Is Overtraining Real:
The Myths & Science of Fitness Training
Motivation is running high and the blood is already pumping even before you have begun lifting. The taste of sweat has become familiar to you. Another hard session completed successfully, another tick on the calendar! But a smart fitness enthusiast also knows all too well to keep a tab on performance and overall health
Our body has an amazing potential for growth. If trained and conditioned well, it truly has the capacity to transform to near super-human! But the body is also a delicate and intricate structure. This miracle of biology is neither to be underestimated nor to be overlooked.
Coming back to the point. Are you keeping a tab on your performance too? Were the last few sets, a bit harder than last time. Fatigued at work? Has the week felt like a drag too? If you train hard, then these are only some of the things you should be aware of when it comes to your body.
WHAT IS OVERTRAINING?
When training, we tear our muscles on a microscopic level, which when repaired by the bodies immune system become bigger and stronger. Simply put, when the damage caused to the body is more than it can recover from or when adequate time is not received by the body to recover, the performance and strength level of the body drops instead of growing. For a much detailed understanding of overtraining, read my article Overtraining Definition.
Does that mean that a sore body is a reason to skip the gym? Not just yet. Many experts diagnose overtraining as a chronic situation and as such its symptoms, although easily ignored, are quite prominent. Why do the ‘other’ experts then claim overtraining to be an overblown concept or as even a myth?
Well, myth is an overstatement and if said literally, it would only be foolish to ignore medical and scientific fitness studies. However, to be fair, what these guys really mean by it is that the majority of the people just use it as an excuse to slack on training.
We must take into account, that the influence Laziness has on our decision-making skills, is proportional to the of size of the task at hand.
Overtraining can also become a premature barrier to achieving the full potential of serious gymmers, since most of the time overtraining is confused for the very effective and proven style of training called ‘Overreaching’.
OVERREACHING, NOT OVERTRAINING.
Quite similar to overtraining, overreaching also puts the body under high stress that results in fatigue and performance decline. However, unlike overtraining, here the body soon bounces back to prime health with a noticeable increase in performance levels. The recovery time from overreaching is usually just a few days and up to a week. Overreaching is often practised successfully by experienced and knowledgeable sports and fitness enthusiast to reach peak performance levels. Such type of training is referred to as functional overreaching. And as you would have guessed, on the other side of the fence is non-functional overreaching. A state where the body clearly stops liking what you’re putting it through. The fatigue this time lasts longer than with functional overreaching and with hardly any improvement in the performance level — commonly referred to as performance plateau. However, it is still not too late. This phase also referred to as non-functional overreaching, is the body giving you a final warning. It is when this stage too is ignored, that the body experiences overtraining syndrome (OTS).
OTS, on the other hand, causes a much severe condition that can take months to recover.
However, it is very unlikely that someone pushing it a bit hard at the gym will suffer from overtraining since the non-functional overreaching phase is more than likely to burn out the average or even above average fitness enthusiast. It is because of this belief that only the elite athletes and bodybuilders tend to or can manage to push themselves to such extremes as to induce a reversal of muscle growth, that most fitness trainers rubbish the claims of overtraining. Besides, when you train hard, it is bound to hurt hard. Man up and hit the gym again. That fatigue is in your mind and that lack of motivation is just an excuse. Or so they say.
WHEN THE CENTRAL NERVOUS SYSTEM ENTERS THE PICTURE…
When you lift weights, it tends to stimulate your central nervous system (CNS) causing an adrenaline and cortisol rush. The more these hormones are released, the more stress your body comes under leading to a fatigued state. Physically strenuous activities when performed to extreme levels sends our hormones into a frenzy and can end up frying the CNS!
Here is where the mainline is drawn between overreaching and overtraining. Overtraining, unlike overreaching, is more an affliction of the central nervous system than the muscular system.
Now the most important thing to note, that usually tends to be ignored or overlooked, by those who practice extreme physical training is that the central nervous system affects us not just physically by psychologically as well. Among other afflictions, a damaged CNS is also responsible for depression, anxiety, mood swings and most importantly — lack of motivation!
STILL, WONDERING IF OVERTRAINING IS REAL?
When we take not just the physiological but also the psychological conditions into consideration, overtraining becomes a very real and a very menacing consequence of excessive physical training. But it does not and cannot happen overnight. It takes a long time before the CNS gets fried. If you simply listen to your body, not ignoring its numerous signals and give it time to recover, chances are you will be able to get off early at the non-functional overreaching stage.
How the body reacts to overtraining differs from person to person. Many life factors such as work environment, food habits, the stress in personal life etc contribute to the overtraining syndrome. Since the causes and symptoms cannot be exactly pinpointed, OTS is also sometimes referred to as the unexplained underperformance syndrome.
Have you ever felt any such unexplained physiological and psychological conditions that correlate to your recent extra hard training? Now you know what to look out for. Share with us your experience in the comments section, so that others too may know what else to look out for. Or if you got friends who have their second home in the gym, share this with them before they burn out!
Krix Luther is a Health and Fitness Specialist and one of Asia’s leading Personal Trainers. He is an Ex Professional Muay Thai fighter and Avid Free Diver. At the same time as being a very active person he also has a passion for gaming and has his own Twitch stream. If you have any questions for him, you can contact him via his Instagram.