Last Updated 11th August 2016: A few weeks back we posted an article on the symptoms of overtraining. This included a number of key points on how to distinguish between overtraining and simply feeling lethargic. In the article itself we went in depth into the causes but only scraped the surface when it comes to the recovery from working out too much. There are 2 main methods to combat overtraining. The first is prevention and the second is treatment. Prevention as you can probably guess is for individuals who never want to experience this feeling, such as professional athletes who can’t afford to take a week off training just because they are overtrained. Treatment on the other hand is simply curing the symptoms, once treated I recommend moving onto the prevention stage as this will ensure you don’t experience these symptoms again.
Overtraining Treatments & Recovery
This section is for the individuals who already have the symptoms associated with working out too much. I’ll re-embed the infographic from the other article below, if this sounds like you, then it may be time to take a break and follow the steps outlined.
The best way to recover from overtraining is without a doubt rest. I know that’s probably not want you want to hear but its the only way to ensure you fully recover. Whatever training style you are currently utilising, whether this be weightlifting, bodybuilding, running, professional sport, the style of training doesn’t matter, but the intensity of it does. Some programs call for a deload at the end of a cycle. In weightlifting this is usually after 5-7 weeks of intensive training.
The length of time you must rest depends entirely on how long you’ve been overtraining. If its been less than 1 month I would recommend at least 3-4 days of full recovery. This means not going to the gym at all in this time. If you feel you’ve been overtraining for a longer period of time, then 5+ days is probably needed. The decision is obviously up to you on how long you decide to stay out of the gym, but just remember a couple of days now could prevent an injury in the future.
Sleep – During your time out of the gym, sleep should be your number 1 focus. Sleep helps build & repair muscle! This is due to the release of the human growth hormone. If you sleep less than 6 hours a night you are seriously hampering your bodies ability to recovery. This over repeated days and nights will lead to the symptoms of overtraining and if continued will eventually lead to worse health problems. Get into bed early!
Improve rehabilitation – This is the only type of physical activity we recommend on these rest days. Also known as “active recovery” this involves using foam rollers, dynamic stretching and massaging tight or sore muscles to aid in their quicker recovery. You should be utilising foam rolling and stretching before and after every workout anyway, but if you’re not already its extra important on your rest days.
Diet and Nutrition – More on nutrition in the prevention section below, but generally dieting (being in a caloric deficit) is the primary course from lack of recovery. Although you might want to lose fat, this shouldn’t come at the cost of being unable to recover. Instead ensure you consume enough protein to allow your muscles to repair themselves and maybe change your training up to fit your caloric needs.
Stimulants – On the point of nutrition I’ll quickly mention stimulants, these can be as tame as coffee and tea, or more hardcore such as drugs. Either way if you are struggling to sleep (a vital part of recovery) then this may be due to the stimulants you are consuming. People have different levels of tolerance for stimulants, simply test whether you are reliant on these substances by taking 7 days off from all of them. If you feel shaky or grouchy in this time, then these substances are probably having more impact on you than you realise.
Change your training plan
Preventing overtraining can be as simply as changing your training plan. Everyone wants to train as hard as possible in the gym, but if you’re failing reps or not hitting your sets it might be time for a change in program. We have a number of recommended workout routines on the site, simply choose one based on your personal goals and get started. Remember to always set your current one rep max figures slightly below what your actual figures are. This not only gives you chance to slowly move into the program but it also allows you a slightly easier week in the initial training phrase, to combat any overtraining you may have been doing on an old program.
Improve your nutrition
Nutrition can be the difference between a “successful” program or one you consider a failure. The 2 key elements here are protein consumption and total calorie consumption. If you are looking to build muscle you should be in a caloric surplus. This means you should be eating more than you’re burning through daily life and training. If you’re looking to lose weight then you should be consuming 100-1000 less calories per day (I recommend between 300-500 a day.)
Protein on the other hand should be kept reletively constant regardless of your goals. A number of tests on the optimal amount of protein consumption have been conducted. The figures that are optimum are between 0.7-0.8 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight. This is also regardless of gender. So a 100lb female should aim to consumer between 70-80 grams of protein per day. A 200lb male athlete should aim to consume between 140-160 grams. Consuming this much protein can be difficult, I personally use myprotein isolate whey protein as a supplement to my nutrition. Although these are great for making sure you hit your daily protein needs, you should also aim to “eat” most of your protein due to the micro-nutrients contained in foods.
Ensure you are resting / sleeping enough
We covered the importance of rest and sleep in the above section. To reiterate. Rest (generally) allows your body to recover without further tearing of the muscle tissue through exercise. Sleep releases HGH (Human growth hormone) which aids muscle recovery and growth. HGH can also be a substance that is abused, although not classed as a steroid by most, this is seen as a performance enhancing drug and is generally frowned upon or completely banned in most sporting federations.
Consuming enough water is a commonly overlooked element in overtraining. Dehydration has similar symptoms as overtraining and by combining (even a slight amount) of the two, leads to severe results, usually in the form of fainting. The solution is very simple, just consume 3-4 litres of water a day. Personally I get through around 5, but I think that will be overkill for most people. As long as you can get to 3 you shouldn’t experience any negative side effects.
Active recovery encompasses everything you do to improve your recovery. The most effective of these include deep tissue massages, foam rolling, stretching or light cardio. These can be done at the end of a training session or in the days thereafter. Foam rolling, stretching (or yoga) and light cardio can add 20 minutes to a training session, but the benefits greatly out-weigh the time it takes for you to complete these actions. Also remember to drink a lot of water whilst doing these, this helps flush your body of the lactic acid it has built up during the training session. All of these will also help you feel better the next day (reducing the DOMs.)
As previously mentioned sleep is so important. So much so that it gets its own heading. Sleep releases HGH a huge component of muscle growth and recovery (do I sound like a broken record yet.) As well as sleep, you need deep sleep and REM. This is when the highest amount of HGH is released and hence the most beneficial part of your night. Aim to sleep at least 7 hours a night, even if you are extremely busy.
Generally I don’t recommend taking too many supplements, but for some things they are a lot easier than trying to naturally gain all of the benefits through eating alone. Below are the only supplements I recommend (most other ones are complete BS)
- Whey Protein – If you are struggling to hit your daily protein needs, then pick up an isolate whey protein. As previously mentioned I recommend MyProtein, you can pick their Isolate Whey Protein up here.
- Fish Oils – Fish Oils have been studied extensively. The primary benefits include improving overall joint health and flexibility as well as the micro-nutritional benefits that fish oils contain. These are very cheap and you should take 1-2 capsules per day to ensure you have healthy joints. £5 for 90 capsules is what I go for.
- Branch chain amino acids – BCAAs are the new kid on the block in terms of building strength or muscle. I’m still not 10)% convinced, but a number of professional sporting athletes take these and as a result they make the list. They are also taken to improve recovery, so in our overtraining topic, definately get a mention. Again you can pick these up from Myprotein here.
- Creatine – The #1 supplement for all athletes. I’m on the fence about BCAAs, I am not on the fence about creatine. The research speaks for itself. One of the proven supplements with no side-effects. Best of all its super cheap! Again you can pick these up from here for only £4!
Thanks for reading.
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