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Over-Training or Under-Training? Myth or Not?

Updated on June 1, 2021
BodystrongBen profile image

I have a masters degree in sports science and around 10 years experience in personal training and sports research.


There is so much talk about over-training going around the fitness industry over recent years and it's something that most are very much in the dark about. Now you'll see people that insist on 4 training sessions a week of no more than 40 minutes, as they are worried about over training. Then there are others that may train 3 times a day, 6 days a week, these people are more likely to be worried bout under-training. Although both have contrasting philosophies, they may both be achieving their desired goals. Hence why it's hard to define the balance between over-training and under-training.

In this article i am going to try to get across all my findings of over-training and under-training, that i have found through my own experience and research throughout years in the fitness industry.

What is Over-Training and Under-Training?

To start, over-training is basically what people say if you have been exercising too much and it's effecting your physical performance. For example if you can normally bench press 100kg for 10 repetitions and after a rigorous week of training you bench press and can only manage 5 repetitions, then that might be due to the fact you have over-trained.

On the other hand, under-training is the complete opposite. This is simply exercising so little that it doesn't have the desired effect you would like on the body. If you under-train or don't push yourself hard enough in the gym, then you could pretty much just be wasting your time by even going!

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Finding The Balance

The most effective way to train would be finding the middle between under-training and over-training, however it's not always so simple. Firstly you have to remember that everybody is different and we all have different limits, so don't just think you can train as much or as a little as someone else and expect the same results.

There is no definitive answer but we do know through research how to keep an eye out and how to try stop over-training. I would say that for people who have only been taking part in physical exercise for under 1 year that they do not exceed more than 4 workouts a week and keep the workouts to 1 hour or under. For people that are more experienced, it really comes down to yourself. I believe that people can train up to around 3 or 4 hours a day, as long as they have at least 1 day of rest a week, or even 2. As for the 3 or 4 hours of training, you will achieve a higher level of performance by breaking it up into smaller workouts.

You also have to be strategic with the muscles that you're training. For example if you train chest for 2 hours on a Monday, then i wouldn't suggest training your chest again until it no longer feels tight. This is the same with the upper body in general. If you have trained your chest on a Monday then it's more than likely it will take toll on your shoulders as well, so ideally take a day off from training your shoulders as also.

How to Stop Over-Training

People have different opinions on over-training and different ways on how to try stop themselves over-training. One thing that people may forget when working out would be warming up and cooling down. I always preach about this and treat it as a high priority, as it can be such a useful tool in stopping your body from over-training. Make sure before a workout out that you get your blood pumping by a few sets of lifting light weights or a 5 minute light cardio period. Once warmed up I would also continue to stretch whatever muscles you are about to be putting strain on. After a workout i would consider the same light cardio and stretch session.

The other point i would like to get across is that you should not train if you feel fatigued, ill or injured. Firstly if you are feeling fatigued or drained then you should avoid going to the gym until you feel refreshed. If you are coming down with an illness then you should definitely not be working out. Working out whilst your body is fighting an illness can lead to damaging your immune system and having a seriously bad effect on your recovery. As for training with an injury, i think everyone that's exercising should know not to train with an injury.


Signs of Over-Training

The main sign of over-training, is your performances in the gym declining. If you find that you are getting weaker in the gym or just feeling generally more fatigued then it might be best to take a few days off so that you can come back refreshed. Other signs of over-training would be feeling drained day to day or your mental health deteriorating. If any of these occur then i would always suggest taking some time away from the gym.

What Muscles Can You Over-Train?

After a lot of thorough research i have found that t's claimed that to be impossible to over-train certain muscles parts. This is normally the abdominal muscles or the calves. The reasons people think you can't over-train these muscles is because they are composed of fast twitch muscle fibres.

I can confirm however, that this is a bit of a myth, as you can over-train these muscles. The way i would define over-training would be that you train a muscle too much so that it no longer performs as well or you become injured. This essentially means that all your muscle groups can be over-trained.

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In conclusion I would say that you can over-train, however it's more difficult than most lead on. When first starting an exercise regime i would definitely recommend being wary of over-training. This is due to your body being put under tension that it wouldn't be used to.

If you are more experienced however, i would say that as long as you warm up, stretch and take notice of what your body is telling you, then i would say you can easily get away with training 3/4 hours a day up to 6 days week. Finally as always you need to remember everyone is different, so experiment with yourself and over time you will realise your bodies limitations.

I hope you found this article useful and i thank you for reading.


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