How You Can Avoid Overtraining

This is Your Quick Training Tip, a chance to learn how to work smarter in just a few moments so you can get right to your workout.

Certain things fall squarely in the “can never have enough of” category—vacations, time with loved ones, annual bonuses, sleep, sex. But when it comes to exercise, much like dessert, more isn’t necessarily better. Indeed, working out too hard, too often can result in something even worse than getting stuck at a performance plateau: overtraining.

You’ve likely heard the term batted around the weight room, but many guys laugh it off as something that happens to someone else. After all, if a tough workout produces results, an even tougher one should help you double down on them, right? Not always.

If you train more than about four times per week, pushing your limits during every workout may overwhelm your body’s ability to recover. When that happens, you might start to feel like your workouts are harder than they should be. This doesn’t mean you can’t train 5, 6, or even 7 days a week. But to do so, you’ll need to build plenty of nuance into your program. That’s why many advanced lifters use training splits, working different bodyparts (chest on one day, legs on another) or different functions (pulling muscles one day, push muscles another) on different days.

If you don’t break your training up and you just train hard every day, your performance may nosedive. You’ll struggle to lift as much as you normally do. You’ll fatigue faster. Your motivation will tank. You might even notice an uptick in agitation, moodiness, sleeplessness, and loss of appetite.

Regardless of the symptoms you experience, the result will be the same: A grinding halt to your forward progress, or worse, injury. Trainers and other performance experts call it overtraining, and it’s something to be avoided at all costs.

Your move: Prioritize your recovery as much as you do your training, remembering that adaptation (muscle growth, fat loss, endurance gains, etc.) happens between workouts, not during them. In practice, that typically means giving yourself at least 48 hours between high intensity efforts.

If you train hard on Monday, consider waiting until Wednesday before you push your limits again, for example. Or make a point to train very differently on Tuesday. (You may run sprints on Monday, for example, then lift weights for your upper body on Tuesday.) This doesn’t mean you can’t train daily (your body is meant to move), but you can’t crush your body every single day.

In the meantime, engage in active recovery. Doing so will not only give your body the time it needs to repair itself after your previous workout, but also to grow stronger and more powerful, so you can crush your next one.

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