Overtraining – It’s a Myth, so get over it
The following is an extract from a recent post by Dax Moy who is the UK’s most respected personal trainer.
I couldn’t have put it better myself. In the article, Dax challenges the notion of overtraining and only being able to do a limited number of training sessions per week. This parallels everything I say about training often and training hard and about using nutrition, hydration and sleep as recovery to enable you to get better results through all this extra training.
So here goes:
When I first entered the fitness profession I was told by my tutors that one of the things I had to keep my eye out for when training either myself or my clients was the dreaded scourge of all fitness results… overtraining.
I was told that training too hard, too long or too often would not only mean that my clients wouldn’t get results but that they’d probably lose most of the results they’d already achieved too!
Most of the fitness instructors going through the course at the same time as me bought this piece if fitness’ wisdom’ hook, line and sinker but coming to fitness from my background in the armed forces I felt very different about things.
You see, in the regiments I’d belonged to (including airborne and commando units) myself and my fellow trainees were made to expend a massive amount of energy on a daily basis with gym workouts, rucksack runs, log carries, assault courses and, of course, the ubiquitous punishment pushups that are par for the course for soldiers everywhere.
We wouldn’t be consuming supplements and protein shakes, no creatine or glucosamine and our food was hardly cutting-edge nutrition either. In fact, we ate the traditional fried breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausage, beans and a mountain of hot toast and tea, lunches of meat, potatoes and veggies of some kind and the same at dinner.
We’d usually be in bed by 9.30-10pm at night because we were so exhausted and start the whole thing over again at 05:30 with morning PT before breakfast and intersperse more fitness activities between military lectures of machine guns, hand-grenades and anti-tank missiles.
Overtraining was never mentioned by our physical training instructors and drill instructors and maximal physical output was required at all times regardless of what came before.
So, hearing civilian fitness educators telling industry neophytes that we should be careful about having our clients do more than a few hours a week of intensive exercise per week never really made much sense to me and, to be quite honest, I promptly ignored them and set about doing things my own way. The way I’d been shown by the military.
I don’t mean I hit my clients with military intensity or a drill instructor mindset, rather that I gave the human body the respect it deserved and expected more of my clients than anyone had ever expected of them before and asked them to stretch themselves with respect to both the frequency and the intensity with which they train.
Even today, 10 years later, the hallmarks of my training include an expectation of 6-7 days a week of activity, often 2-4 times per day, even if only in 15-20 minute blocks at a time.
Most fitness professionals and personal trainer reading this will be horrified at this approach and tell me that I’ve got it all wrong, that I don’t know what I’m doing yet, to be blunt, most personal trainers don’t get anywhere near the kind of results I help my clients to get in the timeframes I get them.
It’s not uncommon for those following my programs to achieve as much if not more in 28 days as many people will accomplish in 12 weeks, despite that fact that none of my clients count calories or points, weigh or measure foods or do any of the other nonsense that seems to be the norm these days.
Do my clients get tired? You betcha!
That’s a normal response to working hard, but overtrained? Don’t be ridiculous!
‘Overtraining’ is really under-recovering and that’s about hydration, nutrition and sleep. Get those components right and you’ll never have problems.
The truth is, the human body is far tougher, far more adaptable and far more resilient than your average armchair expert or white coated laboratory researcher will ever tell you and it can cope with practically anything you throw at it as long as it has the right nutrition, hydration and sleep.
Even then, even in the absence of these things it can still give you far, far more than you’d ever believe possible.
Take the ‘marathon monks’ of Hiei in Japan, for example.
These amazing men give themselves over to a 7 year ‘pilgrimage’ where they complete back to back marathons every day for 100 days.
Pretty amazing right?
But what’s even more amazing is that they perform this 100 day marathon ritual every year for five years. Then, on the 700th day they perform a 9 day fast where they consume no food, no water and have no sleep, take a couple of weeks off running and then begin again.
Only this time they perform 100 consecutive days of 37.2 miles a day.
Don’t be, they save the best for the 7th and last year of this amazing ritual.
100 days of 52.4 miles a day followed by 100 days of 26.2 miles!
And what are they doing in between all of this? They’re doing what monks do. Reading, praying, making repairs to their temple and other ‘monk stuff’. And, of course, being buddhist, they’re living on donated rice, fruit and vegetables too, so none of your ‘go faster’ ergogenic aids and vitamins.
What makes all this possible?
Well, there are many factors but chief among them would have to be:
1. Purpose – They have a clear and definite purpose associated with the task that gives all of their efforts meaning.
2. Belief – Their belief in both themselves and a the value of the pilgrimage to their goal of attaining enlightenment keeps them putting one foot in front of the other
3. Meditation – The daily practice of meditation strengthens their inner selves to the degree that what their outer selves experience becomes irrelevant
4. Expectation – They simply expect this of themselves and their brothers and the expectation is so high that they don’t doubt the possibility
5. Proof – As well as having an amazing belief system, these outstanding men have proof that what is expected can indeed be done. It has been on numerous occasions before and continues to be done even as they and their brothers are doing so.
Interesting, don’t you think, that this has far less to do with physiology and far more to do with psychology. In fact, as I read over those 5 points I recognise all of them as being the driving factors that kept myself and my squad going as young soldiers and that the ultimate purpose of my military training had far less to do with fitness (which anyone can develop) and far more to do with mental toughness and dedication to a purpose that had meaning.
It never factored into it back then, it certainly doesn’t factor into the lives of the monks of Hiei and it shouldn’t factor into your live either.
Give up those nonsense beliefs about overtraining and give your body credit for just how amazingly wonderful it really is. Feed it well, hydrate it and let it sleep and, when it wakes up, challenge it, push it, ask more of it than you’ve become accustomed to asking.
Amazing bodies are built this way.
Amazing minds and spirits too.
Here endeth the lesson : )
The UK ‘s Leading Personal Trainer