Have you got to that point yet where you’re already thinking about your next workout when you’re leaving the gym after a great session?
When you’re buzzing to get back in there because you’re now actually seeing decent results.
Training for longer and for more days per week might seem like the obvious move when you’re on a roll…
But it’s a BIG MISTAKE.
More is not better. Overtraining can hinder your attempts to build muscle, it can increase your chances of injury, and most importantly it can damage your health.
>>> This article is all about showing you the way to train smarter, not harder.
>>> To avoid overtraining so that you can continue to make solid progress and maintain optimal overall health.
>>> It’ll focus heavily on the teachings of the late bodybuilding champion Mike Mentzer – a pioneer in weight training protocols – aswell as world-renowned sports nutritionist Dr John Berardi.
Mentzer – Mr Olympia in 1979 – was way ahead of his time and a proponent of sensible training and dietary principles that went against what 99.9% of what other bodybuilders were doing at the time.
While weightlifters were training hard 5,6,7 days per week, Mike was only doing 3 days.
While other weightlifters were eating crazy amounts of protein per day in an attempt to keep the biceps bulging, he was eating just 60g and stressing the importance of sufficient calories instead.
I’ve followed Mike’s training principles for more than a decade. This is simply because they make sense – and I can spend less time in the gym and still get great results.
Why exercise nearly every day of the week when you can train for three?
Why spend two hours in the gym when you can finish your session in one?
And why do countless sets and reps when you can simply up the intensity in each of your exercises to stimulate muscle growth and development?
Training one day on, one day off is the way forward to ensure you properly recover after a tough workout and the body can repair itself and develop more muscle tissue.
We’ll soon discuss the effect heavy weight training has on the muscles and why proper rest is so important.
But a clear sign we need some time away from the barbells and dumbbells is the DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) – aka the pain the following day after a tough session (…which is usually even worse the second day).
The soreness should be enough to convince you to take a day off after training. If you’re not experiencing DOMS then you’re not training intensely enough in the gym.
The ‘3,6,9 Method’ – as I call it – is a great guideline for ensuring you’re training hard enough to fatigue the muscles and kickstart hypertrophy (the muscle building process).
3 = the number of sets you need to complete for each exercise.
6 = the minimum number of reps you must be able to complete with a particular weight.
9 = the maximum number of reps you should be doing before upping the weight level and increasing the intensity further.
I always recommend just 2-3 sets of every exercise in your routine. Fitness studies have shown that this is enough – if you complete the exercises properly.
This 2010 study showed that to achieve hypertrophy 2-3 sets per exercise were much more effective than just 1 single set.
BUT….the results also showed that there was no significant difference between 2-3 sets and 4-6 sets per exercise. So why do double the amount of sets?
Mike Mentzer, pictured below, wrote in his book, ‘High Intensity Training – The Mike Mentzer Way’: “Intense exercise will stimulate a compensatory build-up of muscle tissue, which will enable the body to cope with the stress of intense exercise again in the near future with less disturbance and fewer demands on the body’s limited resources.
“Taken to extremes, as is the case with most bodybuilders who overtrain, the exercise will place a drain on the recuperative subsystems of the body that prevents the build up of added muscle tissue because all of the reserves will be used up in an attempt to overcome the depletion caused by overtraining.
“…the less time spent in the gym actually training the better. Once you have stimulated growth, with the required high intensity training, get out of the gym!”
Want bigger muscles? A leaner, more athletic physique? Then give your body a break after a tough weights session.
The hard work may be done in the gym…but you then must supply your body with proper nutrition and a recovery period of around 48 hours, sometimes longer.
This is essential so that the body can repair the damage done to your muscle fibres through lifting heavy weights and build more muscle tissue as a result.
Fitness and nutrition expert Ru Anderson stressed the importance of recovery after workouts when I interviewed him last month.
Ru said: “A big factor to bigger muscles and greater strength is the ability to fully recover from your training efforts. Train hard, but ensuring you can recover from it is key.
“Many magazines and programs can push your recovery abilities too far, because they have been created by athletes or those using assistance.
“Find a program that you can train hard with, but recover fast on.”
You can read the full interview here – ‘The Dangers Of Following Typical Bodybuilding Advice’.
Sleep is so important to our overall health, yet many of us don’t get the recommended eight hours per night.
It’s also when the body manufactures more of the anabolic hormones testosterone and growth hormone, which are the key players involved in muscle tissue growth and remodelling.
Studies have shown that poor sleep can significantly lower testosterone production.
This one from Penev et al involving a group of elderly men showed that the guys who had 4 hours sleep produced half as much testosterone as those who got 8 hours’ shut eye.
If you struggle to get a decent night’s sleep, I’ve got the dream solution at the end of this article.
Many bodybuilders try to get around the DOMS by training different muscle groups on different days.
Mon – chest and triceps; Tue – back and biceps; Wed – legs….you know the drill.
