The Difference Between Overtraining and Overloading the Muscle
Back in my early days when I was just starting out at the age of 16 and weighing around 9 stone, I trained 5 – 6 days a week with incredible intensity. In fact I would literally push myself to failure on every single set that I did. The reason being that it didn’t felt I had worked the muscle if I knew I had more in the tank. Of course at that age you don’t stop to think about the physiological effects of pushing pushing yourself to the limit day in and day out and what that might do to your recovery.
I always compare it to driving a car; if you buy a car and redline it everywhere you go, then it’s going to be all but knackered after a couple of weeks. The same is true for your body. However, a lot of people are still confusing the difference between overtraining and overloading. This article will attempt to address this confusion so that you get better at understanding how your training should evolve over time.
Remember that one of the keys to getting bigger and stronger is the progressive increase of microtrauma in the muscle. That means that as time goes by you need to be adding more weight to the bar, otherwise the stimulus isn’t great enough to provoke the anabolic effect that you are looking for. The length of time it takes to make an increase in weight largely depends on the standard of the athlete.
Beginners can add weight each week, or even multiple times a week, however Olympic athletes have 4 year cycles to reach new personal bests to tie in with the olympics. The thing to remember is that if you, in 6 months, lift 20kg more on each of your lifts than you do now, then you will be bigger (assuming you’re eating enough!).
The previous paragraph serves as an introduction to the key point in this article. Overtraining and overloading are different things entirely. One can be benficial to your training regime whilst the other can be hugely detrimental. One is a short term state, whilst the other is long term and requires significant time to recover from.
So, what’s the difference?
Overloading is a short period of time during which you push your body really hard. So for example in a periodisation routine (dual factor), it is common place for the athlete to overload for the first four or five weeks of the eight or nine week cycle. The overloading phase consists of medium to high volume and high intensity that puts your body under stress that it couldn’t withstand for longer periods of time but can cope with for short periods of four or five weeks.
Overloading can be extremely useful because in an overloaded state, the fatigue of your body dissipates much faster than the strength gains acquired from the overloading phase. Therefore the athlete can have one week of deloading before ramping up with low volume and high intensity for new maxes at the end of the cycle. The athlete can then rest, rinse and repeat; each time hitting a max at the end of the phase.
Overtraining on the other hand is much more serious and when your body has been put under undue stress for too long. Overtraining would be the result of overloading for too long; for a period such as 10 weeks or so. When you are in an overtrained state, you may need to rest for 2 – 3 weeks for your body to fully recover, your lifts will be down and you’ll find it hard to sleep at night. Those are the most common symptoms.
To Summarise, there’s absolutely no harm in going hard and heavy and wearing your body down as long as you pay attention to the time scales. Overloading for 4 weeks can have an incredible effect on your strength and subsequent size gains. If you overload for too long and get into an overtrained state then you are heading for chronic fatigue, injury and a couple of weeks of no training. I hope this post has cleared up some misconceptions about “overtraining”. The term is thrown about all too often in bodybuilding circles and in completely the wrong context. See you in the squat rack.
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