There is no such thing as overtraining, there is only under-recovery. Most people don’t put in enough time, effort, or train with enough intensity to put themselves in a state of overtraining. Most people simply don’t recover well enough.
“Genuine overtraining” refers to a long term pattern of being overworked often times coupled with substandard recovery. There are those who may put themselves in a genuine state of overtraining. Take for example the athlete who puts in between 1000 and 1300 quality hours a year. That works out to between 19 and 25 hours per week, every week of the year, with no time off. These aren’t just junk hours either. They are quality hours. Do you train that much? Do you put in that kind of effort?
Ask yourself a simple question and answer it honestly: How much do I train in an average week? Remember that just showing up to the gym for a few hours a day doesn’t mean you trained. We are talking about quality hours here. So how many quality hours do you put in per week? It probably isn’t enough to actually be overtrained. Chances are that if you think you are overtrained you are actually just under-recovered.
If you want to improve then recovery must be taken seriously. The work in the gym is only a piece of the puzzle when it comes to being fit. Remember that “Training = Work + Rest”. Without adequate rest and recovery the training will become less effective and you will plateau. In my experience when people have hit a plateau it is because they are under-recovered and can’t train with the proper intensity to burst through it and keep progressing.
Here are some strategies to help you make the most of your recovery. The more of these ‘recovery practices’ that you can institute the better off you will be. You can never over-recover. In this case there is never too much of a good thing. Incorporate as many of these as possible into your daily and weekly routine.
Think of yourself as a smart phone and your bedroom as the charger. If you leave the house in the morning and your phone is carrying a 20% charge how useful a tool is it really? It will be shutting down by noon. You can’t text, you can’t talk, you can’t play on Facebook, get directions, or check your email. The phone becomes useless. On the other hand if you leave the house on a 100% charge you have a useful tool all day until you get home at night. Your your body works the same way. Get enough quality sleep and you leave the house fully charged and ready to go. If you leave under slept and undercharged then how well do you really expect yourself to perform?
There is nothing more anabolic then a few extra hours of sleep a night. Try to accumulate 8-9 hours a night. Protect the quality of that sleep by turning your bedroom into a place of rest. Use black out curtains to keep out the light. Get rid of the light and energy in the room by getting rid of the electronics. If you use an alarm clock tape over the lights so that it doesn’t fill your room. By getting 8-9 hours a night in a completely dark and restful environment your body will produce more human growth hormone and more testosterone. This will lead to numerous positive effects including a higher training intensity and therefore better gains in the gym. Probably in life as well.
2) Stress Management
Managing stress is essential to maintaining a good level of recovery. Stress kills us. It is almost impossible to train hard and recover while under a high amount of stress. Nothing seems to work right.
Think back to a time when you were under an incredible amount of stress. Maybe it was from work or maybe it was from a bad relationship. How was your training? Did you progress or did you plateau?
For most people stress is self imposed.
That bad relationship you are in? Get out of it. There is better out there for you.
That job you hate? Maybe it is time to explore the option of finding new employment. You are probably qualified to do something else.
Do you find yourself sitting in a traffic jam an hour or two every day? Leave for work earlier in the morning so you aren’t stuck in traffic and then use the extra time to train, or read, or just relax. Instead of leaving work and hopping in the car only to sit for an hour in a traffic jam why not train right away at a nearby gym and drive home when the traffic clears?
Turn your phone off sometimes. You don’t need to be connected all day, every day.
Get rid of negative and poisonous people from your life. You become what you hang around.
These are just some of the things you can do to help alleviate stress. Take a look at your life and take inventory of your current state of affairs and then start making some changes.
3) Recovery Practices
Here are some practices that can aid in your recovery. I’m going to leave the scientific talk out of this section. Just trust that they work because they do. Insert as many of these recovery practices into your daily routine as you can:
i) Foam Roller - An essential home massage tool. It will help your muscles to relax and it will help your muscles stay in proper working order. Bound up tissue doesn’t function properly. Great for the glutes, quads, calves, low back, and hamstrings. I would recommend using the foam roller for 15-20 minutes every night.
ii) Ice Bath - Ice Baths have been used for years and they are regularly used by the best athletes in the world. Place 50-70lbs of ice in the bath tub and get in. Sit for between 15 and 20 minutes. When you get out let your body warm up naturally. This should be done after any difficult workout.
iii) Recovery Walk - a 20-30 minute walk is a great way to get the body moving, flush the muscles, stimulate an appetite, and unplug from the world. It should be relaxing and done at an easy pace. Go to a park, walk around your neighborhood, or go somewhere relaxing. Leave your phone at home. It is also a great way to spend quality time with your spouse, kids, or walk the dog. You could do this every day.
iv) Massage Therapist - Find a good one and see them regularly. Regular massage is a way to keep the muscles working properly, treat current injuries, and prevent further injuries from occurring. It is also an excellent way to relax. Finding a good therapist is essential. I would aim to get a massage every 1-2 weeks.
4) Recovery Workouts
You can’t go hard all the time. Some workouts are test drives but others need to be tune ups. You can’t test drive your car every single day. On days you feel you can’t go hard then back off a bit and do a recovery workout. You can do two-a-days by making one of them a recovery workout. Just because you are doing recovery doesn’t necessarily mean you aren’t getting valuable work in. Recovery workouts can address such issues as core stability, shoulder mobility, building an aerobic base, practicing technique, etc.
By doing a recovery workout you can also ensure you are able to go hard the next day. Protect the intensity of your hard workouts and protect your overall recovery status by taking your foot off the gas every now and then.
Here are three of my favorite recovery workouts:
i) 100x Turkish Get-ups @ 15-25lbs Dumbbell or Kettlebell
Should take about 30 minutes. Go slow and make sure the form is impeccable. There is no need to rush. Alternate arms in sets of five until you reach 100 reps. You may be tempted to go heavier. Don’t. Remember this is a recovery session.
ii) 60 minute Row, Bike, Run, or Swim @ an easy pace
Keep the heart rate under 65%. If you can’t run because of the impact then choose something low impact. This workout is a great way to flush the muscles, create a demand for food, psychologically recover and also a great way to build up volume. If you were to row 60 minutes, three times a week, at an easy pace (i.e. 12,500m for men and 10,000 for women) you would accumulate well over 1 million meters for the year. If you were to do three, 60 minute runs at a ten minute mile pace you’d get 18 extra miles a week.
iii) 3x20 Deadlift @ 30% 1RM
3x20 Deadlift @ 30% 1RM off of 4” Box
300sec Plank Hold
50x Pull-up (done in sets of 3-5)
A great way to practice your Deadlift form, work on core stability, and improve your pull-ups. I know many people who have set personal bests in the Deadlift by doing this workout a few times a week. Make sure every rep is perfect. Take your time.
If You Want To Improve The Path is Through Recovery:
I have met a lot of people who are serious about training. I have met a lot less people who are serious about their recovery. There is only so much time you can devote to training and there is an upper limit to the intensity you can give on a day-to-day basis. What often makes the biggest difference in a successful training program is the work outside the gym.
It may not be glamorous or fun but by paying serious attention to recovery you will be able to stay injury free, work harder in the gym on a day-to-day basis, and make a lot more progress. Often times when people plateau it is because they haven’t payed enough attention to recovery.
The training is the easy part. What happens the other 22 hours of the day is where the battle will be won or lost. Remember that when you leave the gym the real work begins.