Pushing Through Your Workouts: Overloading vs. Overtraining

21 09 2014

A couple weeks ago, I woke up with a bad headache, felt lousy, and my energy was very low. My wife wasn’t able to sleep all night so I was up a lot trying to help her fall back to sleep. I got through my day at work and the time came for my workout. I wasn’t looking forward to it since my energy level was still sluggish at that point. However, I felt that if I didn’t do something, I would start off my week down a day. So I warmed up the best I could and went to the weight stack to tackle my first set of squats. My muscles felt like they were fighting  against each other rather than working together on the first set. My body didn’t communicate with each muscle group making 20 pounds feel like 100 pounds. I struggled though the first set and re-racked the weights and sat down. I started to think what my game plan should be for the rest of the workout. “Suck it up, get pumped, and push through the fatigue,” I thought “or take the day off and reset so I can come back to it fresh tomorrow?” This choice doesn’t seem to be a hard decision to make, however, some gym goers and athletes feel that if they push harder, they will break though that fatigue.

To make improvements in your body, you must work your muscles just beyond the normal demands of your body. The stress of the work must be challenging for the body resulting in adaptation to the difficult task and thereby allowing the body to endure and eventually overcome the same stress the next time it is encountered.  This concept is referred to as the principle of overload. A couple reasons many gym goers don’t see results after two to three months of beginning a new exercise routine, which ultimately leads to quitting, is because they don’t want to push their bodies to this state of exertion, or are afraid because they don’t know how hard to push themselves.

Those afraid of pushing themselves too hard are smart and should not proceed without proper guidance from a certified personal trainer. There is always an outcomes spectrum of benefits and consequences with everything we do related to health and fitness. Too little done and the benefits diminish but too much of the stimulus can also lead to diminished results.Results

When the spectrum is applied to our workouts, as mentioned before, too little stress on our muscles results in our bodies staying stagnant and improvement stops. Too much stress on the body will also lead to diminished results which could have fatal consequences such as injury. This principle is known as overtraining. If our bodies are subjected to constant stress and breakdown of our muscles, more time is needed to repair that muscle. If the time needed for repair is not present and the exerciser continues to add more stress to the damaged site, the stress becomes too great and injury may occur. Consistent balance between workload stress and repair time must be provided to generate safe and timely improvements.

So coming back to my workout a couple weeks ago. I knew that my body needed more time to rest and even if I pushed through my workout, the demands imposed on my body might have been too great which would have left me with an injury and caused me to miss more than just that one day. I could have gone easy on the weighs but the improvements would have been minimal in my state. Knowing all this information gave me the answer I needed. I cleaned off the bench and went home.

When to Throw In the Towel

7 09 2013

In the movie Rocky IV, Apollo Creed (who, in case you never saw the films, fights Rocky Balboa in the first two Rocky installments ) decides to fight Russia’s newest boxing sensation, Ivan Drago.  During the big match between Apollo and Ivan, both Rocky and Apollo’s trainer, Duke, know that Apollo is taking a beating and the end result won’t be pretty. Duke begs Rocky to throw in the towel to end the fight, but Rocky, honoring his friend’s request to never stop the match, doesn’t toss the towel. In the end, Apollo takes such a beating that the final blow kills him.

This scene is a great analogy of that human potential trifecta for competitors; body, mind, and spirit. Apollo represents our physical body. Going up against all odds, we push our bodies to the limits. We kep going regardless of the puddles of sweat and painful ache to prove that our muscles can take the constant pounding not only in competition, but also in training. Then there’s the brain represented by Duke’s character. The voice of reason telling us that we should begin to back off or even quit because the result of continuing might be detrimental. Every painful step blasts a signal to our nervous system, letting us know that the body can’t take much more. We think about listening to that voice in our head, but then something else speaks louder. We hear Rocky, our spirit, cry out and tell us not to back down. If we dig down deep enough, we can tell ourselves to forget what the mind is telling us and hold off on throwing in the towel. We are then able to push just a little more, never knowing if the result will be success or utter defeat. We always want to imagine that it’d be the first.

You might have recently seen more articles of runners collapsing during a race in your daily paper or on the news. Headlines warning people of the dangers of long distance running. The stats are in, we do have more people involved in competitions and exercise. There are also reported cases of people getting hurt or evening dying from their participation in long distance races. However, a study by John Hopkins University published in 2012 compared the number of marathon participants and mortality rates between the years of 2000 and 2009 and showed no significant increase in mortality rates compared to the increase in entries.  They also indicated that the data that was collected were from media reports. These findings prove that the death toll of marathon runners are not increasing, but more so, the media attention of these occurences has increased. So why did these individuals have a fatal finish? One possible reason could be related back to our start of this article; the training of our physical abilities or lack there of.

