But first, what is overtraining? Overtraining is, most simply, training too much. Your body is unable to recover from the volume or frequency of training and begins to break down. You not only lose motivation to train, you become more susceptible to injury and illness, and you may even start to go backwards in your training, getting smaller and weaker on almost a daily basis.
So how can overtraining possibly be good for you? I’ll tell you.
It all begins with the incredible adaptive power of your body. As you become more advanced in weight training you will generally notice that you cannot make consistent gains for a long period of time on one training system. Your body quickly adapts to whatever training system you’re using and hits a plateau. To get around this, it’s usually recommended that you change your program every three to six weeks.
The question now is how to use this adaptive ability to your advantage.
It’s really quite simple. You gradually build up to a state of temporary overtraining, then, when you’re overtrained and your adaptive processes are working to their fullest capacity for recovery, you back off. This backing off results in what is called overcompensation.
Imagine you’re driving a car and climbing a hill with the gas pedal to the floor. You’re giving it everything you’ve got but you’re still going up slowly. This is similar to overtraining. When you reach the top, the going gets a lot easier. If you keep the gas pedal on the floor when you go over the top and head down, you’re going to go a lot faster very quickly. This is overcompensation and this is where the results are.
On a normal program, you work a bodypart, it becomes temporarily weaker, then becomes stronger as it overcompensates so you can lift more next time. What a normal program does on a small, local basis, this overtraining program does on a full body, systemic basis.
Sound good? We’re not done. Now we’re going to harness the power of overtraining by using what I call “Controlled Overtraining.”
The overtraining or ramping phase of this Controlled Overtraining program lasts three weeks, which is about the time it takes the body to adapt to a training program. It then backs off to a fairly easy phase for three weeks.
- Take all sets to failure. The rep ranges are simply guidelines – if you can get more reps, do them.
- Be sure to keep your workout time to less than 45 minutes for best results. Much longer and you will break yourself down too much.
- Use a timer or stopwatch to time your rest between sets. It is critical to the success of the program to keep your rest periods consistent.
You start out doing 3 sets for your bodyparts the first week, 4 sets the second week, and 5 sets the third week. While you’re increasing the volume, you’re simultaneously decreasing the rest period. This gradually builds you up to overtraining.
For the next three weeks, you decrease the sets and reps and increase the rest periods. This allows you to recover from the overtraining and take advantage of the overcompensation that occurs when the body is still working at dealing with the hard work and then you cut the hard work. Though it may feel like you’re hardly doing anything at all, you should see some great results.
Continue this lower-volume training for at least three weeks. If, at the end of those three weeks, you are still making progress, keep going! Don’t cut yourself off from any results. This phase could last as long as 6 weeks or more. When you start to slow down, however, it’s time to ramp back up to overtraining. Keeping up this cycling of volume and intensity is a strategy that gives consistent results over long periods of time.
The first time you do the program, keep it exactly as it is. This will give you the best, practical experience as to how the program feels.
After that, you can try playing with the numbers a little following this general outline, perhaps starting at 3 minutes rest for the first week, 90 seconds the second week, and then dropping down to 30 seconds by the third week.
If you do decide to play with the numbers, be absolutely certain to reduce your training volume and increase your rest periods for the second three-week phase. If you don’t, you will continue to overtrain yourself and you will break down.
The program that I’ve outlined uses a rep system called Micro-Periodization (Periodization is the cycling of rep ranges. It is traditionally conducted over a period of months, e.g. three months high reps, three months, medium reps, three months low reps.). Dividing the week into three separate phases, such as in this program, is called Micro-Periodization. It is an extremely effective format for building strength and muscle mass.
As you can see, overtraining is not always the horrible thing it’s often made out to be. Training on the edge is where the real results are. Those who shy away from it will never make as good of progress as those who embrace it!