ARE YOU OVERTRAINING?
It’s a strange concept, in this day and age, when the emphasis in society is to exercise, and then exercise some more, however, there’s a serious condition known as overtraining that occurs when an individual trains too much and it can be quite significant and actually reverse all the great benefits we get through exercise. But how do you know if you ARE overtraining? Read on to find out more and discover what you can do about it if it turns out you are.
So, what is considered to be toomuch exercise, as we probably all know what is ‘too little’? Well, it does depend of course on the individual, so let me give you some pointers to help ensure that YOU are not guilty of overtraining.
It is generally considered that the most important aspect to exercising is the NUTRITION, followed by REST , followed by the TRAINING itself — that’s right, training is the least important part of training. So once you have trained, you need to eat well (see my point below on this), to ensure the body has good quality nutrition to aid recovery, and then you need to rest. I remember reading an interview with Olympic Champion Chris Hoy, and he said that you need to ‘rest as hard as you train’.
Body Builder, Mike Mentzer pioneered the ‘High Intensity’ training principle. He would train for just 30mins at a MASSIVELY high, vomit inducing, intensity, and then rest for 4 – 6 days. Using these training methods he won the 1978 Mr. Universe with the first and only perfect score. He later went on to train Dorian Yates (six times Mr Olympia) with the exact same training principles.
I also had the pleasure of training with Erik Paulson a few years back. At the time Erik was the head coach for Brock Lesnar (the UFC Heavy Weight World Champion at the time). Erik ensured that Brock’s training sessions lasted no longer than 45-minutes as he prepared him for his UFC World Title defences. At the end of those 45-minutes, however, Brock would literally crawl out of the gym on his hands and knees.
Training too much, or for too long, leads to muscle loss, decrease in strength, fatigue, injury to include constant niggling injuries that just don’t seem to heal (sound familiar?) irritability, insomnia (and lots more).
So, how do professional athletes cope, as surely they must over train with their gruelling training programmes? Well, they don’t work to a 7 day (training) week like most of us.
For example, if you do kickboxing on Monday, weights on Tuesday, kickboxing on Wednesday, a run on Thursday, weights again on Friday, kickboxing on Saturday and take a rest day on Sunday… it’s just too much. You’ll put your body through massive amounts of exercise related stress with very little rest.
Instead, an idea would be to try training as follows (and again this is dependent on each individual as some people will recover quicker than others based on age and current fitness):
Day 1 – kickboxing. No more than 45 – 60 mins but push yourself so hard that you crawl out of the gym (you might need to change training partners to achieve this). This point is so important that I’ll put it another way. It’s QUALITY and NOT quantity of exercise that’s important. I often see people training for several hours at a time and then walking out of the training hall not having even broken a sweat. You’ll get very little out of this style of training.
Instead, if you think of your exercise intensity as either a ‘walk, jog, run or a sprint’, you could easily walk around a running track for several hours and not even break a sweat, however by picking up the level of intensity to either a jog, run or sprint, this in turn will reflect on the quality of your training and the benefits that you will receive from that training. There’s definitely a time to ‘walk’ but to get the most out of your training you should really be aiming to ‘sprint’ every time. When it comes to ‘serious’ training, always take the toughest option! If you’re not out of breath after EVERY drill, it’s NOT because you are ‘super fit’, it’s because you’ve not pushed yourself hard enough.
Day 2 – if you do Day 1 properly, you need to rest to ensure you are fully recovered.
Day 3 – weights (for example). No longer than 45 – 60 mins.
Day 4 – rest
Day 5 – Cardio (this could be a kickboxing, running, cycling, etc)
Day 6 – rest
Day 7 – rest
Day 8 – Kickboxing
Day 9 – rest
Day 10 – Weights
Mike Mentzer’s advice is to rest for as long as you feel you need. Only when everything stops aching, and you feel you can give 100% to your next training session, then should you train again.
The next key element to help prevent overtraining is SLEEP. Sleep is a science in itself and it has been proven that a great deal of the repair and restoration process happens when you sleep. A 2004 study, for example, showed that sleep deprivation hindered the healing process of burns on rats. Whether you need eight hours sleep, or more, each night is down to you as an individual. Apparently Margret Thatcher survived with just 2 – 3 hours of sleep each night during her term as Prime Minister.
A great test to determine if you are overtraining is to take your pulse for a full minute the moment you wake up. Do this for a two-week period. What you should find is that the day after a strenuous training session your pulse will be higher than normal as the body is in a process of repair and recovery and will therefore be working harder than normal to repair everything while you sleep.
If however, you find that there are several continuous days where your pulse is 10 beats or more above what it would normally be, it probably means that you are either overtraining or about to come down with a cold or an illness of some kind.
With this feedback you can then take a few days off training and allow your body to focus all of its energy on recovering and repair instead of focusing all of its energy on getting you through the very same training that’s causing you a problem.
RELAXATION is the next key to help prevent overtraining. Chris Hoy said that during his rest days he would just lay on a sofa and watch TV all day as walking around burns calories and involves the body having to work.
And finally, MASSAGE is also a great way to prevent overtraining as it helps to increase blood circulation to the muscles which helps aid recovery and in turn also helps to flush out the toxins that build up through exercise. Massage late at night can help the body drift in to a much deeper sleep.
A quick note on nutrition… think of your body as a finely tuned sports car. You wouldn’t put old chip fat in the engine of a Porsche. It would do some serious damage to the engine and eventually the engine would just pack up. Your body is that same, finely tuned engine. Stuff yourself with fat, sugar, empty calories and chemicals, for the majority of your waking time, and that is all your body has to fuel and repair itself with – old chip fat quality nutrition. Instead, think of all of the above as an occasional treat and instead fuel yourself with good quality nutrition instead. The quicker you can trace food back to its original roots (literally) the healthier it is. Vegetables come straight from the ground. Cookies don’t!
So in conclusion, always train as hard as you can whenever you train (sprint, don’t walk) but be sure to then rest as hard as you can, coupled with good quality nutrition.