Overtraining… What the hell does that mean??

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What is overtraining, why do we talk about it, and are you overtrained??

Over training syndrome (OTS) is a wildly discussed phenomenon in the fitness industry to include our sports of CrossFit.  As defined here, it basically means you trained to such a point that your body is no longer capable of recovery.   Simply stated, if you work out in our box, or are otherwise not an Olympian, professional athlete or elite exerciser, then you will never be diagnosed with overtraining syndrome.  Never Fern?  Yes never! That particular phrase, by its medical definition, is reserved for individuals capable of actually training to the point of full systematic breakdown.  And quite frankly, nobody really knows what or how the hell it works anyway.    I will tell you with almost absolute certainty that if you just start training three times a day with no plan or goal, you will see a drop of in performance and very likely have an injury of some sort.  You can call it whatever you want, I’ll call it not improving.  You can find a ridiculous amount of literature on overtraining here, here, here and here written by  everyone from the pseudo-educated (that’s me) to the uber-smart, ten pound brain types (that’s not me).   The only common theme amongst them is that there is no definitive equation that will induce overtraining syndrome.  I think the variables involved are too great in number and too difficult to control to find an absolute truth when it comes to overtraining.  But this fact is not debatable, it happens all the time.

So if I use the term overtrained or under recovered then please forgive me because “idon’tfeelsof*ckinggooditis”,  “myperformancesucks syndrome” or “I’mgettingworse disease” aren’t exactly professional or real.   So what exactly are we talking about?  I’m talking about the difference between training intelligently and the opposite of that.  Am I against two a days? No.  Am I against three a days? No.  Is it ok to lift heavy 5-7 times a week?  Yes, hell yes.  Now let’s clarify, because those answers I just gave probably don’t apply to you…..yet.   But Rich Fronning trains five times a day!?  Yes he does.  He was also a multi sport high school athlete and a college baseball player  who then became strength and conditioning coach at the collegiate level.  And let’s not forget that fact that he is now a professional exerciser.   It’s a safe assumption that he didn’t all of the sudden just wake up off his couch from two decades of Doritos and World of War Craft and say “Hey I’ll start working out three times a day!”  Then again stranger things have happened, like me graduating from college.  Can you train like the games athletes or an Olympian?   Yes…..just not yet.

The best athletes in the world do all of the aforementioned programs or something similar.  You are probably  not a professional athlete (meaning you get paid).  All of those athletes have a lifetime of volume built up that allows them to train at that level.  You most likely do not.  Those athletes have their nutrition dialed in to support that level of physical output.  You may or may not know what the three macro nutrients are.  Those athletes have specific blocks in their day dedicated to mobilization and tissue recovery.  You have the 20 minutes before or after the WOD.  Those athletes have nothing on their daily schedule that doesn’t involve eating, training or sleeping.  You have a job, kids, a dog, school and 1 million other things that normal life entails that will dictate your training.  (I have taken up the hobby of writing articles that nobody cares about.)  I don’t point these differences out to poke you in the eye.  I point them out because they matter and play a significant role in your training.  That doesn’t mean you can’t train like this…..just not yet.

The everyday person can achieve phenomenal feats of strength and overall fitness.  I am not against pushing the limits of your performance or anything of the sort. That is what CrossFit is predicated on.  The CrossFit Games is riddled with examples of everyday people who are crushing it.  What I am against is too much training volume too soon, it’s that simple.  When somebody tells me that they are going to start two a days and that person barely has even a high school level background in competitive sports and no real plan for how to manage, evaluate, or progressively implement that level of training then you will hear me grumble something about over training or under recovery while shaking my head in disapproval and then ask you to come talk to me when it goes south.  I’m not discouraging anyone from trying to get better.  Being great at anything requires tons and tons of work and it requires you to push past your mental, physical and emotional limits.  The theory of progressive overload is a widely accepted and proven technique, but that doesn’t mean you should do it carelessly.  Building up training volume takes TIME, and lots of it, actually SHIT LOADS of it.  When I say time I’m referring to years, not months.  Multiple training days should be approached with a progression that has you peaking at some point for your particular goal.   You should gradually work into your designed volume.  And let’s be clear about something, volume is relative!!   What person A can handle is not the same that person B can handle.  So if you take a template from another athlete (preferably a proven successful one) be prepared to tailor it to your needs.   Stick to the methodologies that work for the masses, because if it only works for “Johnny” then there is a good possibility that ol’ Johnny boy is full of it and likely not telling you something.

Motivation is a beautiful thing and watching people achieve their goals is why I love coaching CrossFitters, but we are addressing ignorance (notice I didn’t say stupidity).   I have seen tons of athletes at all levels fail because they neglected to do their homework before implementing a program (I can just start doing this, right?) or they just didn’t know any better.  If you have a goal, and you should, make sure you are setting yourself up for success.  Have someone look over your training program.  Hell, have a dozen people look it over!   Make sure you understand the difference between a bad day and an overall digression in performance.  You should be mildly educated on periodization of training, how to combat the laws of accommodation, what CNS fatigue is and how to prevent it.  Become a student of your chosen goal.  Don’t let me or anyone else tell you what your goals should or shouldn’t be.   That is for you and only you to decide.  Just understand that if you don’t have an intelligently thought out progression for how to get there (that involves plans a, b and C) then I think you are in for lots of disappointment.   A solid plan will get you where you want to be and ultimately let you tell your goals to “Suck it”.  We are here to help you move forward not backward, so don’t get butt hurt when I say something about overtraining.

Keep hitting it hard and train your weaknesses!

Fern