When discussing training and the potential of overtraining, there appears to be two very individual and opposite camps within the fitness industry.
The first camp appear certain that any individual, no matter their training status, is at risk of overtraining. As such, they recommend you deload every couple of weeks, and go further to suggest that you should train a single muscle group any more frequently than once every 6.75 days (or something like that).
On the other hand, we have the ‘overtraining is a myth’ camp. These guys train balls to the wall every single session, often with a high training frequency. These are the guys who will frequently run training programs such as smolov (or some other form of brutality) to elicit a training response.
So which group is right?
Recovery, Adaptation and Overtraining
All in all, the training process is a relatively simple one.
When we train, we place the body under external mechanical, neurological, and metabolic stress. This external stress causes a short term response (AKA a sweet pump, some hormonal changes, followed by DOMS) and long term adaptations (AKA bigger and stronger muscle tissue).
These small stressors put the body in a state of overreaching, where ultimately we push our body past its current training limits. The body then adapts to this state of overreaching.
It is these longer term adaptions that describe the training response.
That these adaptations only occur if there is adequate time for recovery.
If there is a lack of recovery, and continued training stress, we fail to adapt. It is this failure to adapt (in conjunction with further training load) that turns overreaching into overtraining.
Ultimately, during this stage, we continually break down and further fatigue already damaged and fatigued tissue. This can lead to a host of issues, as explained in the diagram below.
But is overtraining really worth worrying about?
Well, like anything, it depends.
The Risk of Overtraining
Now, I will tell you that overtraining exists.
Of that, there is no doubt.
This is a fact.
Overtraining may not be as common as what some people make it out to be.
In a population of elite athletes, there is a considerable risk of Overtraining. These individuals train at a high intensity each day, participate in competition regularly, and often have to deal with additional life stress as well.
For these people, balancing training and recovery is like walking a tightrope. If they move one way too far, they may not get a training result, and performance will suffer. BUT, if they move too far the other way, they may train too much without adequate recovery, which can lead to overtraining (and again performance will suffer).
But for most of us, this isn’t as applicable.
We may train often, but rarely is it enough to result in a state of overtraining. Even if our life stress is high, reaching this state is still highly unlikely.
This is because we spend very little time actually training, and a lot of our time at work recovering.
So do we need to deload?
In short, yes.
While I have just suggested that most of us have very little reason to worry about overtraining syndrome, there are a number of reasons that we should still incorporate deloads into our training schedule.
Firstly, training creates significant stress on both muscle tissue, and the passive support structures of our joints (ligaments and tendons). Physiologically, tissue remodelling occurs at a much faster rate in muscle tissue than it does in these passive support structures.
As a result, if we do not undertake the occasional deload, we run the risk of causing negative degenerative tissue changes in our tendons and ligaments. This may lead to overuse injuries and joint issues.
As such, by undertaking a deload every now and then we provide opportunity for these passive structures to recover, reducing our likelihood of developing an tendon or ligament related injury.
Furthermore, a light week can often provide some time to refresh mentally, getting us excited for upcoming blocks of training. Consequently, deloads can play an importnat role in keeping us not only healthy, but motivated too.