Beginning with wrestling and soccer, Jake has been immersed in fitness nearly his whole life. Personal training and studying exercise in college were the natural progression of that passion. Competing locally in bodybuilding and powerlifting, Jake currently studies exercise at university and does online coaching at Jackalstrength.com.
First off, nothing in this article gives you an excuse to not work hard. If you’re training intelligently, you can work hard and avoid overtraining. If you’re looking for an excuse to take things easy, don’t waste your time.
A principle to begin: every activity that you do requires some level of recovery before you can do it again. If you deadlift your max in a powerlifting contest, don’t expect to do it again for a while. It’ll likely be days or weeks before your ability to deadlift returns to even 80% of what you did. On the other hand, going for a ten-minute walk should be something that you’re capable of doing frequently, as it requires only minimal recovery. Every activity requires recovery, great or small.
When creating a training program, individuality matters. Everyone has different preferences, strengths/weaknesses, genetics, lifestyles, etc. that will all play a role in their ability to train. As a coach or athlete, your job is to find the limits. You can only learn what “too much” is if you go there. I’m not advocating for foolish extremes, don’t injure yourself or your clients, but you’ll never really know your max if you don’t push the limits from time to time. As you come to understand your limits, you also come to understand how much recovery time is needed before you can perform the activity again.
Powerlifters are a great example of this, as they like to give numbers to everything. Powerlifting training is often quantified by a percentage of their one-rep max, allowing them to assign a numerical value to the amount of effort they exert. If, for example, 100% (1RM) requires 10 days to recover from, you can only perform a 1RM every 10 days. Since that would be a rather ridiculous way to train, programs often involve a system of rotating percentages, allowing you to do 60%, 70%, 80%, or even 90%+ in training and have adequate time to recover before performing the same action again.
Though often less easily quantifiable at submaximal levels, the same principle applies to other sports as well. Marathon runners don’t run marathons every day, they train some days at 60%, perhaps 5-10 miles, and others at 90%, maybe 18-22 miles, with appropriate rest intervals assigned to each.
This system of matching intensity to recovery is simple in sports that require just one or two basic skills (like powerlifting or marathon running), but it can become highly complicated when the sport requires many different skills (like football or basketball). Specificity matters, intensity matters, skill level matters, addressing the psychological factors matters, but all that goes beyond the scope of this article. If you’re looking for a deep dive, check out the Pre-Script coaching certifications.
In summary, to avoid overtraining, training should be intelligently programmed to allow athletes to push their limits, recover, and repeat.
Check in next week for Part 3!