Four Steps to Prevent Overtraining

Overtraining.  If you’re a competitive athlete you’ve no doubt heard this term throughout your athletic career.  Yet unfortunately overtraining is still too common and can set an athlete back weeks and even months in severe cases.

I have had many clients come to me after working with trainers that have simply overworked them.  Worse yet, there are still many personal trainers and even team strength coaches that don’t heed the warning signs of overtraining, simply because it doesn’t fit in with their military style “train until you drop” philosophy.

Think about it.  Overtraining has its roots in a very psychological basis that we as humans have embraced for decades.  Think about the slogans:  No pain, no gain.  What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.  I’ve had clients that have been raised on the idea that if it doesn’t hurt, they’re not getting better, stronger.  However, advances in exercise science have shown us that there is nothing further from the truth.

Training should be hard.  It should be uncomfortable. It should push your boundaries and test your mental strength. It can make you a bit sore the next day.  But it shouldn’t hurt, it shouldn’t make you sick and it should never make you dread doing your next workout.  No matter what anyone tells you.

Training is now a science, and we know so much more now about how to get an athlete not just through a workout, but through an entire season not only without overtraining, but peaking at the right time.

Unfortunately, mind over matter does have its limitations, so how can you prevent from getting overtrained?

1)   Find a coach you trust. It’s your body.  If you are old enough to be reading this you are old enough to make an informed decision. If your coach doesn’t listen to your concerns about fatigue, soreness and burnout, it’s time to shop around.

2)     Accept soreness only at first. When you first start a new weight routine or are just getting back into your sport after a break, expect some soreness for only couple of days. Nothing frustrates me more than seeing athletes with icepacks on their legs from a hard weight workout.  If you’ve been working those muscles regularly and they suddenly hurt, you’re damaging them – plain and simple.  Learn to know the difference between that good burn you get from a great workout and that post-workout soreness that you feel the next day.  The latter is a sign of overtraining.

3)     Recovery, recovery, recovery. Lack of recovery is probably the number one thing that leads to overtraining.  It’s counterintuitive to rest, but it is during rest where your muscles actually grow, adjust and make gains.  For example, when you’re doing your heavy strength phase, you MUST take at least 3-4 minutes between sets or you will negate your gains and worse yet, can contribute to overtraining.

It’s often tempting to squeeze in another workout on your day off, or to put an extra, unscheduled day into the gym to try to get that edge but it can actually set you back.  Your body and mind both need that recovery time.   And the older you get, the longer that recovery time is.

4)   Communicate with your coach. If you’re feeling particularly tired and burned out either physically or mentally, tell your coach.  A good coach will listen and make the appropriate adjustments to your workouts, tell you to take an extra day or two off, or give you other suggestions for keeping yourself in top training form.  But they can’t do this if you don’t tell them.  Again, if you’re afraid to tell your coach you’re too fatigued or not feeling well, then it’s time to look for a coach that you can develop that kind of relationship with.  It could mean the difference between a 10 year career and a 20 year career in a sport

My most successful clients are ones that have taken control of their careers.  They aren’t afraid to call me late at night to tell me they’re too wiped out for their workout the next day, and  ask what I recommend.  They follow their prescribed workouts with perfection and don’t skip on recovery.  The real discipline isn’t in their ability to fight through pain and fatigue everyday, it’s in being able to hold back when they’re told to.