior to training. If you train in the mornings, enter how you feel before you workout and then again before bed. A continuous trend of cold like symptoms, lack of motivation, depression, exhaustion etc, may help you diagnose overtraining early enough to correct the problem. If diagnosed early enough overtraining can be corrected in 5 to 10 days by reducing training intensity – often to the point of not training at all, and making sure we’re taking in enough fluids, upping our carbs a bit and getting some quality rest. If left untreated or ignored overtraining can lead to overtraining syndrome, which was mentioned earlier. Because I’m all about the definitions, a “Syndrome” is defined as: 1. A group of symptoms that collectively indicate or characterize a disease, psychological disorder, or other abnormal condition. 2. A complex of symptoms indicating the existence of an undesirable condition or quality. Overtraining syndrome frequently occurs in athletes who are training for competition or a specific event and train beyond the body's ability to recover. Athletes often exercise longer and harder in an attempt to improve. But without adequate rest and recovery, these training regimens can backfire, and actually decrease performance. Conditioning requires a balance between overload and recovery. Too much overload and/or too little recovery may result in both physical and psychology symptoms of overtraining syndrome. While there are many proposed ways to objectively test for overtraining, the most accurate and sensitive measurements are psychological signs and symptoms such as changes in mental state. Decreased positive feelings regarding workouts and increased negative feelings, such as depression, anger, fatigue, and irritability often appear after a few days of intensive overtraining. Research on overtraining syndrome shows rest is the primary treatment plan. Some new evidence indicates that low levels of exercise, also known as “active recovery, during the rest period may in fact speed recovery. Total recovery can take several weeks and includes proper nutrition and stress reduction. One easy way to help avoid overtraining is to schedule “light weeks” into your workout schedule. Light training weeks should have both a decrease in workload as well as a decrease in intensity. They are designed to allow for active recovery and bridge the gap between the rest your body needs and your desire to avoid lengthy periods of inactivity. Often I recommend simply finding a few “core” exercises, lightening weight and working from a desire to stimulate muscles not exhaust them. The object is to simply get a “pump” not break down muscle tissue to the same extent as you would during a heavy or normal training week. For example, a light chest workout might consist of 3 or 4 sets of pushups to failure and 2 or 3 sets of cable crosses for reps. Use light weeks as an opportunity to focus on form and shaping, and to develop a more sharply honed mind-muscle connection. I usually recommend using single arm/single leg movements to allow for the use of the “touch principle” to further enhancing that mind-muscle connection. Overtraining is the result of either too much training or too little recovery or a combination of both. Moreover it is also an issue which affects each of us individually. Your normal training load and methods may be viewed as a veritable highway to overtraining by others and yet completely manageable by you. The training load you can handle is determined by your genetics, your level of fitness, and the sum total of stresses in your life. Effective training relies on managing your body's ability to recover and adapt. Overtraining simply represents poor management. You can train exceptionally hard and not overtrain as long as you allow time between hard workouts to let your body recover. But in the end the best way to prevent overtraining is to know your body and listen to what it tells you. Pay attention to its signals, maintain that training log with notes about how you feel and learn to manage the external stressors in your life. Beyond that, allow yourself the time you need to rest and to recover and with any luck overtraining will just be something you read about in this article, not something you have to recover from.