Contrary to popular belief and what you might hear from YouTube loud mouths, overtraining is very real and fairly serious if you push it for too long.
I hear from people every week who are training for 2-3 hours a day, sometimes attempting “two a day” in a last ditch attempt to get the physique they’re after. The problem is, issues will arise when you’re pushing your body so hard. Although the odd 2-hour session is fine it needs to be carefully considered and precautions need to be taken in order to avoid any possible downfalls that come happen with overtraining.
Before we get started on the damage and downfalls you will eventually encounter from overtraining it’s good to understand a few of the basic bodily processes that occur when we train and build muscle and how they are negatively affected when overdone.
No perfect meal plan or optimum calories can save you if you’re overtraining long term. Sorry, Rich Piana, but while plenty of “anabolic supplementation” can make overtraining harder to do it’s still very real.
Bodily Processes when Training
Free Radical Production
Free radicals, also known as reactive oxygen species, are the basic byproduct from the metabolism of oxygen. This is an unavoidable occurrence since we all metabolize oxygen every moment of the day – especially when we are actively engaged (aka – weight training).
Free radicals are definitely needed in the system, as they are what signals the release of muscle-growing enzymes, which trigger protein turnover. However, a downfall of free radicals and a risk you incur when you over-train is that an over-abundance of free radicals (bad) in the system can result in damage to membranes, DNA and mitochondria.
Tip: If you ever wake up so tired you can barely get out of bed even after getting plenty of sleep and eating a proper diet, this is a sure-fire sign you overdid it.
When a muscle is put under strenuous activity, special enzymes are released throughout the body – creatine kinase, lactate dehyodrogenase and inflammatory cytokines. The point of these enzymes is to signal the body that damage is occurring in the muscle(s) and that things need to be repaired.
Not to worry though. After all, that’s the point of exercise and training. We can’t build things up without breaking them down first. The right type of breakdown will get you that body you’ve been working for.
So how can we overtrain if more muscle breakdown is good?
Some breakdown is good. Once we get past the point of no return though, the body starts fighting back.
The degree of muscle damage that occurs is a result of many factors, from the amount of rest time a person has, the volume or weight they are exercising with, experience, chemical enhancement as well as the individual’s body fat percentage. All play a role but it’s the degree of muscle damage that transpires and how much we can handle that is the key.
Issues from Overtraining
Now that we know the basic bodily processes that occur when we build muscle while training we can analyze and better understand the ways in which overtraining can be harmful.
The body’s immune system is, inarguably, one of the most important systems in the body. It protects us from disease and is responsible for healing our bodies when trauma occurs.
As mentioned, muscle is built when enzymes, such as inflammatory cytokines, signal that repair needs to occur in an area of the body. Overtraining can and will cause the body to dump too many of these inflammatory cytokines into the system which can actually result in increased cell vulnerability. This increase in vulnerability can then snowball into an increased susceptibility of developing illnesses and/or infections.
I personally have experienced this a few times over the course of my lifting life by overdoing it, then getting rundown and sick.
And the issues don’t end there. Having too many inflammatory cytokines in the body can also make the immune system run on overdrive. This over-stimulation can trigger the onset of autoimmune diseases. Essentially, the body’s immune system becomes so vigilant it views the body’s natural and healthy cells as foreign invaders.
In short, overtraining can create an imbalance and, possibly compromise the immune system which results in an array of different bodily issues you might not even link back to your training at the time.
Disrupted Hormonal Balance
Overtraining also causes the body to release an influx of cortisol (the stress hormone) into the system. An over-abundance of this stress hormone inhibits the proper functioning of the pituitary gland causing it to be a lot less active. This is not a good thing. Cortisol in excess results in prolonged inflammation and makes it nearly impossible to recover properly, even with perfect eating!
This is a big time issue since the pituitary gland is responsible for the release of hormones which regulate the body’s growth, libido, metabolism and composition (to name a few). The pituitary gland is hugely important for maintaining balance within the body. To put it simply, if you mess with the body’s pituitary gland, you are messing with your entire body. Period.
Drop in Blood Sugar Levels
Finally, when we work out our bodies use glucose, or sugar, as a source of energy and fuel. When exercising the blood sugar levels in our bodies naturally drop resulting in a hormonal signal being released throughout the body to indicate that we are in need of more glucose for muscles (energy).
Specifically, hormones such as cortisol (stress hormone mentioned above), catecholamines and growth hormone are released into the system. (SOME cortisol is good, but it gets a bad name). What happens when we overtrain is that our blood sugar levels drop to an unnatural level resulting in an excess of hormones being released.
Aside from the already noted issues hormonal imbalances can cause within the body, having unstable glucose levels can encourage major inflammatory reactions as touched on above.
The bottom line is, overtraining can result in major imbalances of blood sugar levels. These imbalances then amplify other issues caused by overtraining such as increased hormonal imbalances and impeded immunity function.
Overtraining Can Mess You Up
In the end, overtraining can basically mess shit up. Plain and simple. CT Fletcher and Rich Piana, sorry but, you are wrong. Overtraining is real and will only hinder your progress if it goes on too long.
More is not always better. Overtraining causes issues in lots of different areas of the body. And I only named a few.
If you’re training hard as a natural lifter you’re generally better off cutting the workout a little bit short rather than going overboard. 45 to 60 minutes should be all you can handle if you’re going balls to the walls! Anyone who tells me they train for 2.5 hours is not training hard enough.
It’s always best to take the time to allow your body to rest. We don’t make gains while IN the gym. The real gains happen while we rest after hard training.
Although you may feel as if you’re losing out by not training as much as you possibly can (especially when you want abs for that upcoming Vegas trip, lol), overtraining will only result in setting you further back and you’ll lose a lot more than you thought you were gaining.