• You are not Overtrained

      Thereís a notion in the sometimes-weird world of strength training that youíll get stronger from doing less work. You can put this in the new-age junk pile of failed ideas. I want to share some overtraining truths with you that will hopefully change the way you look at your training process. These are truths I have learned from others, reasoned to, or otherwise developed that have helped me to develop double-digit national champions, IPF World Record holders, and hundreds of other personal records.
      A lot of people learn with metaphors. Many of you have probably heard of this metaphor before. Someone will tell you that stress (training or otherwise) is like a faucet flowing into a sink. Then your recovery is like the drain at the bottom of the sink. If you increase training stress and other stresses so that they are too much for the drain to process, then stress will accumulate and youíll be overtrained.
      Itís not a bad metaphor, but itís missing some key parts that make it useful. The main one I want to focus on is the drain in the metaphor is fixed, but thatís not how the human body works. The body is extremely adaptable. You stress the muscles, the muscles adapt. You stress your cardiovascular system, the system adapts. Your recovery processes are the same way! When you stress them by making them ďworkĒ, they will adapt by working more efficiently. To apply this to the metaphor, you would have smart sensors in the sink. When water (stress) starts to accumulate, these sensors activate and, over time they will widen the size of the drain, which improves your rate of recovery and allows more water to flow out.
      This is something that you have to understand if you want to improve your strength, size, or fitness. The reason is because continued improvement often hinges on volume. Iíve said before that intensity determines your training effect (as inÖ what happens to your body as a result of the training). Volume determines mostly the magnitude of that effect (as inÖ how much of the training effect you get). The reason for this is that volume and not intensity is the main driver of stress in your workouts. Some stress can be derived from intensity, but to a great extent that comes from psychological arousal. But thatís a topic for another time.
      So going back to our metaphor, most of the water flowing into the sink is a result of the volume of work you do. Most of you guys have teeny tiny little drains, so the volume you do quickly mounts up. Instead of letting it mount up and giving it time for your drain to get bigger, you shut off the faucet (take a deload week) and keep the flow of the faucet low (training each lift once a week, emphasizing supplemental exercises, etc).
      But this strategy is very short sighted, especially when viewed in the light of volume determining how much training effect you get. Thereís plenty of scientific research showing that you must increase training volume over time to see increased gains. Volume is so important that some scientists view it as the single most important training variable. I personally wouldnít go quite that far, but I mention it to show that increasing training volume is critical to your long term success.
      If youíre one of those guys who thinks that western science is junk and not trustworthy, youíll find the same conclusions in Soviet texts. Actually go to the texts and read them. Youíll find that they recommend volume increase every year until the lifter gets to the very pinnacle of their potential. Even then itís conceivable that the only reason volume wasnít increased further was because there was no time left in the day with which to increase it. You have to improve your volume (preferably volume of work in the contest lifts) if you want to continually improve year to year.
      Thatís not to say overtraining doesnít exist. But not every bad workout or achy joint is an indicator that you need a deload week. Donít be one of those extremist jerks that either lives in perpetual fear of overtraining or claims that it doesnít exist at all. You can work hard Ė progressively harder over time Ė and not overtrain. Overtraining exists, but itís not as easy to do as many people believe.
      I would love to give you some tips on how to know how beat up you should let yourself get or where in the middle you should draw the line for overtraining. But thatís not so easy to do. If youíre coming up on a meet where your performance is important, then maybe you should take that deload week. But if you donít have a meet in the next month, then maybe you should let yourself get a little beat down so your recovery system improves. This is why itís so important to have a periodized plan. Some times of the year, you want to enhance your recovery ability so you can handle more volume in the future and continue to make gains. Other times, you donít want to get beat down so you can maximize performance. Having a plan that at least provides a start from which you can deviate from is much better than just ďwinging itĒ on a weekly basis.
      Improving your volume is central to continued improvement. This is true for all lifters, drug free or not, all ages, etc. Go at it slowly and give your drain time to expand. Youíve had to work hard Ė progressively harder for all the gains youíve gotten up to this point. Itís going to be the same story for the rest of your lifting career. Time to get started.
      Comments 3 Comments
      1. scotty1980's Avatar
        scotty1980 -
        Totally agree, you can't excel without exceeding your previous efforts which is directly proportional to volume of work you apply... great article
      1. Buccioni's Avatar
        Buccioni -
        I personally can confirm that year by year, as far as I took good notes of my training, I experienced a slow but constant increase in number of lifts per week and volume in general. It's kind of a necessary process.

        I also think that many people believing in the increasing volume approach, make the gross mistake to anticipate the steps.

        Too many people like to suddenly play to be self-made champions, and as soon as they get the idea of increasing volume as a key strength improver, they start to do 6-8 work-out per week.
        I think that this excess is often present, especially when you do not have a good coach.

        As a result, you fail to obtain consistent progress, and with the same speed you leave a "high volume" approach, feeding up the misunderstanding of overtraining, necessity of recovery an so forth.

        I think that the indubitable concept that Mike so clearly wrote necessitates, as all the advanced ones, of smart people to be implemented.
      1. Mike Tuchscherer's Avatar
        Mike Tuchscherer -
        Exactly! You can't rush it too fast.