A Word On Over Training With Phil Learney!

I always recall a few years ago when ‘overtraining’ became a bit of a buzzword. Overtraining was used as a reason for lack of progression by so many people who simply lacked consistency in either diet or training or wouldn’t just admit that what they where doing was wrong. I mean it’s quite a ‘get out of jail free card’ if you tell people you’re doing TOO much training.

People love excuses even to the point that hundreds of thousands of pounds are being spent trying to research if a ‘fat gene’ exists. I mean what purpose would such a discovery serve? If everyone has an excuse no one will blame the food industry right? It’s the same as the prolific and incorrect diagnosis of ‘thyroid’ problems in the 90’s being the issue for people gaining weight. The thyroid gland helps with many things but its role metabolically is to regulate metabolic rate. If people overeat in single meals they will overuse and burn this system out. If they don’t require regulation i.e.: they don’t over or under eat sporadically they don’t make this system underactive. I know of several people who have turned their lives around physically who clinically have an ‘Underactive’ thyroid.

Don’t get me wrong these conditions exist clinically but the symptoms of and prognosis of both are at best sketchy. I tend to be resigned to asking the question whenever ‘overtraining’, ‘under active thyroid’ or another big one is ‘rotator cuff injury’ are mentioned of who actually came to that diagnosis and how?

More often than not it was a self-diagnosis and wrong in most cases.

I digress…

So overtraining. What is it?

Overtraining is basically when training overload exceeds what can in effect be recovered from. In effect this means it is not a matter of doing too much but not recovering effectively.

This goes right back to the reference I used for improving net profit. We always look as human beings at maximizing profit rather than minimizing spend. As in training we always look at maximizing training breakdown but neglect to look at the speed at which we can maximize recovery.

“Train as heavy as possible, as often as possible, as fresh as possible.”

Professor V. Zatsiorsky

Those of you who don’t know who that is… trust me, he’s forgotten more about training than most people will ever know.

Overtraining culminates itself into a series of physical, emotional and behavioral changes. This is often classified as overtraining syndrome. Please don’t look at this and not continue to read on. Many of these symptoms you can convince yourself you have and this becomes a ‘self diagnosis’ scenario and again an excuse. The likelihood of the average weekend warrior reaching an overtrained state is VERY unlikely. The likelihood of an ‘Under recovered’ state is more likely.

Symptoms and markers of Overtraining.

  • Sensation of fatigue, drained and lack of energy, excessive sleeping.
  • Decrease in appetite.
  • Drop in performance and ability to train.
  • Reduction in quality sleep and the regulation of serotonin.
    • Higher susceptibility to injury and illness.
    • Corresponding drop in the immune responses. A rapid reduction in the natural killer cell activity, neutrophil and lymphocyte usage.
    • Pain and aches in muscles and legs primarily caused by an elevation in the inflammatory responses and stress hormone production.
    • Headaches, Migraines and potential of adrenal stress.
    • Depression, Moodiness and Irritability which can be associated to amongst other things a drop in Serotonin synthesis.
    • Compulsion to Exercise or train more (Short term addictive response).
    • Increased output of Catecholamine’s such as epinephrine, norepinephrine and dopamine.
    • Decrease in cardiovascular function and according hematological changes, iron status, protein status and hydration status.
    • Reduction in output of pituitary hormones. This impacts the synthesis of both anabolic and catabolic hormones. Think as we did with digestion that if you can’t synthesize it you cant utilize it. It impacts the control of metabolic responses to food, inflammation and fluid usage. It also decreases the output of growth hormone and IGF-1 from the liver impacting growth and cell reproduction massively.

You will understand as to what importance this is if I refer back to one of the diagrams I used in a previous article. As you can see the response to overtraining is not favorable. In the pursuit of any physical improvement we now understand that controlling this environment is tantamount to our overall success. We are looking at more REGENERATION rather than DEGENERATION. Controlling training stressors as well as dietary stressors moves us one step closer to that perfect physiological environment.




“If you can improve recovery by 10% through restoration strategies and an improvement in nutrition we can increase training stress by 10%. This gives us a performance improvement of 20%. The difference between a full time professional athlete and a talented amateur is often far less than 20%. Ask yourself what you’re prepared to give?”

Phil Learney 2012

As a trainer or trainee, think what knowledge you have in restoration or recovery methods? What do you do to actively recover for yourself or your clients? Training for optimal results needs to revolve around a multi-faceted approach and not just thinking training is enough.

Symptomatic overtraining isn’t as common as you may think. In highly trained athletes yes but most people will only bridge on this state without ever being fully overtrained. We term this as ‘Over-reaching’. This is when we push ourselves into a state of mild fatigue and on occasions will see a marginal drop in performance. Chronically persisting in this state will then develop into overtraining.

The question lies therein ‘How hard can you actually push someone?’

Training needs to be intelligent if we’re to capitalise on the adaptation process and breaking to build concept. I approach training volume and management in a similar fashion to how I approach hypertrophy. If I focus primarily on what someone is losing rather than gaining my immediate net profit for that client goes up. If applying the same principle here my focus is ‘How can I help someone adapt faster?’ The sooner someone has rebuilt the sooner I can break them again right!  This then throws another little quote right out the window because MORE in this case is ALWAYS BETTER provided more applies as much to breaking as it does to building.

TASK: Write down on one side of a piece of paper all of the things you do to break and on the opposite side all the things you do to build.

This will pre-empt me to write a piece solely on restoration methods but these are the things we need to consider when we train. Here’s a few things to consider that could positively sway training recovery the right way! These are only a few of the things that occur to the body during training and only touching on a few things that can be done to enhance recovery.

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