Quick review of the basics for any newbies in the audience. You don't grow in the gym! When you lift, you cause epic destruction at the cellular level. Then you rest and feed the muscles to bring on the adaptation. Yes this is very much simplified, but I don't think there is a need to get hung up on this part.
Each individual has a certain capacity for recovery. There are factors that affect that capacity such as years training, diet, training intensity, diet, hours of sleep, lifestyle, stress, illness and even menstruation. Over-training is when you train beyond your body's ability to recover and happens with some frequency, particularly in the bodybuilding community or other sports in which a desired weight is achieved through dietary restriction. Even without the dietary restrictions in place, it may still occur in the powerlifting community due to an overload of the central nervous system.
Some symptoms of overtraining that you should know and be able to recognize in yourself or your training partners:
- Persistent Muscle Soreness
- Persistent Fatigue
- Elevated Resting Heart Rate
- Increased Susceptibility to Infection
- Increased Incidence of Injury
- Mental Breakdown
- Excessive Weight Loss
- Constipation or Diarrhea
- Absence of Menstruation
- Loss of Appetite
- Loss of Competitive Drive or Motivation
Well the treatment plan depends on the severity of your level of over-training. If you're at a point where you are experiencing negative gains, have no appetite, are lethargic yet can't sleep and are becoming ill then yeah, maybe you should consider taking time off from the gym. How long? I can't say for sure, you'll have to use your own judgement. When your symptoms subside, you're good to go. But lets not have that happen again.
If your level of over training is low - that is maybe a chronically strained muscle (Posterior Chain is the most frequent offender) or you wish to prevent over training you should/MUST do the following:
- Careful review of your caloric/macro intake. If you aren't competent to do this, keep a food log for a week then post it up in the nutrition forum and ask for help. Calories in should be equal to or greater than calories spent. If cutting, the calorie reduction should not be so great as to cause a protein deficiency.
- Plan your training using periodization. Proper organization of your training will bring you to your peak for competition time, and provide for de-loading; that is a reduction in weight/intensity of training. The proper term for this is a transition face and it can last anywhere from 1 week to 4 weeks depending on your particular macro-cycle.
- Try a split routine that allows for a trained muscle to rest. For example, train shoulders after they've had an opportunity to recuperate from the ancillary work they provide on chest days. Do not attempt full body workouts several times per week with excessive volume. If severe Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness still persists in a muscle, do not work it again just yet.
- Increased sleep time. Its generally recommended that the average person get 6 to 8 hours of sleep per night. We are super human so lets aim for ten. Take a nap if you can. A 20 minute power nap with your feet slightly elevated taken mid-day can do wonders.
- Muscular Therapy - Foam rolling, deep tissue massage, chiropodiatry, ischemic compression and stretching should be incorporated into your training plan to keep the muscles healthy and limber. Foam rollers are inexpensive and this can be done in just minutes at home. Deep tissue massage one to two times per year can help eliminate tough knotting and build up of scar tissue in the muscles. A chiropractor can manipulate both bones, joints and muscles to reduce or eliminate pain from muscle spasms as well as provide greater range of motion and balance among opposing muscle groups.
- Not for the faint of heart - Contrast baths or showers. This involves heating and icing sore muscles. An example would be a sore lower back. You would enter the shower set to a temperature that is as hot as is tolerable for you, and allow the water to run over the affected area for 4 minutes. At 4 minutes, drop the water to its coldest setting for one minute. For sore joints, heat for 4 minutes then plunge into a large tub/pot of ice water.
- Consider Supplementation - Start with a good quality multi-vitamin. I strongly recommend the addition of a good quality BCAA.
So hopefully you're not reading this and thinking "Oh my God that's me!" But whether you are recognizing that or not, you should still work to incorporate some of the treatments and prevention strategies I have outlined above.