Overtraining: Physical vs. Mental

Overtraining: Physical vs. Mental
by Jonathan Lawson

While it’s certainly possible to reach a point of overtraining, in order for one to be physically overtrained usually requires the right mix of ingredients.  Based on my experience, I’ve only felt physically overtrained when I’ve combined low calories with high-intensity workloads for extended periods, peppered with a lack of sleep.  Mental overtraining, on the other hand is an entirely different story.
Mental overtraining, in my opinion, is what happens to most people who think they are overtrained.  Factors which can lead to mental overtraining are abundant, and likely differ from one person to the next.  Boredom with a routine, for instance, can often make you feel like you’ve reached a plateau, when the reality is that you could simply push harder and still make gains.  There’s a lot to be said for the mental aspect, however, as that’s where our true desire and motivation comes from.  If you’ve reached a point of feeling overtrained, but have no physical evidence of it, you’re very likely just burned out.

All is not lost, however, and it certainly doesn’t have to be long-term.  There are several things you can do to quickly dig yourself out of a rut.  Here are just a few simple suggestions:

  • Add variety.  Change things up! Either give your routine a complete overhaul, or make less daunting changes like adjusting exercise order around, adding a new exercise or just replacing a stale one.  You can also add intensity techniques, such as drop sets, supersets, rest/pause, forced reps, partial reps or any other number of techniques which will quickly eliminate boredom.  A little extra muscle burn can go a long way.
  • Get a partner.  If you train alone, it’s even easier to fall into a rut because you have to rely on yourself alone to keep your motivation up.  Even if it’s only for one day or one week, try to get someone else to train with you. Plus, you might just come away with some other good training ideas from them.
  • Rest!  Oddly enough, this is the easiest thing to do, and yet the most “dangerous.” It’s a choice which requires you to be fully honest with yourself.  If you truly have reached a point of mental overtraining, where your motivation has been very high, and suddenly drops off, a day off from the gym or doing something else which is active, but doesn’t involve your normal routine, can work wonders.  If, however, you simply suffer from generally low motivation on a regular basis, a day off can quickly become two days and then a week and so on… A day of rest isn’t an excuse to be lazy, but rather a chance to fully recharge.  Unless I’m genuinely physically overtrained, I still try to do something active on one of these “rest” days, simply to keep myself from the downward spiral of lethargy which can result.  Of course, sometimes a full day off from any activity at all is it’s own reward, but use rest as a tool, not an excuse.

That’s just a short list of a few ideas which may help you quickly get out of a state of mental overtraining.  There are dozens of others, and if you’ve got any which have worked particularly well for you,  please feel free to comment and share with others.

About the Author
Jonathan Lawson has been working in the health and fitness industry for over 20 years; weight training for 21 years, competed in numerous bodybuilding competitions, worked for IRON MAN Magazine for 17 years, co-owns X-Rep.com where he has co-published over 15 e-books and writes a daily training blog.  He has appeared on the covers of, and been featured in, dozens of international magazines, books and e-books.

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