We often get confused about overtraining because even the name steers us in the wrong direction. First of all, overtraining doesn’t mean training too much. Just because you did 30 sets of biceps in one session doesn’t mean that you over-trained them. It also doesn’t necessarily mean that what you did was smart, but you didn’t over train them.
We all have our recovery capacities, but the point is that overtraining isn’t merely about “training too much.” Plus, getting injured doesn’t necessarily mean you were overtraining either.
The recognized sport-science definition of overtraining is: “a physiological state caused by an excess accumulation of physiological, psychological, emotional, environmental, and chemical stress that leads to a sustained decrease in physical and mental performance, and that requires a relatively long recovery period.”
There are four essential elements to overtraining:
- Physiological state: Overtraining isn’t an action (i.e., training too much), but a state similar to burnout, medical depression, or illness.
- Excess accumulation of physiological, psychological, emotional, environmental, and chemical stress: Stress has both a localized and systemic effect. Every type of stress has a systemic impact on the body, but this impact isn’t limited to the structures involved directly in a stressful event. This systemic impact is caused by the release of stress hormones (glucocorticoids like cortisol, for example) and overexertion of the adrenal glands.Every single type of stressor can contribute to the onset of the over-trained state. Job troubles, tension in a relationship, death in the family, or pollutants and chemicals in the air we breathe, the food we eat, or the water we drink, etc. Many things can contribute to overtraining. Training too much is obviously another stress factor that can facilitate the onset of this issue, but it’s far from being the sole suspect.
- A sustained decrease in physical and mental performance: The key term here is sustained. Some people chalk up a few subpar workouts to overtraining. It’s not the case. It could simply be acute or accumulated fatigue due to poor recovery management or a deficient diet.
- A response to constantly overloading the nervous, immune, and hormonal systems: Training improperly can contribute to excessive overload, but it isn’t the sole factor. As such, the key to avoiding a state of overtraining is not to push these three systems to their limit while also doing what you can to facilitate their recovery.
You’re Probably Not Over Trained
Your chances of developing real overtraining syndrome are slim. If you’re unlucky enough to develop true overtraining syndrome, it won’t just take you days or even weeks to get back to top form; it will take months. You cannot develop overtraining syndrome by only training 4-6 hours a week, especially if you’re using methods that don’t challenge the nervous system. However, just because you aren’t likely to develop overtraining syndrome doesn’t mean that you won’t suffer from improper training.