Back in March at the Paleo FX conference (get DVDs here), I sat on a panel entitled Exercise vs Activity, moderated by Skyler Tanner. After the event, I interviewed Clifton Harski from MovNat about opportunistic training (and how to wear a deep v-neck t-shirt). Today, I bring you an interview with Dr. Michael Hartman, who is a Sport Scientist, and recognized expert in overtraining and recovery. Dr. Hartman earned his Doctorate in Exercise Physiology and has previously worked as a Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coach and Sport Scientist at the US Olympic Training Center where he was a member of the inaugural USA Weightlifting Performance Enhancement Team.
At Dan’s Plan, we encourage everyone to maintain a physical activity level sufficient to support health. However, we also encourage people to periodically dedicate additional effort towards a “movement mission,” which involves smart preparation to perform well at a physical challenge of interest (e.g., a ‘fun run’ with family, a triathlon, a dance competition, an after-work basketball league, etc). Given your knowledge of how to work with high-level athletes, what would you tell the non-professional athlete to help us train intelligently?
Regular physical activity is essential to improve and maintain health. It is not one workout, or one week, or even one month of training. Improving and maintaining health requires consistent activity over a lifetime. This is why I really like the idea of the “movement mission,” it implicitly emphasizes regular activity for health, but also allows someone to ramp up effort periodically to get better at a physical challenge that interests them.
A common problem I see with the dedicated but non-elite trainee is trying to do too much on top of what is necessary to maintain health. I use an analogy for work capacity as seats on a bus: once the seats are filled, the bus cannot safely transport more people. In the short term, you may be able to cram in an extra person, but it’s not a real solution because something is going to break. Training is similar. You may get away with over exercising for your current level of fitness, but you should assume that something is going to break if you keep over doing it. Additionally, over exercising is simply not the best approach to generate improvement. Again, the “movement mission” concept allows someone to put extra effort into their training now and again, without sacrificing the priority of consistent activity. In other words, don’t try to go all out all the time.
To relate this back to working with athletes, think of team sports where athletes cycle training emphasis across the year. For example, conditioning is needed In-Season so it is the focus prior to the start of competition (i.e. Pre-Season). The majority of the Off-Season is built around training strength, speed, and power. Everything is trained throughout the year, but the training emphasis shifts to the specific goals of the respective season. Similarly, non-athletes can cycle between regular physical activity and specific training for periodic performance goals.
Some days, you don’t feel like exercising but once you get started, you feel great. Other times, you just aren’t feeling it that day. Different approaches are to push through or make adjustments on the fly. What approach do you prefer for the non-professional trainee, and what are some signs a person can look for to help them know what to do during times like this?
Good question. If I’m working with an individual who was just not feeling it that day, I recommend taking a step back, reducing the training volume (number of sets and reps) or intensity (amount of weight they are using), and focus on having a quality workout at a reduced load: don’t do a lot, but do a few movements well, then pack your bag and head home. Live to fight another day. Too often, motivated individuals feel the need to stick with a plan regardless of how they feel, but often times it’s best to make adjustments. There is a component of personal responsibility here so ask yourself “what is going to be best for me over the long run?”
It is also important to note the differences between general fatigue (e.g., having a lousy day) and full-blown overtraining. Overtraining is a chronic condition that may take weeks or months to develop. Just because your numbers are down following a week of hard training does not mean you are overtrained, it simply means you are fatigued. Now, if your abilities stay suppressed for a period of 2 to 3-weeks, and fail to recover despite a reduction in workload, suspect overtraining.
Here are 7 key signs your are overtraining:
- A greater effort is required for a standard movement;
- It takes longer to recover between workout sessions;
- You have chronic muscle stiffness and soreness;
- You have a chronic sense of fatigue;
- You have altered appetite and/or sleep patterns;
- You notice unfavorable changes in body composition despite similar nutrition-activity patterns;
- You develop chronic minor illness (cold, sore throat, persistent cough, etc.).
Your approach to fixing this will be different depending on a variety of things but it’s always smart to pull back the training intensity, focus on shorter, higher-intensity efforts and longer, low-intensity efforts (walking, hiking, yoga) and, of course, continue to listen honestly to your body. It may take time, but your body will let you know when it feels like pushing harder again. Remember, you’re in this for the long haul, so train wisely.
Thanks Michael. We really appreciate your input!
If you’d like to follow Dr. Hartman’s blog, be sure to check out his work here. Again, if you’d like to check out the DVDs of the Paleo FX conference, including the Exercise and Activity session that both he and I participated in, check them our here.