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Overtraining: Why Rest and Sleep are as Important as Workouts

In this article we talk about overtraining and why rest and sleep are equally important as workouts in the gym.

If we are serious about getting strong and building muscles then we need to train hard, however we need to also make sure that we are not overtraining, where our workout regimen actually starts to hurt us negatively.

It is counterintuitive but muscle growth does not happen while we are working out in the gym. Sure our muscles do get pumped up after a challenging workout, however that pump disappears in a few hours. The pump we get is just the blood gushing into our muscles to provide for the needs of our muscles for doing all the hard work. In reality, we break our muscles while lifting those heavy weights in the gym. It is during the rest time and sleep that our body begins to recover from all those insults. Assuming that we are providing our body with the essential nutrients, it overcompensates for the stresses we exposed it to and as a result we get stronger. The whole process of getting strong boils down to repeating this cycle over and over again through progressive overloading that we talked about in our previous video.

As you can see in the process of strength and muscle gain taking rest is a critical component. If we do not give our muscles enough time to recover, we cannot expect growth, as we will just keep breaking our muscles down without giving our body anytime to overcompensate for the damage we are doing. To avoid overtraining a workout program must be designed so that our muscles get enough time to recover. At a minimum we should never allow a muscle group to be targeted in a workout on two consecutive days. A rest of at least 48 hours should be given to the muscles for recovery. If the workout is intense where we perform more than three exercises for the same muscle group in a day then it is better to only target a particular muscle group once a week.

Sleep is the most crucial part of our rest. It is during sleep that our body is most active in strengthening our muscles. We must therefore make sure that we are getting ample sleep. General recommendation is to sleep for 8 hours, however everybody is different. Better approach is to evaluate the quality of sleep and making sure that we feel refreshed after waking up.

How do we know that our workout is leading to overtraining? Some of the clear signs of overtraining are
• Persistent Muscle Soreness
• Feeling fatigued even after ample rest
• Elevated heart rate
• Increased rate of injuries
• Increase susceptibility to infections
• Always feeling irritable
• Poor strength development
• Reduced cardiovascular performance

Many of you might be asking: A lot of us have difficulty going to the gym, let alone performing a hard workout, how is overtraining even possible. Overtraining usually happens in two situations:
1. In one of our previous blogs we talked about the habit loop through which we develop the habit of working out regularly. Sometimes, this loop can get out of control and working out can become an addiction where we crave to perform more and more exercise for the happy hormone endorphins and dopamine.
2. Many times overtraining results from our innate human desire for quick results, where we start performing more and more exercises thinking that more is better. However just like everything else in life, moderation is the key to success with exercising too.

Overtraining can have really bad effects on our body not only physically but also mentally. Performing functional exercises need great deal of concentration and mental focus, performing them when our body is tired and mind distracted can result in serious accidents and injury.

For a beginner, who has never lifted weights, we recommend performing no more than an hour-long strength training session three times a week. Performing anything more than that is just a waste of time. The frequency can be increased as we gain more experience, however the rule of 48 hour rest for each muscle group should be followed no matter what stage we are at. Overtraining is a real phenomenon and we must develop the wisdom to stop at the right time.