Overtraining and overtaxing. Why we don't train to failure at TFW Portland!

Today, I want to explain a little about the concept of OVERTRAINING.

You may have read about this online or talked about it with your friends. Overtraining is something you may not hear about as much as previously. It’s the danger of training too much for too long. It’s actually something that happens pretty infrequently. If you’re an exercise addict (I’m talking to you, ultra-marathoners, iron men, and women, triathletes!), you might fall into the group that might be at risk for overtraining. 

Feeling tired? Overtraining vs overtaxing


Overtraining is a metabolic, endocrine, nervous system problem that occurs when you train too intensely for too long a period of time. It has a lot to do with the repetitiveness and the demand of that training. And it is very difficult to recover from if your program is not well designed and if you're not taking enough care of yourself while you are training.

I see this happen often with endurance sports athletes and people who have training programs that go on for a long long season-- that training is really intense! Typically, the kind of people who do participate in these activities enjoy that feeling of constantly being on the road, or bike, or in the gym. They like the way their brain feels and they're really going after it.

What about overtaxing?

I see another situation in the gym which is similar to overtraining.

Overtaxing- These are people that are not overtraining, where they’re suffering from depression and they're wasting away. But they are overtaxing, meaning they're training really really hard for too long in the gym and then not getting really good results because they’re beating themselves up.

Overtaxing is a much more common problem, but if you follow some of the same advice we use for overtraining, you're not going to get overtaxed, either.

If you look at my bell curve of rep quality:

 We MIGHT be joking about that "death" part. ;D              This graphic depicts how well you move during your workout.

We MIGHT be joking about that "death" part. ;D              This graphic depicts how well you move during your workout.

Think about how you move when you first come into the gym.

You pick up a barbell or dumbbell and you start squatting. Your first few reps are not very good because your metabolic system has to warm up. Your blood starts pumping, heart rate picks up, your muscles get warmed up. Your movement quality or joints flow together better. Your movement improves.

Pick up that BB/DB and start to do a technical warm-up, in which you prime a movement pattern and get your brain ready to do that exercise. Now your movement quality/tech quality is getting higher as your body becomes more ready for that specific movement.

Then as you load a little bit of weight/resistance, your nervous system then comes online and makes you stronger, and it activates and synchronizes all your motor neurons. NOW you're physically warmed up and mentally warmed up. The nervous system is online, and you’re “STRONG” and you NOW are entering your window of high-quality reps.

Why does rep quality matter?

These are the reps where you want to do most of your training at squat heavy for a lot of reps, get that 3 sets of 10, 5x5... whatever it is you are doing! You have this training window where all the work you are doing is giving you maximum effectiveness.

Next, you could do more... and when you DO, you’ll see it become difficult to continue training. Your bar speed is lower, so you are grinding through your reps. It's okay to have a couple "bad reps", but you don't want all of them to be fatigued. The more this happens, the more difficult it is to keep your form correct.  When you can’t hold the form correctly, the harder it is to complete the exercises/you reach temp muscle failure, or you fall down. And then you risk damage to your joints/body... and DEATH!

Ok, ok-- I'm just kidding about that last part.

The more you expend your energy through that continuum, the more damage you do to yourself. Exercise is a drug. Like any drug, you can take too much of it and get hurt. So, I want to see myself (and everyone I work with) to train in this high-quality rep window. We spend a lot of time planning and organizing all the training so people stay in that window... and so they know what form loss feels like. We want to stop them before they get there.

Because our goal is to train as little as necessary to get the improvement that we see. The goal is NOT to train as much as possible. It's inelegant to do in an hour, what you can do in 30 min. Studies have shown that at 60 min and 75 min, performance drops. Your body can’t pump out cortisol and testosterone for hours at a time. You have to recover. We know this: to have an effective training session, it needs to be moderated somehow. I like to block up the workout into discrete hours: 60 minutes, MAYBE 90 minutes- from warmup to cool down.

I love training, but I want to get better with every rep. I don’t want to train to where I’m getting worse with every rep. That’s overtaxing.

Doing 200 curls, 300 curls, going, “I'M BUILDING MUSCLES, I'M CREATING HYPERTROPHY, RAWWWWRRRR!!!!!” Uh, screw that. You don’t need to do that. That’s damaging, you’re going to hurt yourself. I’m not saying don’t do curls, but do be aware.

So, how do you prevent overtraining/overtaxing?

Here at TFW Portland, our programs use a variety of prevention methods. This is how we roll:

1. Periodization. When you’re making your own program-- you just want to have a plan. The language for training plan in the strength and conditioning world is periodization. High volume, high intensity, recovery, which undulates. You have a plan for when you work hard (AND YOU DO WORK HARD). But not every day, not all the time, and not the same movement over and over again.

2. Training time management. Workout for 1 hour or 90 min maybe. Set a time limit for the amount of time you will be training really hard.

3. Training economy. Are you making the best decisions you can make with the exercises you are doing... and the volume you are choosing. Are you doing 11 or 12 exercises for legs? Or are you keeping it real with squats, deadlifts, and lunges? Are you being smart about how you train?

4. Food. Are you eating for your goals? Are you eating enough to recover from the training you’re doing (to build the muscle and burn fat and feel great).

5. Sleep! You gotta sleep to recover. So much of the gains that you get from this work happens while you sleep.

6. Training logs. You will know if you are getting into the realm of ineffectiveness and failure if you look at your training logs and you’re not improving. We keep track of everybody- every group student and a personal training student has a log and I can look at it and go hey- this is working or not working.

7. Self-awareness/self-management. Understanding what a bad rep is, I’ll post an article that Dave Dellanave wrote regarding movement quality you want for every single rep.

8. Set movement quality goals. Knowing what looks good and feels good and then keeping my training in that area as a goal will keep me from getting injured, keep me from getting overtaxed, keep me ahead of all these problems.

"I don't THINK I'm overtraining?!"

SO! You may not be overtraining. You can train really hard if you are training smart. 4 hours of training, 6 hours, 10, 12: you can train a lot as long as you plan it out and you are thinking about it. You can be an elite level athlete, you can compete, you can do all the great things you want to do! It just takes a little time and energy with the preparedness, and the recovery and the focus. Do those things and you WILL be successful.

We’re excited about the work we’ve been doing! We’ve made people strong, fast and helped them build muscle, burn fat, and feel good.

Coach Josh here, at TFW Portland, helping YOU bring out the warrior within.