Workout Tips

Too Much of a Good Thing?

Don't mistake insanity for diligence. Going overboard with your weight training may keep you from reaching your goals in the gym.

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Too Much of a Good Thing?

An Inside Look

Some of the symptoms of overtraining are pretty tough to peg. Maybe you're in a bad mood simply because the guy who used the leg press before you neglected to wipe down the bench or remove his plates. And it could be that you're tired because you decided to watch a few repeats of Family Guy on Cartoon Network the night before. But some things are easier to catch and should thus raise a red flag.

A decrease in muscle mass, for example, can be easy to see for a guy who has been monitoring his progress in the mirror and on the scale. If you're finding it tough to get the last few reps on an exercise with a load you were handling just weeks earlier, it could be a sign that you're overtrained. The first place to look, however, is your routine.

"Overtraining is usually the result of training at too high of an intensity or with too much weight or too much volume for too long," Stoppani says.

So if you've been doing four sets of six reps on most exercises, doing 20 sets per bodypart and mixing in, say, forced reps and drop sets for the last several months, you're a prime candidate for an overtraining-induced plateau. The body, believe it or not, is only capable of so much in a given period. After a while, it revolts—from the inside out.

"The most significant changes that occur in someone who's overtrained are hormonal," Stoppani says. "Your testosterone levels fall and your cortisol levels are elevated. The increase in cortisol, which is a stress hormone, turns your body catabolic and causes you to lose muscle and strength. Growth hormone levels also fall, further limiting gains in size and strength."

As if that's not enough, your body experiences depressed levels of thyroid hormones, sapping you of energy, and your adrenaline levels can go haywire, affecting your body's ability to generate energy during workouts. Getting sick more often? That's another sign of overtraining — your immune system takes a beating after prolonged bouts of high-intensity exercise. Sore joints are also part of the misery.

These nightmarish symptoms end up affecting a lifter's central nervous system, leading to altered mood states and even depression.

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