“Motivation” is a funny thing … especially when it comes to exercise and physical activity. On one hand, you have more than 85 percent of Americans who struggle to get active and don’t like to exercise. All of the information, education and marketing out there hasn’t been successful in connecting with or motivating this group to get moving. Incentives, reward and recognition and even “scare tactics” have failed to do the job. On the other hand, you have a smaller group of individuals who are active on a regular basis (most likely members of a fitness club or participate in recreational sports), enjoy exercise and are generally in good health. Within this group of health-conscious individuals are those who take it a bit too far, exercise too hard, exercise too often and don’t recover enough. These are the ones who suffer from overtraining syndrome.
Overtraining syndrome (OTS) occurs when there is an imbalance between training volume and recovery time that leads to a decrease in performance that takes more than 2 to 3 weeks to return to normal. Overtraining syndrome can be serious because it’s directly responsible for poor physical performance and increased fatigue, both during exercise and in the activities of daily life.
More is Not Always Better in Resistance Exercise
Overtraining isn’t typically done on purpose. The main reason is because it is difficult to determine the right combination of training volume (sets, repetitions, frequency) and intensity (weights, speed). Too much of either (or both) can result in less than optimal results where performance isn’t at its best. If this happens for an extended period of time it requires a long period of time to recover. In addition to the negative physical effects, overtraining can result in lost desire to exercise or instil fear associated with illness or injury.
When training volume or intensity is excessive for too long that’s when overtraining occurs. Most people don’t realize that training volume and intensity are inversely related (as one value goes up, the other one goes down). For example, as training volume goes up intensity should be lower (and vice versa). In this case, the idea of “more is better” doesn’t hold true. In the end, performance goes down regardless of effort.
There are three (3) overtraining scenarios:
- Excessive training volume (training frequency, adding exercises or performing more exercise sets)
- Excessive training intensity (using too heavy a resistance for extended periods of time)
- Excessive training volume and intensity (most common “real-life” overtraining scenarios)
Signs and Symptoms of Overtraining
Below is a list of signs and symptoms associated with overtraining. Keep in mind that not all signs and symptoms need to be present. If you’ve noticed a decrease in performance or a distinct plateau (in addition to some of the signs and symptoms listed) there is a good possibility it’s overtraining.
- Performance has plateaued or decreased
- Difficulty completing workouts and need for more recovery time
- Motor coordination is not the same
- Feeling tired throughout the day
- Difficulty sleeping
- Difficulty eating regularly scheduled meals
- Frequently experience headaches
- Frequently experience upset stomach or gastrointestinal distress
- Frequently experience muscle soreness (which takes a long time to subside)
- Frequently experience joint aches and pains
- Gets sick more often
- Takes a longer time to recover and heal
Tips and Tricks to Avoid Overtraining
The key to avoiding overtraining with resistance exercise is in the overall program design. Consider the following when designing a workout program to avoid an overtraining experience:
- Include one or more recovery days to each week of the training program.
- Avoid monotonous (repetitive) training.
- Make sure the training volume and training intensity are inversely related.
- Avoid repeated high intensity workouts (high percent of 1 RM) for extended periods of time.
- Avoid repeated high training volume workouts (number of sessions, exercises, sets and reps) for extended periods.
- Avoid performing every set of every exercise to absolute failure in every session.
- Ensure correct exercise selection (balance of agonist and antagonist muscle groups).
- Avoid excessive use of eccentric muscle actions.
- Consider the combined training stress of other forms of exercise (ie. cardiovascular training, sport-specific training, etc.).
Proper resistance exercise program design, in addition to recognizing the signs and symptoms of overtraining, can ensure a positive resistance training experience. By avoiding negative experiences associated with exercise, more people will likely adhere to long term participation in activities that promote a healthier and more productive quality of life.