Overtraining?

A large part of my blog in recent days has been devoted to my exercise. Last week, I struggled to meet my goals, and had to step back and remind myself, via a little pep talk, that my goals actually have a little wiggle room that I often choose to ignore. Despite the pep talk, I struggled some more over the weekend, although I rallied through it.

A bunch of you voiced your support, which I appreciate, but Sunday’s post also elicited a lengthy comment from a buddy that I know from the twitter and blog worlds. Reinaldo lives waaaaay down south, in Chile, and blogs about weight loss/exercise/paleo here. You can read Reinaldo’s entire comment at the bottom of this post, but here’s an excerpt that sums it up pretty well:

“The word ‘overtraining’ is reserved to proffesional athletes, who works out several hours a day (think Michael Phelps), almost everyday, Over and over. Yes, pros have better genetics, but they aren’t a different species either… That that ‘overtraining feeling’ is actually the feeling the fat dude running just a mile is feeling when he runs 2 miles. He’s pushing his limits, it is tiring, but he can overcome it and do better… Like there’s no way you can reach real overtraining by working out just an hour everyday. Aches and tireness, sure, but REAL overtraining? Hardly.”

I’ll be honest and admit that my first reaction was to shift into hyper-defensive mode and challenge Reinaldo’s comment, paragraph by paragraph. But I don’t think that’s an effective use of my time, especially since there are parts of Reinaldo’s comment that make perfect sense.

For the sake of clarification, I do want to point out that I never claimed that I was overtraining, nor did I ever compare myself to elite athletes. What I did do was make the observation that I’ve been going strong for a very long time, and reaching my six-workouts-a-week goal for over two months. I’ve had something like 54 workouts in the past 63 days, and I’m really fucking proud of that.

But I set high bars for myself, so when things happen and I take unexpected, unplanned rest days, I can get hard on myself, and that’s something I’m trying to change. I chose to write about one of those episodes last week not because I wanted sympathy or validation, or because I wanted to brag, or because I felt like I was overtrained – I wrote about it because I hit a mental obstacle that required a pep talk, and I wanted to document that pep talk, so I could refer to it in the future if I needed it.

I agree with some of the basic tenets of Reinaldo’s comment: You can’t improve, get stronger, or get leaner without pushing yourself. And pushing yourself leads to fatigue. No arguments there. And I’ll confidently argue all day and night that I’m really good at pushing myself. I’m working towards completing my 7th fitness event or challenge (an open water swim) in less than a year. When I exercise, it isn’t a lazy session on a stationary bike where I barely move my legs while reading the latest James Patterson knuckle-biter. When I lift weights, I push myself to do a few more reps and add a few more pounds. When I run, I don’t stop, even if that means running in place at crosswalks. When I swim, I track my breaks and keep myself on intervals. I don’t mess around.

Furthermore, there’s a difference between taking a rest day and being overtrained – the two aren’t interchangeable. I don’t take rest days because I fear continuing to exercise would cause me physical harm. I take them so my body can recover from a strenuous week’s workouts. I take them because they’re rejuvenating, not just physically, but mentally as well. And I’m not alone – Michael Phelps takes rest days. He’s said in many interviews that he works out six days a week.

I’ll wrap this up by thanking Reinaldo for his comment. He spent a lot of time putting it together, and I appreciate it, because it really got my mind racing, and writing this response helped me clarify and pinpoint a lot of the thoughts that have been swirling around in my head the past few days. It’s fantastic that Reinaldo is working out every single day, but that plan isn’t for me. My plan is for me, and my plan is based around 5-6 good, hard workouts a week.

Keep it up, David.

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5 Responses to Overtraining?

  1. Janet says:

    What more is there to add, well said David!

  2. darnfitness says:

    Honest confession: the first thing that popped in my mind when I realized you were posting about my comment was “Oh, sh!t, what have I done!” :P

    I never meant to be aggressive, or suggest that you should work out more, or harder, or to say that you were overtrained (or not), or to make any comment about fitness plan. It was all about the couch.

    Because everyone fitness plan is different, and that OK, but those days when you don’t do what you told yourself you were going to do, but then you actually do it, that’s the hardest battle to win. Wait, I’m not making any sense.

    That day, you were supposed to workout, but you stayed at the couch, watching the clock and time go by. I hate when that happens! And when it happens to me, I don’t have the balls to get up and workout later like you did. I even grab the icecream, or the cookies, or whatever junk food I shouldn’t be eating because heck, I already messed up, so I might as well mess up big time.

    Then, I came up with excuses to validate my own laziness, like the overtraining excuse, it’s OK to have an extra rest day, and it might as well be a cheat day, and so on…

    But you did not. You went for a run later. I can’t do that. To me, if I’m skipping a workout because I just didn’t feel like it, I can’t go back to the “fitness state of mind” later on that day. I just can’t. I completly shut off and just hope for the best (to stay away from those darn cookies!).

    And that was my comment was supposed to be about. A way to challenge that part of my brain that says to me “you already didn’t do it, so you might as well…”, inspired by the fact that you faced that same little voice and overcome it. Maybe we aren’t as tired as we tell ourselves we are in those moments, you know what I mean?

  3. Tavi Stutz says:

    my plan is to levitate and walk on water… could you recommend a training program for that please.

    I think you are amazing and consider you to be an excellent source of encouragement. NO PRESSURE, but it’s not just about inspiring yourself anymore.

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