What Causes Overtraining?

October 26th, 2007 by Paul Johnson

Bodybuilders always tell newbies to watch how many workout sets they do, to avoid overtraining. The word gets thrown around so much, without anyone describing the cause of overtraining. Many bodybuilders don’t even believe in overtraining. Some bodybuilders have claimed that there is no way to overtrain, just that some people are undereating. I believe this is because most bodybuilders don’t have a true concept of what causes overtraining.

Does overtraining even exist?

Yes. Bodybuilders claiming that overtraining only exists because they aren’t eating enough, is foolish and goes against the laws of basic science. The body works on the law of diminishing returns. In other words, in the beginning eating more might help the body recover better, but it's going to hit a point where increasing calories isn't going to stop overtraining. Think of it as putting safety features on your car. There is only so much you can do to making a car safer, before a really big wreck will still wind up killing you!

How one enters the overtraining state:

Our body at all times, is either in an anabolic(muscle building), catabolic(muscle wasting), or equilibrium state(protein synthesis and breakdown equal). Overtraining is a catabolic state, where you have done too much for your body and it's hormones.

In order to recover completely from a weight training session, the following must happen:

- your muscles must heal from the previous workout
- your CNS (nervous system) must heal
- your cortisol levels must lower to pre-training levels
- testosterone must increase back to normal pre-training levels
- your muscle glycogen must be restored

After a weight training session, it puts stress on all the above factors. If you keep compounding the problem by continuing work out, then things will get worse and you are in an overtraining state.

Does overtraining involve muscle parts or the whole body?

Some people think of overtraining as a specific muscle. Overtraining is much more than just a specific part of the body. Overtraining involves the whole body because testosterone, cortisol, and other hormones are involved. When testosterone levels are low and/or cortisol high, you will be breaking down muscle more than you are building it up. Cortisol is probably the main cause hormonally for entering the overtraining state.

During hormonal levels like this, you would be better off taking a rest than doing a weight training session. Each time you weight train cortisol levels increase and testosterone levels drop. So the last thing you want to do, is weight train again when your hormones are in a catabolic state. Because of this persistent and overwhelming state, overtraining is considered a syndrome.

How does one get out of overtraining state?

Rest. Cortisol blockers might help a little to speed up recovery from this state, but you still will have to wait for your entire body to recover, not just cortisol. Weight training or even daily stress(which causes high long term cortisol levels), will keep you in an overtraining state indefinitely.

Signs of overtraining:

Insomnia, tiredness in the day, aching muscles and joints, high resting pulse, strength loss on lifts, are the most obvious immediate signs you are overtraining. Long term you will notice fat gain and muscle loss.

  1. Supplements in Canada on October 29th, 2007

    Great post. Overtraining is a really overlooked aspect of bodybuilding. Two things not mentioned that I find I notice when I am overtraining are symptoms of a cold (sore throat, headache) and lack of desire to train.

    This second one is really important I think because if you are really into bodybuilding, but get into a rut of not feeling like going to the gym, your body could be telling you, to take a break.