Meet The Experts – Overtraining Part 2

Meet The Experts – Overtraining Part 2

The boys at Cross Fit City Road are back again with the second instalment on overtraining.

It's possible I gave the wrong impression in Part 1. The chances of being truly overtrained when you train less than five hours a week is minimal. If you found yourself testing positive for a number of the symptoms of overtraining, the likelihood is that you are under-recovered, not overtrained.

What's the difference? Overtrained means your body has no spare capacity for recovery, no matter you do. This is very rare. Besides this, you can be practically overtrained. This means that your body does have spare capacity for recovery, but you have no practical resources for accessing that spare capacity. On the other hand under-recovered means you have spare capacity and you have the practical means to access it.

Real overtraining is not the issue. You have to decide if you're practically overtrained or under-recovered. In other words, could you be doing more to help your recovery within the limits presented by your career / family / personal life etc.?

So what you're going to do is ask yourself whether you could increase your efforts in any of the following areas without losing your job, your wife / husband or your grip on reality outside of the gym. I'll give you a hint: the answer is probably "yes". The better you do in the below areas, the better you will be able to recover. This means more fitness and better abs.

Nutrition - 5pts

We are going to cover nutrition for recovery in a whole separate article, but here is the basic checklist. Are you eating a whole-food diet based around nutrient dense veggies, fruits, meats and fish? Have you cut out all processed food and drink? Are you eating at least 2g of protein per kg of body mass per day? Are you bracketing high intensity training with appropriate levels of carbohydrate (this is something we'll talk a lot about in the next post)? Are you eating the correct amount: not too little; not too much? Are you eating good sources of fat (olive oil, coconut oil, grass-fed butter, nuts, avocado etc.)?

Hydration - 2pts

Are you drinking at least 30-40ml of water per kg of body mass? i.e. if you are a 90kg guy, are you drinking at least 2.7L a day? If you're a 60kg woman, are you drinking at least 1.8L a day? Hydration is some seriously low-hanging fruit. The consequences of being poorly hydrated are dire, the benefits of being hydrated are massive and yet it costs you almost nothing to achieve this goal. if you're not properly hydrated every day, my conclusion is that you are deliberately sabotaging your own efforts and hate yourself.

Sleep - 4pts

Are you getting at least seven hours of high quality sleep a night? I don't mean: are you in bed for seven hours? I mean, are you actually asleep for seven hours? And is this good quality sleep in a dark, cool room with no external stimuli? At the risk of labouring this point, I take it as a personal insult if you don't sort out your sleep. Sleep is when the majority of testosterone is synthesised and you cannot recover without adequate testosterone (you too ladies, I'm afraid). One bad night's sleep can reduce your test levels by up to 30 per cent. Sleep is when you consolidate memories, organise thoughts and create new neural pathways. If you want to be smart, you need to sleep. Poor sleep has a strong correlation with mental health issues and diabetes and more recently has even been shown to increase the risk of Alzheimer's. If any of you are interested in this, I have tons of video links I can post.

Mobility - 3pts

Are you doing at least 15 minutes of mobility work a day? Our recommendation is that you identify your one or two most problematic positions and concentrate on the same one or two drills for each, every day. As an example, my overhead squat is a weakness and I've identified that this is mostly down to poor ankle dorsiflexion and poor hip external rotation while in flexion. So, every day one do four mins a side of a banded ankle mob, five minutes in a pancake stretch against the wall and three mins a side in a pigeon position. It's working. I have other mobility issue too, but it's easier to work through them one at a time.

Low Intensity Recovery Work - 2pts

On your non-training days, are you doing any low intensity aerobic activity? This could be any mono structural activity: brisk walking, jogging, rowing, cycling, skiing, assault biking etc. 20-40 minutes at 65-75 per cent will do the trick. The activity promotes blood flow to muscles which helps extract metabolic waste products and provide nutrients for recovery. The low intensity cardio work can also increase your aerobic fitness. This kind of stuff also just makes you feel better and can be strangely relaxing, if done properly.

Cool Down - 2pts

Are you doing a five to ten minute cool down after your workout? This could be some low intensity aerobic activity or some dynamic mobility like a lunge flow or crawling patters. A good cool down can jump start the recovery process.

Mindfulness / Meditation / Breathing - 2pts

Are you taking part in some form of mindfulness practice for five to ten minutes a day? There are a huge number of ways to do this, but some of my favourites are: guided meditation (the Headspace app is great for this), box breathing (see this video and download the Pranayama Universal Breathing app) and writing a gratitude journal (Google it). These practices improve sleep quality, reduce stress and stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system (the recovery state): all super important for recovery. You can do them first thing in the morning, right before bed or directly after training.

Supplementation - 1pt

Are you supplementing your diet with some recovery aids? This might include ZMA to improve sleep quality and accelerate recovery, omega 3 fish oil to reduce inflammation, collagen to strengthen your joints and connective tissue, protein powder to boost your protein consumption or pro-biotic to improve gut health.

You'll notice each area of recovery has an allocated number of points. What's going on there? We suggest you keep a weekly recovery account, using the following rules.

  1. Each hour of training debits your account by 20pts
  2. Over the course of a training week you must make sure your account balance is greater than or equal to 0.
  3. A negative balance carries to the following week; a positive balance is wiped at the beginning of each week.
  4. Each area of recovery is binary. Either you get all the points, or you get none of them. You need to be harsh. It doesn't matter if you ate well all day, if you had a pizza for dinner, it's nil point. You lose all five points. Likewise, if you did five minutes of mobility, it's still a 0.

Below is an example for an athlete who trains four days a week.

Going into the following Monday, that 1pt surplus is wiped and the game starts again.

In conclusion, you're not overtrained. You're either under-recovered or you're practically overtrained. You can find out which one you are by examining your recovery practices and working out, objectively, whether or not you could invest more time or effort in one of the listed areas. Clearly, don't do an extra hour of mobility at the gym if it's going to cost you a divorce or if it means you kid doesn't get fed. But within reasonable limits, ask yourself if you could do better (you could).

Start keeping a weekly recovery credit / debit account according to the rules above. If you find yourself overdrawn every week, it's no wonder you can't recover. If you keep your account in the black, you're doing your job. If then you still feel overtrained, it may be time to dial back the training.

Get on it team!

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