More training. More cardio. Heavier weights. If that’s your mantra to building a better body, you’ve got the right mindset to reach your goals.
But there’s also a potentially fatal flaw with this way of thinking.
More isn’t always better.
In fact, it’s a recipe for overtraining and injuries that can cost you a lot more than a rest day or an easy-lifting day in the gym.
Are you overtraining? Take this mini-quiz to find out:
- If a typical day in the gym calls for 20-something sets, should you ramp it up to 30?
- What if you top off your workout with a high-rep set for every exercise?
- Is high-intensity interval training twice a day a good idea?
- If you’re pressed for time, can you skip stretching and jump right into lifting?
- Is it OK to lift every day, without taking a rest day?
Answers: Any one of these strategies might work in a well-planned program for a short period of time to help you shred fat, build muscle, or transform your physique.
But if you’re training with an always-on mindset, never take a rest day, deload, or give your body a break, sooner or later, you’re going to get injured.
Case Study: Dave Draper
If you haven’t heard of Dave Draper, that’s OK. He’s an old-school bodybuilder who stepped on stage at Olympia before Arnold Schwarzenegger racked up seven straight wins.
After bodybuilding and an acting career, Draper is a 75-year-old badass, who’s still lifting weights, training, and dishing out advice on smart lifting strategies.
“Injuries are avoidable if the lifter is sensible, cautious, controlled, and mildly motivated,” Draper said in a recent interview.
But too many people who hit the gym want to train to failure, lift heavier weights, and even use sloppy form on every set in the name of setting a PR. But it’s not sustainable. Even Draper suffered some injuries during his years as a competitive bodybuilding.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
“What’s a lifter to do?” says Draper. “Eat right, rest a lot, warm up plenty, focus on muscle engagement, maintain proper form, take exertion to 99 percent, not 101 percent, and learn from the inevitable injuries that strike you down.”
Recognize the Warning Signs of Overtraining
Ever wonder if you’re training too much? Your body has a way of letting you know.
In the fitness world, it’s called Overtraining Syndrome. 
But if you ignore the warning signs and keep on training, you’re headed for an injury. The sooner you take a step back, review your training program, and plan some rest days, the sooner you can get back on track to making gains.
Wondering if overtraining is holding you back? Here’s what to watch for:
- Fatigue. Even if you’re sleeping well (7 to 9 hours a night), it might not be enough to support recovery if you’re over training. If you’re feeling tired all the time or rely on caffeine to keep you going, you may be overtraining.
- Prolonged muscle soreness. You hit a muscle group hard during your workout. But a day or two later, those muscles are still really sore. And that makes your subsequent workouts harder, too. If you’re overtraining, your muscles may not be getting the rest they need to repair and rebuild.
- Frequent colds. When your muscles are working overtime to try and recover from another grueling workout, your immune system takes a hit, leaving you more prone to catching a cold.
- Mood swings. If you’ve ever competed in a bodybuilding show, or know someone who has, there’s usually a few weeks where you’re training a lot. You’re typically in a calorie deficit on top of that. And that can take a toll on your mood, make you irritable, and even contribute to depression because of changes in hormones like cortisol and epinephrine.
- Poor sleep. If you’re overtraining, your body is under a lot of stress, which can cause hormonal imbalances linked to insomnia.
- Weakness. If you show up to the gym for a workout you’re familiar with, but you can’t lift as heavy as you did before, or you just feel weak, it could be due to overtraining. One way to tell, your heart rate may be higher than usual and take longer to recover after a set or cardio session.
- Loss of appetite. Even if you’re in a cutting phase and calories are restricted, you should still feel hungry. And if you’re in a bulking phase, well, you should be eating a lot. But if you’re overtraining, it can have an impact on hormones linked to hunger and satiety, and wipe out your appetite.
Rest is the Key to Recovery
Even if you’re an all-in, highly-motivated person with laser-like focus on your goal to get shredded, build muscle, or look your best, you can’t keep your foot on the gas pedal all the time.
You need time to rest and recover. Here are some things you can do:
- Set aside at least one day a week as a rest day where you don’t do any lifting, or high-intensity interval training.
- Avoid back-to-back high-volume or heavy-lifting training days. Cut back on reps and sets, reduce the intensity, or use lighter weights.
- Get a massage or use a foam roller. Both are effective ways to help speed recovery of damaged muscle tissue from a tough workout.
- Follow a split-training program, so you’re not training the same muscle groups every day.
- Take a full week off every 8 to 12 weeks of training. And if you do workout during a deload week, keep it light and easy.
Overtraining might make you feel like you’re on the fast-track to achieving your goals. But in the long-run, it actually has the opposite effect. You don’t want to get injured. Pay attention to the warning signs of overtraining, and take a step back if you think you’re doing too much.
Need a smart training plan that won’t lead to overtraining? Check out my customized 8-week and 12-week plans.
- Colucci, C. (2009). An interview with the Blond Bomber. T-Nation. From: https://www.t-nation.com/training/interview-with-the-blond-bomber
- Robinson, J. (2017). 9 signs of overtraining. American Council on Exercise. From: https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/lifestyle/blog/6466/9-signs-of-overtraining