Overtraining and What To Do When You Get Sick

When that switch goes ON for the majority of hardcore competitors, there’s no stopping them – it’s an all-or-nothing type of mentality and I’ll continue to suggest that this is absolutely the right frame of mind to be in during a prep. However…not to confuse things or sound like a Debbie Downer, there are some instances where continuing to push hard with this all-out-effort is just not the best route to take if you’re trying to get the most out of your prep. For instance, keep killing yourself in the gym when your body is trying it’s best to fight a cold or another illness and you’ll just prolong the duration of time you’re feeling under the weather. You’ve only got the one immune system and it’s not equipped with an infinite ability to heal. Your recovery ability, hormone levels, strength, endurance, fat loss and muscle building potential are all sub-optimal when you try to train through a sickness. Sooo…. the longer you train while sick, you will start to wonder why your progress is slow and may even feel like you’re even slipping backwards – because you just might be. Your goal should be to 1) get your body back to optimal health then 2) get back to killing it in the gym as soon as possible. Don’t be that guy (or girl) that thinks they’re hardcore enough to push right through and then wonder why you had that cold for a month.

Most experienced lifters have at some point come to realize that the real key to maximizing muscle growth and results is to pay equal respect to both sides of the scale. Although it might not sound “hardcore” enough for some young, extra-motivated lifters – sometimes the fastest way to muscle growth is to prevent catabolism from wreaking havoc on your muscles in the first place and just ride that steady anabolic escalator. In the bigger picture, although it may not be clear in the moment, training your ass off in the gym without a solid, efficient recovery is like taking one step forward and two steps back. The net result is still negative and you’re slipping back each week.

Let me be clear, the purpose of this article isn’t to tell you need to start training like a pu%*y. It’s to help you to become more in tune with your body and more aware of the signs and symptoms that your body may not be keeping up with the demands of your training.  It’s also to open your eyes to the fact that more is not always better. If you can listen to your body and really be aware of a few key signs and symptoms you’ll then be able to manipulate your training variables and know when to really push it and when to back off a little bit.  Pay attention to things like cold symptoms, muscles not recovering, changes in sleep, no appetite and then do something to address it. See my list below for the common signs of over training and some suggested interventions to resolve it.

Step One: Identify the problem. Here are some of the most common signs of overtraining.

-decreased appetite

-sleep disturbances/inability to achieve restful sleep on more than 2 consecutive nights

-poor muscle recovery

-extreme muscle soreness (more than 3 days)

-fatigue or loss of enthusiasm


-elevated resting heart rate

-increased incidence of injuries (sprain/strain, “dull ache” overuse type injuries)

-frequent colds/sore throat

-increased susceptibility to infections

-inability to focus

-decreased libido

-weight loss (no obvious reason)


Step Two: Take the necessary steps to balance things out. Implement one or more of these solutions to get your body and mind back on track and balanced.

Reduce training volume. Cut the number of sets you take to failure down to just one set to failure per exercise. This will reduce the stress on your recovery while still keeping your muscles stimulated. Take a lesson from Lee Haney. He used to say train until the pump was at its absolute peak. Once you reach that point, stop and do nothing else. Why keep beating a dead horse.

Temporarily restrict all high intensity training principles. Keep training hard and heavy. But if your body is telling you it can’t keep up, then lay off all the ‘beyond failure’ techniques such as drop sets, negatives, forced reps, etc. until you’ve

Take a day or two completely off the gym. Regardless of your training schedule, if your body is telling you it can’t keep up, STOP! Catch up on your sleep, keep getting all your meals in and let your neurological and muscular system regenerate. The world won’t end if you miss the gym for a day.

Avoid redundant exercise selection. Take a good look at your program. Is it loaded with exercises that that hit the muscle in the same way or angle? What’s the point in working your biceps with 5 different types of supinated curls? Take a few minutes to really evaluate your program. Or get a coach 🙂

Evaluate your training split. Are you training 5-7 days in a row straight without any breaks? Maybe it’s time to switch it up to a two on/one off protocol or even a one on/one off system. Even if you’re just training one muscle group a day, training taxes the CNS and other physiological systems. Sometimes this stress can add up and leave you feeling drained. A day off in between training sessions may be the solution.

Book a massage. Deep tissue massage  can help increase blood flow, speed recovery and release built up tension from overused muscles. Walking around with muscles loaded with tension is only adding to the stress and strain on your body.

Schedule a re-feed day. Re-feeds are the dietary equivalent of filling up your body’s gas tank, charging up the metabolism and restoring hormone levels. If you’ve been on a controlled carbohydrate diet, training hard and doing cardio you’ve probably been running on low glycogen reserves. Take a day to double (or  triple) your regular carbohydrate intake and increase your fat intake. Don’t train that day. When you finally do get back to the gym your tanks will be topped off and you’ll notice some renewed strength and probably even look leaner.

More isn’t always better and just because Arnold trained twice a day for four hours a day doesn’t mean that’s the best way to do it. Listen to your body and do what works for YOU!

Natural Immune System Boosters

I’m also big on supplementing with natural immune system boosters at the first sign of a cold. Here are some of my favorites:

Glutamine – 10-20 g twice per day

Phosphatidyl Serine – 600 mg/day , two doses

Magnesium – 400-1000 mg/day

Anti-oxidant cocktails – ala, selenium, coenzyme q10, vit c, NAC

Zinc – 50 mg/day

HMB – 3 grams/day


I’ve also put together a little concoction you can try out …

T-Rex Immune Boost Shot

Take 2-3 x day at the first sign of a cold.

-1/4 cup fresh, pure orange juice

-7-10 pure oil of oregano drops

-5 pure ginger drops or powdered, concentrated ginger

-1 teaspoon turmeric

-dash of cayenne pepper

-1/2 fresh lemon

-1 tbsp raw, unpasteurized honey (optional)

I prefer to mix all ingredients together and take as a shot, cold. Some would say it’s not the greatest tasting creation, but it works!

Suggest getting ingredients at a health food store such as healthy planet, planet organic or whole foods.

Then have…

Zinc – 50 mg

Vitamin C – 1500 mg

Other options to add or substitute:

-1 tbsp apple cider vinegar

-10 g glutamine

While you’re doing these steps it’s important to stick to your diet best you can. It doesn’t become a “I’m sick so I’m going to eat all my favorite comfort foods I can” , which some competitors can be tempted to do. While some can get away with this, I wouldn’t give the green light for all to do this. I also don’t suggest the whole idea of “starving a cold” because competitors are already on a calorically controlled diet and lowering that much more wouldn’t be a beneficial situation.  Get your rest, but you still need a steady supply of nutrients coming in.

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