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.