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Overtraining is a word that’s commonly thrown around. You’ve probably heard it in the gym or read it in your bodybuilding magazines. But does it really exist? And if it does, what are the signs, symptoms and cures?

It’s completely normal to feel tired, lethargic and drained from time to time when you’re partaking in a hard training program.

Athletes experience this all the time, particularly between the midpoint and end of a competitive season. This is why you always see injury rates pick up about halfway through the in-season. It’s the same for bodybuilders too. Lifting weights places a stress on your body, particularly your muscles, joints and nervous system.

Training for a prolonged period, these negatives will build up, until the cumulative effect of them all is you feeling pretty banged up.

Mix weight training, cardio, competition and the stresses and angst of everyday life, and you can end up in quite a state. Sore joints, injuries sprains and strains, colds, lethargy and irritability are all key signs that you may be overdoing it.

When this happens to you, you almost always jump to the conclusion of overtraining.

It’s an easy assumption to make. Overtraining is an industry buzzword, and seems to be used as an excuse for many top competitors as to why their performance is suffering, or by the coaches looking for a reason why their team may not be performing.

But is this really overtraining, or is everyone just looking for that excuse?

What is Overtraining?

First up, it’s crucial to understand that overtraining is a serious issue. True overtraining can last months, if not a year or more. Overtraining represents a long term imbalance between stress and recovery.

You don’t become overtraining from just one workout, and the if you hear anyone say that their grueling sprint session or lower body max effort workout left them overtrained, you know they’re not telling the entire truth!

The same goes for a week. Even the hardest training week of your life won’t cause overtraining. Sure, you may not feel too great training 20 or 30 hours in a week, and if you’re not a pro athlete, there’s really no need for this. Even if you do decide to throw caution to the wind and virtually move into the gym for seven days, the chances of truly overtraining are still non-existent.

Overtraining in two weeks? Nope. In actual fact, a planned two week period of training at an increased frequency, volume and intensity, to the point where performance suffers can actually make you fitter and stronger in the long run, provided you implement proper recovery strategies.

Once you get to a month, you’re starting to get into overtraining territory. And at two to three months, you can now start contemplating overtraining as a potential.

To put all of this into perspective and show how difficult it really is to achieve a true state of overtraining, take a look at weightlifters, particularly those from the former Soviet Block countries and the Chinese. While both of these nations have long been at the top of the sport, they’re renowned for their intense training programs.

Routines often involve lifting twice a day, for two to three hours at a time, six days per week and with loads close to single repetition maximums. They train the same basic lifts day in, day out – front squats, back squats, snatches, cleans and jerks. Yet despite this, while they may feel run down from time to time, they excel when it comes to competing. If they were overtrained, this would absolutely not be the case.

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