Rest and Overtraining

What I’m about to tell you is completely counter intuitive. Most people I know who are disappointed with their bodybuilding results are suffering from over-training rather than under-training. Its a hard concept to grasp that sometimes you can increase your strength and gain more muscle by working out less! The “work ethic” is so ingrained in us. We are so used to hearing things like:

You get what you pay for
You get out what you put in

but its not true in bodybuilding! Or it is but only up to a point. If you workout too much, you will get weaker and smaller rather than stronger and bigger! Its called overtraining and its a very common problem with bodybuilders. Here is a chart of strength and mass gains vs number of hours lifting weights.

overtraining chart

At first, you do get out of it what you put into it – you see the curve is a straight line upward. For every additional hour pumping iron you get gains proportional to your effort. Then look what happens, its no longer a bargain as you near the top of the curve. You still are making gains but they are incrementally very small and require lots of additional time to get them. Then at the top of the curve, you have maxed out. If you workout less or more then you will have worse gains. If your workout less, its called undertraining and that’s not a bad thing. If you workout more than this, its called overtraining and its really bad. Overtraining not only means you are wasting time but also that you are getting worse results and subjecting yourself to the following problems:

  • Fatigue
  • Aches and pains
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Pain in the joints
  • Lack of energy
  • Performance decrease
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Headaches
  • Catching lots of colds
  • Drop in intensity
  • Moodiness
  • Loss of enthusiasm
  • Decreased appetite
  • Lots of injuries
  • Fanatic about exercising

The above are all signs of overtraining. You want to be on the left side of the above graph, not the right side!

Strength gains and muscle mass gains don’t happen at the gym, they happen the 2-7 days after your workout as your body slowly works to repair the damaged muscles. If you do another weight workout before you body has fully repaired the muscles, you are cheating yourself out of gains. The amount of time it takes to rebuild the muscles depends most on the experience level of the bodybuilder. Advanced bodybuilders can workout so intensely and cause so much damage that it takes 5-7 days to rebuild the muscles. Beginning bodybuilders who are unable to workout with this destructive efficiency can recuperate much faster, maybe 2-3 days. This difference explains why beginning bodybuilding workouts look so different that the workouts of advanced bodybuilders! Because of their faster recuperation time, beginners can workout each muscle group multiple times a week without causing overtraining – a typical beginning workout plan is a complete body workout 3 times a week, that would cause severe overtraining for an advanced bodybuilder.

One very, very important point that people get confused with all the time. They look at my advanced workout plan which has an intense workout every day and wonder why that doesn’t cause overtrainig – after all, I said that it takes 5-7 days for the advanced bodybuilder to recuperate. The answer is that each muscle group is independent. Yes, if you just did legs yesterday you cant do them again for another 5 days but there is no reason you cant do another bodypart like chest. With advanced bodybuilding workouts, typically each day is a separate bodypart so that each is only worked once per week.

With all the people I know who are suffering from overtraining its exactly the same. They wanna make gains in the worst possible way and they are willing to do anything to get bigger and stronger. They workout like fiends and overtrain. They are absolutely petrified that if they workout less, they will shrivel up into a proverbial 70 pound weakling. They suffer from overtraining for years on end wondering why they can never make any gains but they just cant workout less, they cant. The intense fear of losing your strength/mass is a good sign that you are overtraining and all the more reason to cut your workout time in half!

So how do you know if you are overtraining. Well we have the symptoms above but here are some rules of thumb. If you are lifting weights more than 10 hours a week, you are most likely overtraining. If you are lifting weights more than 6 hours a week, you might be overtraining. To find out if you are, try cutting your weekly workout time in half for two months and compare the gains, if you do make more gains with less working out then you were overtraining. The easiest way is to use a standard workout plan rather than inventing your own, the free custom workout plan generator on my website will help make an optimal workout plan for your specific goals.