I did it myself for a while too, thinking it was a shortcut to faster results.
It wasn’t. It also meant I was spending way too much time in the gym unnecessarily.
While many bodybuilders these days swear by split muscle group routines and do get amazing results, Mike Mentzer spoke out against training this way.
In his book ‘High Intensity Training – The Mike Mentzer Way’, he wrote: “Many bodybuilders wrongly believe that a split routine of six days a week, with one half of the muscles exercised on one day and then rested on the following day while the other half are being exercised, will provide the rest required for adequate growth following exercise.
“You must remember that exercise always has a generalized effect on the entire physical system as well as a localised one on specific muscles.
“So, even though you may be affording your alternately worked muscles a certain amount of rest on a six day split routine, you are not providing the needed rest for the overall physical system when you tax it with everyday training.”
Mike said that adding more sets to your workouts and training on additional days without sufficient rest should be “avoided at all costs”.
Dr John Berardi, founder of Precision Nutrition and one of the world’s leading sports nutritionists, wrote a fantastic article last year titled ‘How Intense Workouts (And Overtraining) Can Ruin Your Results’.
Comparing excessive exercise to driving a car on full throttle all the time, he said it’s only a matter of time before the car (aka our bodies) break down.
Dr Berardi, pictured below, warns that overtraining consistently will frazzle our nervous system, weaken our immune system and lead to illness.
He wrote: “Training too frequently and intensely — again, without prioritizing recovery — means that stress never subsides.
“We never get a chance to put gas in the tank or change the oil. We just drive and drive and drive, mashing the pedals harder and harder.
“If we ‘lift the hood’ we might see…
“Poor lubrication: Our connective tissues are creaky and frayed.
“Radiator overheating: More inflammation.
“Battery drained: Feel-good brain chemicals and anabolic (building-up) hormones have gone down.
“Rust: Catabolic (breaking-down) hormones such as cortisol have gone up.”
Dr Berardi warns that this could lead to problems including depression, anxiety, poor sleep and lower metabolism.
He insists that for every intense workout, there should be an equally intense focus on helping your body repair and rebuild.
#1 Being Too Sore For Too Long
It’s normal for your muscles to be sore for a couple of days after a good weight training session.
But when it gets to four or five days then it’s a sure sign you aren’t recovering well.
Give yourself an extended break to avoid interfering with the repair and muscle building process.
If your nervous system is frazzled from overtraining, or your hormones are all over the place, then you’re sleep will likely be affected.
Try to get into a regular sleeping pattern of going to bed no later than 10pm and rising at the same time each day.
#3 Feeling Run-Down
If you’re low on energy and catching every cold and virus going around, then there’s a fair chance your immune system has been weakened by training too hard, too often.
Rest up, take some immune boosting vitamin C supplements.
#4 Lack Of Results
If you had been seeing steady progress for a while and then this halted, despite equal or more effort in the gym, then it could be that your body has been struggling to recover.
#5 Dwindling Motivation
We already know that longer training sessions and working out on more days of the week can actually hinder your efforts to build muscle and sculpt a better overall physique.
And if it’s got to the stage where your workouts are not as effective as they used to be, then your training motivation will naturally drop off.
Highly demanding jobs, relationship problems, money worries….these everyday life issues many of us face trigger the release of stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline.
Training hard in the gym also releases the same hormones….in response to the stress your muscles face throughout a weight training session.
Too much of both in your life for too long leads to one thing….BURNOUT.
Exercise can of course help relieve stress….(aka smashing a punch bag and pretending it’s your boss’s face)….but the overall physical impact of stress in and outside of the gym can become too much.
Dr Berardi said: “We still need to help our bodies recover from all the stress we experience.
“How well you’ll recover (and how much extra recovery you might need) depends on your allostatic load — i.e. how much total stress you’re under at any given moment.”
Sticking to a simple day on, day off training schedule is the first step to avoiding overtraining.
If you’re training intensely enough during those sessions – using the ‘3,6,9 Method’ mentioned earlier – then you should be too sore to step back in the gym the next day anyway.
While we may train like Rocky in the gym, it’s important we treat our body well afterwards for proper recovery and muscle development.
Here are my top 4 tips for treating your body like a King…
#1 Enjoy a relaxing warm bath at least twice a week. This is an awesome reward for yourself on non-training days.
#2 Meditate. No, it doesn’t involve sitting in the lotus position pretending to be a monk. There are some amazing guided meditation audio recordings that can really help you wind down after a long, stressful day.
#3 Get to your bed early with a book. Not only does reading help me get to sleep much quicker, but a good educational book last thing at night is much better than filling my head with garbage from Facebook or reality TV.
#4 Take ZMA capsules or use magnesium oil before bed. These are hugely beneficial for a deep, restful sleep which is of course crucial for your body’s repair and recovery.