Written by Josh Thigpen
The debate never ends. Some say you can overtrain, some say you can’t overtrain. Some even say you are undertrained. People cannot wait to jump on the latest internet celebrity bandwagon. These guys get people fired up about training things everyday all day and come up with slogans that are catchy to remind people of this “Hardcore Mentality”. That’s all good and well, but does it work? What about the people who say less is more? Obviously rest and proper nutrition are needed for gains of any kind in strength or fitness, (I’ll have more to say about that in an upcoming book on nutrition for strength athletes), but at what point could you be doing more? At what point are you just being lazy? How can we sort through all of this crap and get to the point?
In order to solve this training problem there are a few VERY important distinctions that have to be made. We have to first look at the ultimate goal of the individual. This is the most important thing to clarify. For instance if a person wants to train just for the sake of training because they love it that much, then by all means train however long you want. If that ultimately is more important to you than the gains you make there is nothing wrong with that. In fact I too love training so much I wish I could train all day everyday. However, my ultimate goal is not to just train, but to make progress. And not just make progress but to find the OPTIMAL way to make progress. Keep that word in mind, because its roll in deciphering the overtraining puzzle is paramount. This, my friends is the ultimate goal of every true athlete, to find the very best way to improve. Not sounding super tough and extreme to the core, or being lazy by being scared of overtraining, but actually GETTING BETTER.
Now lets define adaptation and progression.
Adaptation– In the terms of strength/fitness this is the idea that whatever stress you put on the body it will eventually adapt to that stress and be able to handle the workload. It is because of this thought that people espouse the more is better, no such thing as overtraining approach. Now there certainly is truth to this. The body will indeed adapt and be able to handle whatever workload you put on it. However, just because the body will adapt, doesn’t mean it will progress optimally. So I may be able to eventually squat twice a day every day but that doesn’t mean it is the best way to advance in the squat.
Progression– In the strength/fitness world this is referring to actual increases in strength, and or performance. This is not just the ability to adapt but to improve. Some would argue that adaptation is progression, and it is to the extent that all progression comes from the body adapting. But what if my body got use to the workload of squatting twice a day everyday but my squat never went up? Is that really progression? Now what if it went up 5 pounds in a year? Well yes that is progression, but it may not be Optimal progression. Which really is what we are after.
I can remember not to long ago reading about a high level american athlete who was doing this exact protocol, squatting twice a day every day. He suffered a small injury and because of this he had to start squatting less frequently. His coach said that when he backed off the squatting his squat started to go through the roof. The same coach however, still promoted the more is better, adaptation philosophy. I wondered why the coach couldn’t see the obvious correlation between strength gains and lowering of training frequency. It was obvious that if training less made him stronger then that is what he should be doing. Surely we can all see this correlation.
Now, I am well aware that some people will shout out about “Chemical assistance” and how that effects how an athlete trains. However, I would say the goal still remains the same for the natural or enhanced athlete-to find the optimal way to progress. Even if an athlete took everything under the sun, they would still need to find the training program that provided the most efficient gains possible. They still wouldn’t train 24 hours a day everyday. So the principle still holds up.
The role of trial and error- Ok so you may say tell us how to find the optimal way to train. Well we first must go through a certain amount of trial and error personally. For instance lets say that you try two different training programs, one with more training frequency and volume, and then you try training with less frequency and volume. Perhaps you got more results on the more training. Then for you, more training would be better. Seems pretty simple right? Now what if you went somewhere in between? You may find that it will give you even better results. I have known some athletes who get there very best results from training only 2 times a week. Who am I to argue with them if they get the best possible results from that? At the end of the day it is going to come down to each individual. After a lot of trial and error I found that for me the best training protocol was that middle ground, so I created the Cube Method for Strongman. I and many other people have found that this is indeed the sweet spot for Optimal training. Maybe it will be for you, maybe not. The point is to find out what works best for you so that you are maximizing your training and performance.
I believe that in the strength and fitness community we should stop talking about overtraining and undertraining and instead focus on Optimal training. I believe being super dogmatic about either over or undertraining is not necessary, and unproductive for any real athlete. The conversation should switch to what is the very best way possible for me to reach my goals. So the secret at the end of the day is….wait for it…whatever works for you. Begin thinking for yourself in terms of how your body responds to certain training stimulus and don’t be afraid to experiment in order to define what does work. If it works for you, go with it. Begin to put your focus on what is the optimal way to get stronger for you. Results are after all, what we are after, not training for training sake.Josh Thigpen is one of the top professional strongmen in America and is a 3 time ESPN Worlds strongest man competitor. His career has spanned 11 years with 7 as a pro. He has competed in over 50 competitions in countries all over the world. Josh is the author of the revolutionary training system The Cube Method for Strongman. In addition to this Josh is owner and CEO of Conquest Nutrition, a sports supplement company. Josh is a sought after public speaker where he has used his athletic platform to speak to over a million people world wide with an inspiring message. Website, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter