What is Overtraining?

By Marwan / July 9, 2014

Person overtraining


What is Overtraining?

Is overtraining necessary?

Do you think you are overtraining?

Should you be overtraining?

Is overtraining a bad thing?

I was in the gym the other day and I was having a heated discussion with someone about overtraining believe it or not!!! Anyways this dude was asking me why he had seen me so often in the gym lately (I am following an overreaching phase for my Hypertrophy Max Phase 4 programme)I said that I had been doing an overreaching phase and that I am purposely overtraining for a short while and he said bro you’re overtraining you will lose muscle this way that is no way to train! He said I should train less to keep the muscles fresh. Another case of the blind leading the blind.

Again I said that I am on an overreaching phase this month whereby I train more to gain more muscles.  He looked surprised and confused but still stuck to his guns and said to me that I was overtraining!

Then he came out with some bro science words like “bro when you train so much you are raising your cortisol which is catabolic” and you are training the muscle so often you will become catabolic.  To be fair to him his first point is a fair one but it just typifies our society is nowadays, so worried about doing so little and caught up in all the BS from the internet and the magazines.  People are most likely to be undertraining rather than overtraining.

Let me get one thing clear, cortisol is not like insulin where it has a direct effect almost instantaneously like within minutes.  Short term increases in cortisol are NOT catabolic.  It has to bind to the actual transcription factor, it works on the DNA level.  It is not an acute response hormone.  Yes you raise your cortisol when you subject your body to metabolic stress, when you break down the muscle fibers, your workouts would be pretty useless if you didn’t.

Short term increases in cortisol from a workout are actually indicative of you having a good workout because it caused stress!  So it is OK to raise cortisol as long as it comes down through reduction of volume.  Understand guys that nothing is ever black and white.

A recent study by Stuart Phillips found that cortisol was more strongly associated with lean body mass than Testosterone or IGF-1.  HOWEVER I am not stating that cortisol is anabolic.

So I left it at that and said we will have our contrasting opinions on this, I will see you when I have gained 3 KG of lean muscle by the end of this phase!

The truth is a lot of people are so concerned with doing as little as they do compared with as much as they can do.  Your muscles can adapt to almost any stimulus or load that is subjected to.

I will give you a personal example or two.  My upper back is far more developed than my lower back.  My Pull-ups/Chin-up variations kind of suck as well! So here is what I did.  For the past month I started working on my lower back each time I went to the gym.

The first thing I would do after my warm up would be to do 50 pull-ups/chin-ups variations total.  With each passing day I have improved the number that I can do at once and the total length of time it takes me to do that.  The result? I am starting to see more of a definition in my lower back as a result.  So I deliberately overtrained the back in order to make it grow.

In the next week I will start to work on my quads, which were my strongest body part before I had an injury to my knee.  So I will do a similar routine to what I did with my back and that is to work the legs each day to try and strengthen the knee and get it back to where it was.

Anyways  I wanted to put this myth about overtraining to bed and explain to you guys what is meant by overtraining is and how it is confused with overreaching.

Overtraining is doing the same thing over and over.  Overtraining is defined as long term first declines in performance accompanying systems such as irritability, being sore all the time, perception of pain in the gym is lower like doing a normal set is painful and feeling beat up, you have distorted sleep as well suffer a change in attitude.  Overtraining is chronic, as well as long term and takes at least a month or more to recover from.  If that person is back in the gym training inside a month then they have not over trained.

Overtraining is sometimes confused with Overreaching.

Overreaching is pushing yourself into a mild state of fatigue with your training.  Regression in performance sometimes does occur during an over-reaching period, yet performance rebounds back very quickly, usually above and beyond it’s previous level, with a short period of rest or lowered volume (within days). It can be good or bad depending on how you use it.  You have functional and non functional.  Functional is when you lower the volume and you shoot up in gains.  Here are 2 quotes from the science world:

Kramer: “Overreaching is where one increases the training stimuli in order to create a decrease in performance but one that has a “supercompensation”response or a rebound with increased performance at some point in time after the OR phase is completed.”

Stone: “Overreaching is a condition produced most often by sudden increases in training volume OR may produce some of the signs and symptoms of OT but not as severe. A reduction in training volume or intensity and return to normal training can produce an increase performance several weeks after the OR. Sometimes a supercompensation effect will occur boosting performance to new levels. Thus, OR can be planned (carefully) into the periodized program (usually 1 to 2 result in a performance boost.”

What this all means to you – overreaching – short period of training and increases of volume for a specific period.  It is follow up by a super-compensation curve (the body gets weaker at first then stronger) resulting in more gains in lean body mass than not following this type of training.  Overreaching is short term and usually only takes a week or so to recover from.

The body, especially the muscles will adapt to any stimulus that it is subjected to.  Of course different people adapt differently generally muscles adapt to any situation that is thrown at it.  The more advanced you are the more you can handle and faster you will adapt.  Lifestyle is another factor that will determine how quickly you rebound from overreaching or overtraining.

You don’t want to chronically overtrain, in fact short periods of overreaching in a proper periodised split with planned a recovery phase can lead to you building more muscles than not doing such a phase.  The top athletes can optimise every variable in their training and recovery from sleep, to protein intake, to frequency.

Professional bodybuilders in their preparations for a contest such as the much coveted Mr Olympia can train each body part 5 times per week and still grow!

So as a conclusion, you can overtrain and still make gains providing a) the duration of the phase is short, and b) you follow this up by doing around 50% lower volume and build in a recovery phase.  Recovery is a crucial factor.

Training 4 times a week for 1 hour a day is not OVERTRAINING.  The only time you can consider yourself overtraining is by not having any sleep or food and training! During the summer I did a phase of twice a day training whereby I would train twice per day for 3 days straight.  I felt really good even though I had just done 6 workouts in 3 days.   Now you see what the human body is capable of.


Take care guys, I hope this article about overtraining has helped you look at your training and try and push yourself that extra step to build more muscle.

The next time your friends or somebody tells you that overtraining is bad you know how to answer them!  Long term overtrainig is NOT good, but short term overtraining IS good and will help you make gains PROVIDING that you build in a recovery phase into this.

Leave a comment below or find me on Facebook where I can answer any questions you might have.

Onwards and upwards


About the author


Hi, my name is Marwan and I set up this site to help skinny guys and girls just like you to end their frustrations and have the body of their dreams. I believe there are no limitations to what mankind can achieve.