Almost anyone that’s picked up a set of weights has or will experience symptoms of over-training at one point in there muscle building program. Over-training can lead to serious injury, chronic fatigue, and even muscle loss.
Over-training is very common amongst athletes and particularly bodybuilders, since they figure that training as much as possible is the fastest way to massive muscle gains.
This couldn’t be any further from the truth however…
Training too much, or at too high of an intensity will lead to over-training.
Now this doesn’t mean you don’t have to put plenty of effort in to see some decent results… Whether you are a bodybuilder, athlete, or just someone that wants to add some additional mass to your frame, you need to train hard and be consistent-that’s a given. In order to get the most out of your genetics, you have to progressively overload the muscles by increasing the weight and / or intensity of each weight training workout.
The problem is however, that many of us increase the intensity of our workouts or get insufficient amounts of rest, or even worse, a combination of both. The trick is finding the right balance between workout volume and intensity, and rest and recovery. And that is exactly what I’ll cover in this article.
The Effects of Over-Training on Bodybuilders
First, let’s take a look at some of the effects of over-training and how one can prevent over-training from happening in the first place.
The Effects of Over-training on the Nervous System
Over-training effects both the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems in the following negative ways:
- Higher resting heart rate
- Weak appetite
- High blood pressure
- Weight loss
- Trouble sleeping
- Increased metabolic rate
- Early onset of fatigue
If you are experiencing more than one of the symptoms outlined above, you may be in a state of over-training, and should evaluate your routine as soon as possible.
The Effects of Over-training on Hormone Levels
Many studies have indicated that over-training negatively effects the levels of hormones, as well as the hormone response in the body. Since hormones play such an important role in the muscle building process, this can have a detrimental effect on your training progress.
Over-training has been show to:
- Decrease testosterone levels
- Decrease thyroxine levels
- Increase cortisol levels
The Effects of Over-training on the Immune System
perhaps one of the most alarming repercussions of over-training is it’s negative impact on the immune system-you’re bodies first defense against harmful viruses and bacteria.
Over-training can drastically decrease the levels of antibodies and lymphocytes in your body, making you much more susceptible to illness. Simply put, this means that if you are in a state of over-training, you are much more likely to get sick. Since you will have to skip workouts while you are sick, your muscle building progress will slow considerably.
The Effects of Over-training on the Metabolic System
Here is a list of how over-training can effect the metabolic system. These symptoms are the ones that are most commonly discussed, and are ones we can’t ignore:
- Micro tears in the muscle
- Chronically depleted glycogen levels
- Slow, weak muscle contractions
- Depleted creatine phosphate stores
- Excessive accumulation of lactic acid
- Extreme DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness)
- Tendon and connective tissue damage
So you must get the point by now… Over-training effects the entire body, and can seriously impact the results of your muscle building program.
Now let’s take a look at the different types of over-training, and what we can do to prevent it.
Is it Worse to Over-Train With Cardio or Weight Training?
Any form of over-training is a bad thing, however, I’ve personally experienced both types of over-training and can honestly say that over-training in the weight room is much worse, and much more prevalent than over-training through cardiovascular training.
Here are some of the reasons why:
- In order to grow, muscles must fully recover from their last workout, every workout. If you are over-training and work the muscles before they have fully recovered, you will break down the muscle tissue before it has rebuilt-making it impossible to build muscle!
- Over-training with weights makes you more susceptible to nervous systems hormone and immune system issues, which all pose serious health risks.
- It can lead beginners down the wrong path, perhaps wasting money on unnecessary supplements, or even worse, steroids.
I personally believe that only competitive athletes such as swimmers, runners and bikers run a serious risk of reaching a state of cardiovascular over-training, since there are often training for two or more hours daily.
The bottom line is that it is much easier for the average person to over-train while weight training than while cardiovascular training, and I think the effects can be more serious.
How do I Determine if I’m Over-training?
Determining if you’re currently over-training is fairly simple. If you’re in tune with your body, you can often see the signs of over-training before they get serious. If you are losing interest in workouts, are having trouble sleeping, and feel weak and irritable, you may be in a state of over-training and should take a week or more off.
If you are experiencing two or more of the symptoms outlined earlier in the article, this should raise a red flag.
Another variable you can use to determine if you are over-training is by tracking the performance of your workouts.
Has your physical performance improved compared to your last workout?
For example, let’s say last workout you were able to perform 8 pull-ups using your body-weight, but were only able to perform 6 pull-ups the following week. This means that you have not “out done” your previous workout, have not fully recovered, and therefore are likely over-training. You nave to re-asses your program and make modifications so that you see progress every workout.
How Can I Prevent Over-training?
In order to avoid over-training, you need to take a multi-facited approach. Determining the correct training volume and intensity, eating the right foods, and getting the right amount of rest and recovery must all be taken in to consideration. Now let’s take a look at each of those factors in more detail.
Correct Training Volume
Determining the correct training volume can be difficult, especially when you are first starting out. You have to determine how much weight to lift, how many repetitions and set to perform for every single workout.
You need to use your own judgment in this case, based on your recovery ability and your recovery methods. Remember that the goal is that you improve every single workout, and if this isn’t happening, you have to decrease the intensity of your workouts.
This is where many people go wrong though. You begin your workout and realize that you have not fully recovered. You can either continue to train at a lower intensity than the previous workout, or skip the workout entirely.
As hard as it may be, skipping the workout is the right way to go. Just turn around and go home! Your body is telling you that it needs more rest, and you must listen to it!
There is no point in training at a lower intensity, further breaking down the muscle tissue. By doing this you will increase your risk of injury, and make it harder for your body to fully recovery for your next training session.
Your diet plays a huge role in your muscle building program. It helps regulate hormone levels, provides energy, and provides the raw building blocks that are used to create new tissue.
Here are some dietary recommendations that will limit the chance of over-training:
- Do not skip breakfast. This is one of the most important meals of the day. Skipping breakfast is very catabolic, and can promote muscle loss.
- Never let yourself get hungry. If you’re trying to build muscle mass, you have to constantly feed your body quality foods so that it never has the chance catabolize muscle tissue.
- Unless you are trying to build muscle and lose fat, make sure you have eaten prior to your training session and are not hungry.
- Have the largest meal of the day within an hour after your workout. Do this every single workout!
- Consider taking proven supplements like creatine, and antioxidants to increase performance and fight free radicals.
- Eat every 2-3 hours to ensure that your body remains in an anabolic state.
- Keep glycogen levels at full capacity to inhibit muscle tissue breakdown.
Rest & Recovery
Rest and recovery is essential when it comes to avoiding over-training. Make sure that you get at least 7 hours of sleep each night, and that you are on a consistent schedule. As for recovery time, it’s important that you have days off between weight training workouts. Try to have one rest day between weight training workouts, and never train the same muscle groups on consecutive days.
By Vince DelMonte
Vince Delmonte is a competitive fitness model and personal trainer, as well as the author of No-Nonsense Muscle Building, a complete guide to building muscle for the hardgainer. Vince’s program includes extensive diet plans, complete weight training regimens, video tutorials, and full email personal training support.
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