Overtraining is a word thrown around a lot in a lot of fitness circles and bodybuilding articles, but is it actually real?  I mean most people have desk jobs and either sit or do low intensity exercise for the majority of the day.  The most strenuous most people get is a 30 min – 1 hour exercise period for 3-7 days a week depending on how “hard” you train.  But I’ve seen bodybuilding articles that state that anything over 3-4 days a week of weight training is overtraining.  (umm maybe, but it depends)  There are three different types of training and I’ll explain each in detail.

Overtraining is the most common type of training that most people hear.  It basically means the stress of your exercise is GREATER than the recovery of your exercise.  In other words, this mainly apply’s to people that are under-eating or not sleeping.  For example, lets say someone is eating 1200 calories a day and trains 7 days a week for 2 hours with lifting and cardio.  This person will experience “true overtraining” very quickly, because the stress of the exercise far outweighs the recovery ability to make proper adaptations.  But this is also why overtraining is such a misused term.  Lets take another example and use Michael Phelps.  Michael Phelps trains 6-7 hours everyday and lifts weights 3 days a week.  He has a tremendously high work output and common sense would say that he is way overtrained to make any progress.  But he’s not overtrained and is in fact a world class olympic athlete.  So how can Michael Phelps maintain such a vigorous exercise routine without burning out very quickly?  His recovery meets or maybe even exceeds his exercise stress.  There have been articles showing that Michael Phelps eats 12000 calories a day to support his training (The Michael Phelps Diet Don’t Try it at Home).  I’m not sure if he actually eats this much, but the point is he matches his exercise stress with adequate recovery (food).  The bottom line on overtraining is it probably will never effect you if recovery is substantial.

Overtraining? Never heard of it ;)
Overtraining? Never heard of it 😉

The second type of training is Detraining.  This happens to a lot of athletes or lazy people when they stop exercising.  Basically it means recovery is GREATER than exercise induced stress.  This person isn’t working hard enough and usually starts to lose strength and muscle mass and gain fat.  Too much food and recovery and not enough stress to make positive adaptations.  Most people would be considered in the “detrained” stage.  This also refers to losing the motor skills to perform exercise effectively.  For example, lets say you used to play a sport, tennis for example, then took a long break from it.  What happens when you try to pick up where you left off?  Your terrible initially and it takes some practice to get back to where you left off.  You basically have to relearn the proper motor skills and muscle memory to regain you skill.  The best part about being in this stage is that once you do start exercising, the benefits are immediate and profound.  Usually the person gets really fast results, because their moving out of the detrained stage to the optimum trained stage.

Mike Tyson looking a little detrained.
Mike Tyson looking a little detrained.

The final type of training is Optimum Training.  I like to refer to it as the sweet spot.  This is the holy grail of exercise because it leads to vast improvements in skill, body composition and overall results.  Optimum training is the middle ground between the two extremes listed above, meaning exercise stress = recovery.  This is why Michael Phelps can train 7 hours a day and reaps the rewards by become an elite athlete.  He perfectly balanced his stress with adequate recovery.  Most people should never leave this stage.  This stage can differ for everyone as some people can maintain optimum training on 3 days week, while others can maintain on 7 days a week for 7 hours a day (athletes). Its all relative on the perfect balanced of stress and recovery.  The best way to stay in this stage is if you exercise everyday and start to lose motivation and drive, then eat and sleep more to enhance recovery. If you start picking up weight and lose strength and performance during exercise, then work harder, but leave recovery where it is.

Arnold knows a little bit about staying in the Optimum training range.
Arnold knows a little bit about staying in the Optimum training range.

The above statement I mentioned earlier with the bodybuilder might have been correct saying some people overtrain on 3-4 days a week.  But as I explained in the article it depends on the person’s ability to handle stress, which usually when enough healthy food and sleep is provided for recovery, the exercise stress is not a big deal.

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