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Secret #1: Avoid Overtraining
There's no way around it, overtraining is a progress-killer. This is why all successful trainees avoid overtraining like the plague. In fact, the training concepts that ruled for decades were as follows:
Over the years these two simple mantras have been responsible for building more muscle, burning more body fat, creating more champions, and transforming the lives of millions of people. Sounds simple, right? For years it seemed like it was.
In recent years though, I have noticed that A LOT of confusion has developed around this topic of overtraining. The "more is better" philosophy has never been so pervasive. In my opinion, I believe that the flashy "extreme fitness" approaches of exercise have had a big hand in creating this confusion. Addinging more workouts, more reps, more days and using more intensity methods have NOT delivered more of the results people are looking for. In fact, it has done the opposite!
Back to the Basics: The Science of Overtraining
What is overtraining? Let's set the record straight by looking at the science and empirical evidence on what overtraining is and how you can avoid it to maximize your training and results.
Overtraining: training exceeding the body's recovery capacity, indicated by excessive fatigue both physical and mental, and resulting in impaired performance. Short-term overtraining is usually adequately countered by a period of reduced intensity or a few days' total rest but if extended, it leads to overtraining syndrome, a set of symptoms and signs, probably of neuroendocrine origin. Recovery may take months or never be fully achieved. (From Dictionary of Sport and Exercise Science and Medicine by Churchill Livingstone.)
Did you catch the main points there? Overtraining means doing more than your body can handle. And if you continue to over-train it will lead to overtraining syndrome. This can take months to recover from. Worse yet, recovery may "never be fully achieved".
Here are the key questions that arise:
# How intensely should I train?
# How many days should I train?
# How many workouts should I do during the week?
- Chart from the book "Natural Hormone Enhancement" Rob Faigin
Keep in mind there is no ONE answer for everyone. The answers will depend on each person's fitness level, needs, goals, and recovery ability. However we can get a pretty good idea by looking at the science of what happens from a physiological standpoint. Let's take a look at the chart.
Acute Hormonal Response to Exercise
Do yourself a favor and study EVERY aspect of this chart. There is too much to go into to fully explain it all in this article but I wanted to include so you'd have the full picture. It showcases the IDEAL hormonal response of one successful workout that will lead to the ideal result you want.
Take home points from this chart (on the next page):
# Intense workouts should not exceed 45 minutes.
# Have the post-workout meal between 30-40 minutes after workout to enable recovery.
# It may take 48 hours to recover from that intense workout, making it time to train again.
More Is Better?
The more intensely you train, the LESS training you must do. The less intensely you train, the MORE you can handle. A textbook example of this is between a sprinter and a marathon runner. Sprinting is all-out intensity = short distance. Marathon is a sort of rationed-intensity over time = longer duration.
Generally speaking, strength training can be very intense, like sprinting, which requires more days to recovery. Typically the human body can only handle 3 days of such intense training. You can't sprint a marathon. Why? If you do, you won't finish the race, right? Likewise if you strength-train intensely every day, you may throw the ideal hormonal response that you see in the chart, the response that leads to progress, into a tailspin. Which will lead to overtraining.
Conversely, cardio-based training is a slower rationed-intensity, like marathon running, not requiring much rest in order to recover from. So you can perform them every day. You have to be careful with cardio training too because if not done properly it can also deplete recovery ability.
Adding Stress on Top of the Already Stressed-Out
Add to this the fact that today's hyper fast-paced life already has the majority of people's physiology highly stressed, toxic, and in a constant low-grade "fight or flight" every day. The result is an already stressed hormonal profile on the brink of collapse. One that can easily be tipped over by the slightest bit of overtraining. Yes. Performing daily "extreme" intensity workouts and utilizing the "extreme" concepts that are so popular today will easily overload MOST people's physiology to the point of burnout, overtraining and plant them firmly on the road to "No Results-Boulevard." Not where you want to be, right?
My Secret to Avoiding Overtraining
One of my secrets is the ability to manipulate intensity of the workout plan to fit each person I work with. And while every situation is different, I can tell you that in my 20-plus years as a fitness and performance coach I've achieved EXCELLENT results with my clients and athletes performing their full-body strength-training routine two times a week. In some rare cases, three times a week. In certain situations, you can also divide the body into three parts: chest and back, legs, and arms. Training each only ONCE a week. Yes. I said ONCE A WEEK. And this approach has worked for everyone from my first-timers to my elite world-class athletes.
What YOU Need to Do
So please do NOT be fooled by all these "extreme" training approaches anymore and take a lesson from all the successful trainees who achieve consistent results and avoid overtraining like the plague. Get some rest, let your body heal from your past overtraining and then resume your workouts with a renewed attitude, mindset which will lead you to new levels of health, fitness and performance!
Fernando Paredes, NASM-CPT, CES, PES, FMS, a 20-year veteran of the fitness industry, is a sought after fitness and performance expert. He is a contributing fitness columnist for PhillyFIT magazine and has been featured on Comcast Network's "Your Morning" show, "It's Your Call with Lynn Doyle," WFMZ Channel 69 News, CBS/CW Philly and The Philadelphia Inquirer because of his innovative Core-to-Strength Training T approach. Fernando has gained the reputation as the expert other trainers turn to for advice and countless other people look to for maximum health, fitness and performance. For more information visit his website at www.fusionfitnessstudio.net.