Individuals must know to listen to their bodies when training or competing. It’s also important to have a trainer or coach who also understands your ability level and knows how to progress your training safely. People start to get hurt when they take only the Rocky approach and never tune in to their heads. Undertraining for an event can be as detrimental to your body as overtraining. Those who are getting injured in a competition may be a result of being undertrained and underdeveloped to meet the requirements of the challenging requirements. An article that led to the large research from John Hopkins highlighted a man who passed out during a marathon. Days after, he commented that he was not listening to his body. When training and competing, our state of mind changes and we begin to fight through all the adversaries that come in our way. From the sore muscles, to the dire weather conditions, we tell our bodies that we can persevere. Train smarter and compete smarter, by knowing when to call it quits. Your body, mind, and spirit is a perfect triangle balanced on its point. Knock off one side and the other two will fall also. If your body wasn’t prepared for that last mile hill climb, quitting isn’t failing, but deciding to be wise to come back to it when the complete triad is ready.

As we continue to exercise and train to improve ourselves, it is important to know when the time is to throw in that towel.  Progress your training accordingly and train speifical to your goals. Always modify your exercises if necessary to reduce the wear on your bones and joints. Lastly, ask yourself before running that first marathon, “Have I trained enough and if I come to that point where all is failing, will I know when to stop?”

The Bare Necessities: From Shoes to Barefoot

11 06 2012

Try this: go outside and run around the block (ok, just jog). Most of you probably would have donned a pair of cushioned, foot correcting sneakers before walking out of your house. This is typical for many 21st century humans who want to make sure they don’t get injured while braving the pavement. Shoe stores are filled with hundreds of brands and models specifically designed to combat some kind of foot problem when you’re running. However, current studies have indicated that the ideal thing to wear for running might not be a pair of arch supported or ankle stabilizing sneaker anymore. Why it took researchers so long to run down the stats on how our bones, muscles, and ligaments adapt to the different surfaces when we walk or run and how that changes our whole body’s physiology is probably because they were wearing the wrong shoes too. Barefoot running, and even walking, can be traced back to our great Paleolithic ancestors and now companies like Vibram, Newton, Saucony, and Nike have flooded the markets with their shoes that claim to resemble running barefoot, without the scrapes and bruises.

Through advanced technology, shoe manufacturers have been able to design sophisticated footwear to prevent our feet from over pronating (stability control), pounding the ground with too much force (shock absorbers like air sacs, springs, and more cushion), and dropping our arches (arch support). These new methods for controlling our feet’s movement are more of a “crutch” than a treatment. In the last decade, studies on barefoot running have sent many health and sports magazines to track down experiences of this phenomenon. The leading magazines for running enthusiasts, Runners World and Running Times, have both printed a number of articles on the benefits of minimalist shod and barefoot running. A study conducted by Dr. Daniel E. Liberman, professor on Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University, pointed out the natural adaptations of the body as a person runs barefoot compared to a shod runner. When a runner has the ability to allow his or her foot to move freely when making contact with a surface, the proprioceptors within the foot muscles respond and adapt to the surface, thereby recruiting the correct set of muscles to prevent injury from occurring. With foot correcting sneakers, the foot has little awareness of the surface with which it is making contact, causing a incorrect running style, and therefore, the recruitment of different muscles are needed, resulting in common running injuries.

Here’s an experiment for you to try. Go to your local high school track, or if you have a clean section of road nearby, run ten yards down the track or road. Then take off your shoes and repeat. If you compare the two running styles next to each other (shoes and barefoot), one would see that our running style quickly changes when our foot hits the ground. When we run with shoes, because of the cushion in the heel, we’re more prone to have our heel strike first. Yet once our shoes come off, our body shifts to the mid or front part of our foot where our legs can suddenly work together like a spring and propel our bodies forward. This also prevents our heel from stabbing the ground and hurting the bony surface. “The amount of reaction force generated in the foot and leg also decreases, explains Dr. Liberman. A look at his figure (Fig. 1) shows that there is much less reaction force when someone uses a front foot strike with a short stride, which is common when running barefoot compared to a rear foot strike (heel to toe style).

This is not to say that everyone should go out today, ditching those old cross-trainers and run freely. Running barefoot takes time, as is common in any form of muscle training. Muscles, when stressed, need time to recover and adapt. Also, unlike the humans of 100,000 years ago who didn’t grow up with something on their feet from birth, have paved roads, and broken glass shards, the 21st century human must train our feet longer for the conditions of today’s environmental surfaces. Vibram’s FiveFingers, Nike’s Free Run, Saucony’s Kinvara 2 are minimalist shoes that allow your feet the freedom to move like being barefoot but with a little added protection between your feet and the pavement. If you want to be true to your natural instincts, train your body to run sans shoes. Start on grass or sand before transitioning over to tougher surfaces. Don’t run too long if you’re inexperienced because the muscles in your foot will quickly fatigue. Running a couple times a week barefoot will make your feet adapt to the surface and overtime, you’ll have the ability to run away without any injuries.


Liberman, D.E. (2012). What we can learn about running from barefoot running: an evolutionary medical perspective. Exerc. Sport Sci. Rev., Vol. 40, No. 2, pp. 63Y72