Do you exercise consistently, every week, but have little to show for your efforts?..... You could be overtraining.

Overtraining is often discussed however, it is rarely defined, clearly.

In fact no fitness accreditation I've seen teaches Personal Trainers how to systematically avoid overtraining their clients. And that's a shame because overtraining people makes the results they want, impossible.

The truth is, overtraining is a complex, multifaceted phenomenon that's very hard to define clearly. Nevertheless, poor fat loss, muscle gains, long strength plateau's are often embedded in overtraining.



Overtraining makes fat loss and muscle gains impossible to achieve.

Therein lies the personal trainers conundrum - "how much training do I prescribe my clients to ensure the best results but still avoid overtraining?"

Optimal training frequency (volume, how many workouts, how often etc) for an effective body transformation is a complex issue that depends upon a lot of factors (such as chronological age, training age, exercise history, gender, nutritional quality, intolerances, lifestyle and environmental aspects). However, one aspect is clear - if you want great results then you've got to avoid overtraining, at all costs.

In this article I'm going to identify three different types of overtraining. Then, look at the physiological ramifications of each to help identify possible symptoms so that you can avoid overtraining.

There are three distinguishable types:

1. Mechanical
2. Metabolic
3. Systemic

1. Mechanical Overtraining

This concerns the connective tissue locomotor system (those tissues directly involved in movement). Components such as ligaments, cartilage, tendons and bones are tissues that have a relatively poor blood supply, slow metabolic rate, and therefore, a slow rate of recovery. Too frequent use or poor biomechanics usually results in localized overuse (chronic) injury to these tissues.

Gym junkies are notorious for this - inflicting chronic joint injuries upon themselves. That is, they often persevere with a particular exercise even though it causes them pain! I’ve seen many resistance training enthusiasts blindly put-up with a particular “highly recommended” exercise despite the fact it makes their elbow/shoulder/knee or lower back scream and ache for days.



Too much resistance Exercise creates tramua that leads to mechanical over training

Don't simply put up with pain. I you will pay a much greater price later, such as a debilitating injury and/or extended layoff from exercise. One sure-fire way to avoid mechanical overtraining (and injury) in your resistance training program is to select only the movements in which enable maximal overload but do not cause joint pain.

This may mean simple variations in key exercises, such as altering grip position or the angle of the bench. For example, problems can often be alleviated with a slight (10 degrees or less) change in the angle of the bench or joint position. It may mean performing only partial movements of an exercise (eliminating the part that causes joint pain). Be sure to check out our free exercise and workout videos.

2. Metabolic Overtraining

This involves the impact of exercise training at the cellular level. Metabolic overtraining refers to the level of energy substrates within muscle cells, in particular, depletion of muscle glycogen stores. Glycogen is the muscle's storage form of carbohydrate and a primary fuel of intense workouts. Glycogen depletion produces an imbalance between ATP breakdown and generation. This causes depletion in the energy-rich phosphate pool, which in turn can result in reduced muscular performance and suppress immune function. Quite often, people that exercise intensely day-in, day-out don’t make the right carbohydrate choices post-workout. This results in the incomplete restoration of all-important muscle glycogen stores.



Most common cause of overtraining - people's nutrition habits don't support the hard workouts

One problem is, most people that want to get lean, perform their workouts in a glycogen-depleted state - they cut carbs all together. This places the individual at high-risk of immune suppression and developing metabolic overtraining. There really is no need to cut carbs, once you learn how to eat the right foods at the right times to maximize muscle glycogen and speed fat loss after every workout. The Metabolic Precision Level 1 certification provides a complete, easy-to-follow, step-by-step guide.

Supplements such as glutamine and creatine can help to enhance glycogen accumulation within muscle. Glutamine supplementation in particular is shown to restore glycogen levels as effectively. The post-workout combination of glutamine and carbohydrate works even better than carbs alone. Strategic supplementation during very intense programming can help avoid metabolic overtraining.

3. Systemic Overtraining

Systemic overtraining is often referred to as "overtraining syndrome". It is the most complex and least understood type of overtraining. Systemic overtraining involves neuroendocrine disorders characterized by poor performance, inability to maintain training loads, persistent fatigue, elevated catecholamine levels, frequent illness, disturbed sleep and alterations in mood state. Systemic overtraining is the generalized sense of fatigue or staleness that athletes characterize with overtraining.

In addition to feeling unmotivated and fatigued, this type of overtraining suppresses immune function - people can easily become very ill as a result of this form of overtraining. Although the individual may not be clinically immune deficient, the fact is, several immune parameters are suppressed by intense training. This predisposes the athlete to an increased or reoccurring risk of infection and illness.

A multitude of factors are thought to contribute to the onset of systemic overtraining. Clients and their trainers must be aware that physical, emotional and mental stresses all contribute to this condition. Systemic overtraining is the most serious overtraining condition and it can take several weeks or even months to correct. If ignored, systemic overtraining may lead to a complete breakdown of the immune system and conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome.



Luke Crowhurst understood that poor fat loss from lots of exercise is a tell-tale sign of systemic overtraining

One simple method that may prevent systemic overtraining is to get your self into the habit of monitoring and recording waking heart rate each morning. As soon as your eyes are open in the morning, check pulse rate. Record it in a diary and compare to previous days see if there is significant elevation. This method is by no means fool-proof for avoiding overtraining, nevertheless, an elevated resting heart rate is one sign that your body is not fully recovered or is fighting an infection.

The onset of systemic overtraining is subtle. Often by the time you feel other symptoms such as a cold or flu, it’s too late. A gradual increase in waking pulse rate as days go by will provide a clear warning sign that your client's training and lifestyle needs to be checked to avoid overtraining.

How do you prevent overtraining?

Enthusiasm can get the better of all of us, especially when we want to shift the fat, fast! It's easy to confuse your ability with ambition, particularly in the initial stages of an exercise program. It's easy to be guilty of doing too much of the wrong exercise whist under-eating and then in frustration start cutting calories in a mistaken attempt to "get lean fast". This approach is a fast-track to overtraining.

Strategic manipulation of exercise type, quantity and frequency is the key to avoiding overtraining and ensuring the best results possible. If you love to exercise, overtraining is very difficult to avoid, measure and assess. Often by the time you "feel it" its too late.

To help you avoid overtraining and frustrating plateaus, get my Special Report on Exercise Programming when you sign up for our FREE Fat Loss e-course.  This simple by highly effective system I developed over my 20-something years as a PhD Qualified Exercise Physiologist. It will remove the guess-work from exercise programing that avoids overtraining.  and ensures the best results from every workout. Our FREE Fat Loss e-course, will save you years of wasted time and effort.

Best of all, once you have learned how to match your exercise to your nutrition level, you'll have all the clear data needed to make any adjustments necessary for your next program. Therefore, each subsequent 12 week program ensures better results.

For more information about overtraining see my Expert Interview with Dr. Colin Wilborn, PhD.





References

Budgett R; Newsholme E; Lehmann M; et al. Redefining the overtraining syndrome as the unexplained underperformance syndrome. Br J Sports Med. Feb;34(1):67-8, 2000.
MacKinnon LT. Special feature for the Olympics: effects of exercise on the immune system: overtraining effects on immunity and performance in athletes. Immunol Cell Biol. Oct;78(5):502-9, 2000.
Hartmann U; Mester J. Training and overtraining markers in selected sport events. Med Sci Sports Exerc. Jan;32(1):209-15, 2000.
Shephard RJ Chronic fatigue syndrome: an update. Sports Med. 31(3):167-94, 2001.