What is Over Training?

What is Over Training?
Over training can best be defined as the state where rest is no longer adequate to allow for recovery.
The “overtraining syndrome” occurs when you’re training intensely, but, instead of improving, your performance actually gets worse, even after an extended period of rest. It can take weeks (sometimes even months) to recover from a state of “true” overtraining.
Overreaching (so-called “short term overtraining”), or training beyond your body’s ability to recover is a different story and describes a temporary deterioration in performance, usually lasting from a few days to a week.
Some athletes incorporate overreaching in their training cycle, but make sure to include the correct amount of recovery. Without this balance, overreaching can lead to overtraining.
Why you’re probably NOT overtaining
Although the term “overtraining” is used a lot, it’s a concept that very few people understand. Simply doing more exercise than you need to stimulate an improvement, or even just feeling “a bit tired” doesn’t mean that you’re overtrained.

In his excellent series of articles on the subject of overtraining, Lyle McDonald defines overtraining as a “long-term imbalance between the training load and recovery processes that, which leads to a decrease in performance that takes more than 2-3 weeks to return to normal.”
“If you recover within 2-3 weeks,” says Lyle “you were only overreached. By definition, overtraining only occurs if it takes longer than that roughly 2-3 week period to get back to or past your previous performance level.”

However, even though most people will probably never experience “true” overtraining, or even overreaching, I don’t think it’s all that uncommon for your progress in the gym to come to a halt because you don’t have the right balance between work and recovery.


Remember that it’s not just what you do in the gym that imposes a stress on your body.
A low-calorie diet combined with a “high stress” lifestyle AND an intensive training program can quickly add up. The effects are cumulative.
Usually, a reduction in performance is one of the first signs that your body isn’t getting all the rest it needs.
But a slowdown in progress isn’t always down to a lack of recovery. It could just be a crappy training program and/or a poor diet that’s to blame.
However, one telltale sign that a decline in performance is caused by an imbalance between work and recovery (as opposed to poor nutrition and exercise habits) is when it’s accompanied by a change in mood, which appears to be caused by an increase in the production of hormone-like substances called cytokines (pronounced sigh-toe-kines).
Over training symptoms
Most forms of training lead to some form of “injury,” known as adaptive micro trauma. The reason it’s called adaptive is that the micro trauma leads to some kind of adaptation in bone, muscle, or connective tissue. That’s why muscles get bigger and bones get stronger.
This micro trauma leads to the production of inflammatory molecules called cytokines. Your brain contains specific cytokine receptors. Think of cytokines like a key, and receptors like a lock. When cytokines bind these receptors, they lead to changes in mood.
In fact, there is evidence to link cytokines with depression. Test subjects administered cytokines tend to become distressed. And the higher the level of cytokines, the worse the symptoms get.
Even a relatively short period of intensive training can raise levels of a cytokine called interleukin-6 (IL-6). In one four-week study, eight endurance-trained young men completed interval-training run sessions on three successive days in weeks two and three on top of their normal training [3].
Not only did this extra training suppress their immune systems, but also it led to a chronic rise in fatigue and a “general feeling of malaise” in the runners.
If you’re doing a lot of resistance training and you’re not giving yourself sufficient recovery time, it can manifest itself in the form of anxiety or agitation. Excessive amounts of cardiovascular
exercise, on the other hand, can lead to feelings of depression.

Of course, over training symptoms aren’t the only reason that you could be feeling anxious, agitated or depressed. But if you haven’t been feeling yourself and you can’t identify the cause, then take a critical look at your exercise program. It might be time to give yourself a break.
When to take a break
Everyone is different. If you’re feeling motivated and your performance is getting better, there’s no reason to stop.
However, if you’re starting to notice some of the classic overstraining symptoms, such as changes in mood, insomnia, more frequent illness, a poor appetite or just a general lack of motivation, then now might be a good time to have a week off.

When I take a complete physical and mental break from training (to go on holiday, for example) I always come back feeling refreshed and motivated. Minor muscle or joint “niggles” have cleared up. I seem to have more energy.
What’s more, the extra rest and recuperation will often leave you fitter and stronger than you were before taking the break. This isn’t because of a dramatic increase in physical capacity. Rather, the extra rest just lets you display the conditioning that’s always been there.

Taking a break can be hard to do, especially if you’re the “hard driving” highly motivated type who feels guilty about missing a workout. I know it’s not always easy to do, but taking one step back is sometimes what you need in order to take two steps forward.

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