Overtraining – An Alternative Approach


While there is certainly a significant portion of the fitness population that is simply not putting in enough work to achieve their desired goals, there is also a rather large slice of the pie comprised of those that are actually overtraining.   If you are a potential victim of overtraining, I am sure you have read an article about this issue or had someone preach to you about scaling back at some point in your training career. However, this article is not going to immediately start preaching to you about cutting back your dedicated hours; you may actually be able to keep grinding away at your current pace.  But lets cover some basics first.

Let us start with a definition: Overtraining is a physical, behavioral and emotional condition that occurs when the volume and intensity of an individual’s exercise exceeds their recovery capacity.

Now that we know what we are talking about, lets take a look at some of the symptoms and signs so you can better analyze your situation.  Here are a few of the most common:

-Persistent or unrelenting fatigue

-Elevated rested heart rate



-Persistent or unrelenting muscle soreness

-Difficulty sleeping, even when tired

-Night sweats

-Increased sickness


At this point a number of you are reading the list above and drawing check marks down your computer screen.  If this is the case, I would first like to congratulate you on not being at the other end of the spectrum.  On the other hand, we have some work to do with you.  Overtraining can lead to some serious problems and will undoubtedly hinder your progress and potential.

Typically this is where an article tells you to chill out, take more days off and spend less time under the iron and/or training.  Well, sometimes that advice is spot-on perfect; but we aren’t going to jump to that conclusion today.  In my experience as a trainer and a competitor, there is a crucial analytical step that is all to often bypassed in prescribing overtraining remedies.

Take a closer look at the definition above, specifically: “..exceeds their recovery capacity.”  If volume and intensity exceeds recovery capacity, the easy solution is to decrease volume and intensity.  However, this decrease is only the correct answer when recovery capacity is maximized.  If your capacity to recover is not optimal, you may be able significantly increase it, allowing you to continue training at your current level and drastically increase your results.  Therefore:


Volume & Intensity > Un-maximized Recovery Capacity

Attempt to increase capacity.


Volume & Intensity > Maximized Recovery Capacity

Immediately decrease volume.

Here are a few different areas that you can examine to help determine if your recovery capacity has room to be improved.  Though there are many more potential areas of improvement, we are going to focus on the most common.

1. Diet and Nutrition. Simply put, are you consuming enough quality calories from clean protein, carbohydrate and fat sources to support your activity?  More often than not, the answer to this question is “no.”  Because the required amounts of everything can differ a great deal for each individual, I cannot sit here and write out specific numbers that apply to your specific training style, training purpose, experience and genetics.  But here are the shortcomings that I see most often in my clients:

– Are you simply eating enough carbs? Protein? Fat? Overall calories?

This is almost always the problem.

-Are you eating often enough throughout the day?

Spacing your meals out will help increase the absorption of crucial nutrients.

-Do you eat enough green vegetables and/or fruits?

They contain vitamins and minerals that will help optimize recovery, growth and fat loss.

-Are you consistent?

Is your diet perfect day after day, week after week? Or just here and there?

-Do you drink alcohol or do drugs?

Yes, drinking only once a week can destroy your recovery. Duh.

2. Sleep.  I honestly don’t know a whole lot of people who can consistently get 8-10 hours of sleep per night, but that doesn’t change how important it is.  Some of our body’s most important recovery-related hormones are released in abundance while we sleep.  A significant lack of sleep can make virtually any training program too much for the body to handle.  Even though many of our lives don’t allow us to get a great deal of sleep, virtually everyone can make some small adjustments to their p.m. routine to get them under the sheets a bit earlier.  Take a good look at what you do every night (i.e.-watch TV, play on the computer, etc..) and eliminate the unnecessary to add some additional healing time.

3. Supplementation.  There are a number of great supplements, beyond our essential protein shakes, that can aid your recovery time.  Please keep in mind, supplements aren’t going to help you out if your diet is poor and you only manage to squeeze in 4 hours of sleep every night. Once those two are in check, try adding the following stack to your diet to really kick up the recovery and rebuilding process.

Lucas G. Irwin’s Recovery Stack:







High Quality Multi-Vitamin


By Lucas Irwin (unbreakablegear)

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