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Training constantly can burn you out. Taking time off from training can boost your performance. A 'detraining period' should form a part of your exercise plan for best results.

How many of us are used to slogging through the same long exercise program day in and day out?  You go to the gym religiously, missing the odd session but basically putting the hours in, and doing what you’ve been recommended, with maybe a few tips from magazines thrown in for good measure.  Yet results seem to be thin on the ground.

For some people, training can start to feel like ‘elephant powder.’ 

A man walking by the railway line sees a couple of maintenance workers throwing a thick pink powder everywhere on the line out of a sack.  Being a curious sort, he asks them what it is. 

‘Elephant powder,’ they reply. ‘Keeps them pesky tuskers off the line.’

‘I've never seen any elephants around here,’ the man replies, bemused.

‘Works good, huh?’ the railwaymen grin, and get back to their work.

If you’re training just to not get any worse, you need to train differently, is the point.

You don’t get fitter, stronger, bigger or healthier when you train. Training breaks down muscle tissue and fills the body with systemic and local inflammation and free radicals. You improve when you rest after you train.

It’s when you rest that your muscles are rebuilt and your system recovers. That’s when your nervous system recovers and when your glycogen stores are restocked. 

That’s a scientific fact that makes you view the whole experience differently. 

Maybe you don’t train too little; maybe you train too much.

Training overloads the body. Whether that’s the metabolic overload of a marathon runner or the muscular overload of a power-lifter, training damages and tires the body.  Afterward the body adapts by improving so it can cope with similar demands next time. 

Some trainers have experimented with using whole months, or longer. Like we would a training session – their athletes trained to the point where they were picking up injuries and suffering from exhaustion, then took a fortnight off.  It’s called over-reaching, and we need to draw the distinction between over reaching and over training. Overreaching like this means pushing into over-training territory but not setting up camp there. Over-training is chronic, not done on purpose for a few weeks.  

When you overreach, you can recover fairly quickly – results start to appear for some trainees in a matter of days. When you over-train you need to recover slowly and rebuild your damaged metabolism and endocrine system. The point of this article is that you might be slightly over-trained, in the wrong ways, and not even know it.

What I mean is, if you haven’t changed the way you train but you train harder, you can over-train by exhausting your body’s energy systems without training intensely enough to get good results.

How can you tell whether you’re overreaching or over-training? 

Well, basically, if you aren't doing it on purpose, it’s probably over-training rather than overreaching. If you’re overreaching it will be as part of a program and the overreaching portion should last no more than about two weeks. If this is you, stick with your program. This article isn't really aimed at you. 

Rather, I want to address the problem of chronic, accidental over-training. If you do some machine exercises and treadmill work at the gym how can you be over-training?  If your training is so lacking in intensity that it isn't protecting your endocrine system against the rest of your life’s stresses and pressures, you could be over-training. If your sleep quality and immune function is shot, you have cold symptoms all the time and you never get enough sleep, or you wake up in the night, there are some more signs of over-training right there.

If this sounds familiar, maybe we should look at some causes.  At first this might seem contradictory – after all, all these things are supposed to be cured by exercise, right?  Exercise is supposed to help you sleep and make you more relaxed and generally healthy, right? 
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