A lot of people rent the movie Pumping Iron, which features Arnold Schwarzenegger and friends training at tremendous intensities for hours at a time daily. After seeing this movie many people think they must follow suit to be successful. This is not the case. Training at too high of an intensity with inadequate rest, and poor nutrition will result in a physical condition known as Overtraining.
According to fitness expert Dr. Fred Hatfield overtraining is a condition in which there is a decline in performance or a cessation in training progress over a period of time. Overtraining is caused by a disparity between a person's rate of recovery and stress imposed from training. Lifters in an overtrained state do not improve and often times become weaker as the phase of overtraining continues.
I battled by own bout of overtraining during my first short stint with the IU football team during my freshman year. As a new guy in the program I was expected to put forth 100% intensity all of the time. I had no problem with this mentally, but my body did not have the same work capacity of my mind.
My first short stint with the team lasted 6 weeks and was during the winter training phase. All players were in the weight room three times a week in divided groups, and the entire team ran together twice a week at 6am. My lifting time was also 6 am, which had me up early every morning. Being up early is great if you get to bed at the proper time to get an adequate amount of rest. I was not able to get enough sleep for the entire 6 weeks. This was the first factor in my demise.
The weight training was extremely tough. My muscles were torn down three times a week during the weight training sessions. I began to notice constant soreness throughout the week. Running on Thursday morning after a tough leg workout on Wednesday was a terrible feeling.
I began to battle extreme fatigue daily from the fourth to sixth week of my football existence. My always-hearty appetite disappeared at the same time the fatigue set in. As a result I subconsciously began to eat much less that what my body needed for recovery. This fatigue limited my performance and contributed to my career ending back injury. Tremendous stress set in when I began to realize the extent of my back problems. The trainers told me under no uncertain terms that my back would not hold up for long. Before long my combination of problems resulted in my termination from the team. I was no longer physically viable.
A conversation with a NFL strength coach later on that year revealed to me that overtraining is a tremendous problem in college sports. Many athletes become overtrained for a multitude of reasons, and are then much more susceptible to serious injury. In addition overtrained states have a detrimental influence on athletic performance. Unfortunately overtraining is not in the vocabulary of many athletic programs around the country. As a result many athletes become injured and an even greater number of athletes never reach their full athletic potential.
Do not become a victim. You can avoid overtraining if you are armed with the right information.
Within my story several symptoms of overtraining are revealed, which I think are most applicable. Several other symptoms can reveal overtraining such as changes in blood pressure, changes in body temperature, and headaches. Look for decreased performance in the gym, slower reaction time, loss of appetite, failure to execute highly skilled movements and insomnia.
One can avoid overtraining by utilizing proper nutritional techniques, sleeping 8 hours a night or more, and reducing life stress. Most importantly periodize intense training phases. This means train at the highest levels of intensity for a short period of time followed by a period lower intensity training.
People can also overtrain themselves by doing too much cardio vascular exercise. I see several people using cardio equipment for hours at a time. Evidently they think more is better, but this is not necessarily the case. Those seeking an improved level of fitness should drop some of the cardio in favor of weight training. In actuality certain weight training routines can provide more of a cardiovascular challenge than a thirty-minute run on the treadmill. Furthermore there is research to suggest that specific weight training protocols can be more effective for fat burning that cardiovascular exercise.
Australian strength expert Ian King recommends taking a week off from training every 12 weeks. This week of active rest will accelerate recovery, which is needed to avoid overtraining. King also advises to keep the total number of work sets per workout between 10 and 20. He believes that 5-15 would be even better. Finally King warns trainees not to train all body parts equally. Smaller muscle groups need less work. Training your calves with the same volume you train quads with will ensure overtraining. Genetic factors and performance enhancing drugs play a large role in the prevalence of overtraining in athletes, but I believe no one is immune from this ever-present syndrome.
This article also appears at maincampus.com.