Updated: Feb 21, 2019
I am often pressed by clients as to what to avoid when training in the gym (or indeed elsewhere for that matter) or when building a sustainable fitness programme.
There are of course many risks that those looking to sustain a workout plan over a period of time can face; following the wrong diet, using gym equipment incorrectly, not understanding the issues around the use of supplements (about which I have written before), and so on. All require education and the ability for those training to make the right, informed choices to avoid injury or disappointment.
For me though, one of the key things to be aware of, and to avoid if at all possible, is the risk of either over or undertraining when following a structured fitness programme.
Overtraining, particularly, will be something that many who train regularly (especially those working to set goals) will be familiar with. Undertraining, the often overlooked close cousin of overtraining can also be a risk for those who set out on a structured fitness programme, and is also to be avoided whenever possible.
But what do we mean, when we talk about over or undertraining?
Overtraining refers to training so hard, or for so long, that it is not possible for the person so doing so to recover from the exertion and physical demands that a workout places on the body and mind. Without sufficient time for recovery between workouts the person training can suffer from fatigue, physical and mental stress and extended exhaustion.
Or to put it another way, training without sufficient recovery periods built into the training programme being followed can lead to physical and mental damage that cannot be repaired during the duration of the training cycle.
Overtraining can take the form of training repeatedly without enough time being allocated between workouts, training the same body parts over and over, training with too heavy weights or training for ever longer periods of time (or indeed a combination of the above).
Undertraining, on the other hand, can be characterised by a failure to follow a structured training programme, repeatedly missing workouts, training with too little weight, or with the same weights over and over again.
Also not good.
Whereas overtraining can be exhausting (both physically and mentally) and damaging to the person concerned, undertraining will simply not challenge and develop the person concerned, which though not particularly damaging to the person so concerned can lead to wasted time, effort (and indeed financial spend) on the part of the person so undertraining.
So what to do?
Well, firstly, be aware of why you are training, what your goals are, the education and advice you are taking when exercising and the effect the training is having on you as you move forward. Fitness programmes can be demanding, tiring and can result in physical changes that can affect our self image and how we feel about ourselves.
For some, this can result in a distorted or disputed self image, which in itself can lead to an obsession with working out (and in turn overtraining, as well as other issues, such as supplements abuse, as touched upon above).
For others it can result in a dislocation from the training process and a resistance to its demands. Or to put it another way, some people embrace physical training and the culture of the modern gym, whilst for others it can be a burden and a chore.
Where we are individually on this scale will usually indicate which risk is most relevant to us - whether we run the risk of over or under training.
Understanding this fundamental principle can be a key aid to avoiding either of the over or under training risks (and the one that is most relevant to us as an individual as we train and move forward on our training programme).
And once we understand the risk most applicable to us as an individual we can recognise the behaviours that may signal we are over or undertraining, and we can do something about it.
Either way, my advice would be, as with all things gym related, to constantly educate, to take professional advice (from a personal trainer, for example!) and to move forward on whatever fitness programme with whichever goals are most applicable to us in a structured way, with measurable outcome goals.
Your body and mind are important assets in your journey to optimal fitness.
Protect them and avoid the risks that can be avoided and you will succeed in your fitness goals, whatever they may be.