Most people are under the idea that more training equals more results. Unfortunately, that is not necessarily true — and for most people it is actually the opposite.
Without going into all the fancy biology behind it (CNS recovery, blood cell count, etc) we’ll stick to two well-known topics within the S&C Community; MRV and OTS.
MRV stands for Max Recoverable Volume. What this means is that there is a certain amount of work (muscle contraction, time at specific heart rate zones, total weight moved, etc) a person can do, make an adaptation, and then recover from in a ‘short’ amount of time. Keep in mind ‘short’ also varies depending on the person. When someone goes over their MRV, whatever that may be, they start to dip into overtraining. This leads me into our next acronym.
OTS stands for Overtraining Syndrome. There hasn’t been a split just yet but I expect as time goes on we will see two distinct kinds – parasympathetic overtraining (endurance-based) and sympathetic overtraining (powerful efforts/weight training/HIIT-based). OTS is when we exceed our MRV.
An easy way to avoid this is to rest as soon as we discover/believe we might be starting to dip into exceeding what we can recover from. It’s hard to quantify what is ‘too much’ or what qualifies as dipping into ‘over training,’ but typically there are some tell-tale symptoms.
Compared to normal, one may experience lower energy and more fatigue/soreness, lower libido than normal, change in temperament (easier to aggravate), loss of appetite, etc. If we don’t pull back and reset as these things occur we will continue down the rabbit hole and not only will symptoms get worse but your training will start to get ‘worse’. Your numbers will go down instead of up, which in turn makes most people believe they need to train harder — and even farther down the rabbit hole we go.
Unfortunately for the most part the only thing that helps OTS is rest (granted there are other studies out there showing D-Ribose/activating certain systems, etc may help – D-Ribose is mostly associated with CFS but you can see the overlap to OTS). As you can probably see, this becomes a vicious circle.
Over the years I’ve taken to heart the phrase “train smarter, not harder.” A great example one of my coaches once used (Michael Fitzgerald) was if you have 2 runners and Runner ‘A’ runs 15 miles a week and Runner ‘B’ runs 24 miles a week. They are making similar adaptations/gains in their training. Think about what a difference this could mean long-term. Runner ‘A’ is running roughly 450 miles less a year than Runner ‘B’, over 10 years that becomes 4500 miles. Let that sink in.
When I followed OPT they would say “always stay aware of your 3 H’s, Happy/Hungry/Horny.” It’s something that to this day remains an easy thing to tell all of you to make yourselves aware if you are staying within your MRV. There are many more reasons why doing more could hinder versus help you (Overwrite / negate a specific adaptation from previous work done/injury because of fatigue/etc.) but something I’d like to end this article with is a simple concept: If you were to ask any strength and conditioning coach if they’d rather have an athlete overtrain or slightly under train I think the answer is clear that they will say under train. Many adaptations occur even if you’re not training at your max MRV and there are no negative side effects, you cannot say the same about overtraining.
So next time you’re thinking about doing more, check your 3 H’s. Ask yourself if instead of hitting another thing hard maybe it would be more beneficial to spend time recovering and giving your body some extra love, or using that time on contrast therapy/PNF/work on dynamic mobility/active recovery vs actual training etc. Improving recovery and improving movement are the keys to longevity.