How often have you read that you need to work out every single day – which means: 7 days a week, 31 days a month, 365 days a year – to look fit and muscular? I see it all the time. Either on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter, the #NoDaysOff hashtag is probably one of the most popular hashtags in the fitness community. I personally prefer to work out every day whenever it’s possible. Unfortunately, there are days I do not find time to work out due to work, events, family or whatever. I am always frustrated when I can’t go to the gym, but to be honest, I’m glad to have such busy days in my life. Why? Well, if you’re such an ambitious sportsman like I am, you probably don’t plan a lot of rest days in your program. However, I can refer to personal experience when I say that rest days aren’t a bad thing as they help to avoid overtraining.
What is overtraining?
It’s true that muscles grow outside the gym, not in the gym during your workouts. Muscle growth happens while resting and recovery. It has to be said though, that it’s not only the muscle that need to recover, but also the joints, the tendons and the central nervous system. Recovery time depends on various factors like food, activity levels and probably the most important, sleep. If these factors are not in balance, sooner or later you’ll suffer from overtraining, which is basically nothing different than under-recovering.
Imagine you’d bench every single day, every set to failure. Now, if you don’t eat the right way or don’t sleep enough between your sessions, your muscles won’t recover before your next training session. Therefore, you break your pecs (chest muscles) again and again without giving them enough time to repair. Your body will manage it for a few days, but after a while your body will not be able to handle all the stress anymore. In conclusion, nobody recommends performing the same exercises every day. Most bodybuilders for example, do bench press once or twice a week, but not more. More is not always better.
My experience with overtraining
Recently, I’ve been training a lot. Not only for an hour, but sometimes two to three hours a day. This is basically nothing bad, as long as you make progress. However, as I didn’t follow a specific routine or program, I often did the same exercises and movements multiple days in a row. All of a sudden, my workouts were not satisfying anymore… It felt like I was losing strength from day to day. Instead of letting my body to rest, I increased my training volume even more in hope my body will adapt. Of course it did not. No progress. No results. My workouts were getting harder instead of easier.
Unfortunately, it didn’t end there. My condition did not only affect my training, but also my daily life. I felt tired and run down all day. I had lost motivation in working out. I had troubles falling asleep and suffered from sleep maintenance insomnia. My joints had hurt while doing exercises. But I didn’t stop. I think it’s safe to confess that I’m slightly addicted to working out. 😉
It has to be said, overtraining is a serious condition and can lead to injuries or even frustration and depressions. Fortunately, even though it took a long time, I realized my problem and took my business abroad as a chance to let my body fully recover. I took 10 days off from dieting and exercising. I’ve let my body fully recover. Well, to be honest, I’ve enjoyed two or three very light workout sessions in an aerobic room… as I said before… addicted 😉
Consequently, I’m back on track and feeling better than ever. My energy levels have increased rapidly and my joint pain is mostly gone. More importantly, I feel motivated and I enjoy my workouts again.
What I’ve learned
I’m really glad that I feel better now, but the hard part is remembering to avoid this mistake, so that I won’t suffer from overtraining again. I like intense workouts. I like long workouts and I will continue doing what I like. What I need to change is my recovery process. I need to let my body recover, otherwise I won’t improve. Of course I will also re-think my workout program as well as my diet.
In sum, I can tell you from personal experience, overtraining/under-recovery does exist and it’s actually a serious issue! Don’t underestimate it!
If you feel the same symptoms that I’ve described above, take a week off from the gym. I know, your brain won’t allow you to do this, but let your body rest for at least a few days in order to properly recover.
You’ll find a lot of tips on how to avoid overtraining on the internet. Below you’ll find some general rules to follow:
- Listen to your body! Take a day off when you feel like your body needs it.
- Improve your sleep. Limit caffeine or other stimulants as they affect your sleep in a bad way.
- Eat enough food. Don’t let your body fall into starve-mode.
- Use a proven workout routine. Follow a proper workout split with an optimal amount of volume.
- Track your workouts and make sure you constantly improve.
- Have days off. Take at least 1 day off per week.
Feel free to share your experience with overtraining and how you overcame it. Also, further tips on how to prevent overtraining are welcome.
All the best,