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Training vs. "Overtraining"

It's a complicated topic for most and one that poses a forum for much bickering and disagreement.

What is the "right" amount of physical activity, and what is "too much?"

Before we delve into the proverbial "meat and potatoes" regarding the issue, we must first shed light on the significant avenues that could lead to the perception of over-training: duration of workouts, rep schemes/number of reps per exercise or set, frequency of movements or number of active days, and over-stimulation of the same muscle groups or energy systems.

To the first point (duration of workouts), there is a perception that time domains should be followed to some degree. In other words, don't do lengthy workouts too often throughout the week, or don't spend "X" amount of time working out on any given day. While I agree most people will reach a point of "diminishing returns," that is, the point at which a muscle group or energy system will no longer positively or effectively respond to more stress placed upon it, I don't agree that this threshold is the same for everyone. The human body is an EXTREMELY adaptive organism; it can be trained to withstand further stressors depending on how intensely it's train or how often it's pushed to exceed previous limitations. Moreover, a beginner to fitness in general, or rather to a new fitness modality, specifically, will understandably be unable to withstand the same duration of a movement or exercise as someone more conditioned, simply because his or her body hasn't adjusted accordingly for extensive volume.

With that said, does that mean a beginner, or rather someone less proficient in a given exercise should accuse someone more conditioned of over-training? Certainly not. Our bodies respond accordingly to how we train them, and if we have gradually increased duration of a movement or exercise over time, our bodies have probably adjusted to the workload more so than a beginner. Musculature adapts, energy systems adapt, our skeletal systems adapt, and we become more equipped to handle the stress of exercise. In summary, what's "too much" or "too long" for one person cannot be universally applied to everyone.

Now, to the second point: number of reps. As far as I'm concerned, a similar philosophy is applied to my school of thought on this matter as with duration. We are all trained differently. We are each accustomed to various training volume, frequencies and rep ranges. Who's to say that one particular rep range is universal across all athletes and/or casual exercises? Not me. Because it's not. We differ greatly in our ability to withstand the stress of various workloads. An endurance athlete will have a different work capacity than a strength athlete in terms of the number of reps they perform, or the frequency in which they perform a certain exercise or train a specific muscle group. A lot will depend on individual goals and preferences. Some people chase the cardio aspect of volume training, while others prefer fewer reps at heavier weights to achieve his or her desire stimulus. Long-term exposure to different training modalities and rep ranges will create an ability for an individual to withstand the added stress of more repetitions. I believe that you can train your body for anything.

With that said, I do believe that you can over-stimulate a muscle and cause muscle breakdown and atrophy is the training volume is too great too frequently, but again, if your preference is the workout itself versus maximal muscle hypertrophy, then train your higher rep ranges and enjoy the process of working out. For the greatest muscle growth, however, limit your reps to reasonable ranges, don't work a muscle too frequently and allow for some recovery. Personally, I prefer the exercise and volume over the rest. I like to push the limits and test my body's capabilities. If my goals change, so, too, would my training strategies.

One thing I do want to address in this "overtraining" discussion is the hormonal aspect, and I feel as though the internal stress of training too much or too little should be the NUMBER ONE indicator of whether what you're doing is beneficial or detrimental. We can talk for days about the aesthetic and performance aspects of different styles of training, and what rep ranges should be used for different results and how long you should train and how often you should train and how much you should rest and yadda yadda yadda. Sure, that's important stuff as it pertains to training, overtraining and achieving our desired results. However, the B-I-G-G-E-S-T indicator of whether or not you're training too much, too hard or too frequently is determined by the following:

1) are you burnt out and tired of working out?
2) are you sleeping poorly?
3) are your energy levels low?
4) are you irritable and cranky? and
5) is your progress waning?

That's it. That's what you should focus on. Train how you want to train. You like volume? Do volume. Get your reps. Your body will adapt to the stimulus. Go hard and enjoy the process of training long and hard. You like strength? Lower the reps. Increase the load. Take more rest. Don't train the same muscles too frequently. Do you. Again, we all have different preferences.

But if you notice you're lagging behind in your progress or feeling worn out and dragged down and burnt out and constantly in bad moods, your training is likely impacting your body at a hormonal level in terms of testosterone, cortisol and adrenal fatigue, and that, in my opinion, is your number one indicator and number one sign that it may be time to pump the brakes and rest a little. Tone it down, tone it back or just take some time away from training in general.

There is NOTHING wrong with training the way YOU want to train and don't let anyone ever tell you you're doing "too much" because "too much" is a very relative term that can't be applied universally. BUT, if you're feeling negative effects in regards to your mood and your overall state of mental health, that is when I would suggest to tone it back and modify.

Long story short, enjoy how you train and remember why you train. You don't train to appease anyone else or adhere to bullshit universal standards and blanket statements about optimal health. You're you. You're not them. Train because you love it and train as hard and as long as you please as long as you're finding enjoyment in the process. But be mindful to your mood and and your mental state and use fluctuations in your mental well-being to be your guide in your fitness journey. You will only be as healthy as your internal wellness allows you to be, so monitor, adapt and cognizant of the internal signs of too much training. Otherwise, be yourself and love what you do.

Happy Exercising!