What is the difference between overreaching and overtraining?
People casually toss around the term “overtraining” all the time.
Some people think they’re constantly being overtrained and blame their lack of progress on their self-proclaimed condition.
Others miss no opportunity to tell strangers on the internet that “overtraining is a myth” and that if you train and recover “hard enough” you can bust through any plateau.
What exactly is overtraining and how is it different than overreaching? How can we tell the difference and what can we do to prevent it?
Let’s start by going through each individual definition.
Functional Overreaching is a very common thing built into many training programs. A short-term increase in fatigue and a reduction in performance followed by a brief taper actually increases performance on testing, competition, or meet day. This type of overreaching is a necessary part of being an athlete and optimizing performance.
Next, let’s talk about Non-Functional Overreaching (a short-term reduction in performance that recovers fully but does not lead to improved performance and only after a sustained period of rest). This is a much more long-term state that can last weeks and even months, but recovering fully is possible with some rest in there. There might be some persistent psychological and mood changes accompanied by the performance reduction. Nonfunctional overreaching is confused with long-term progress so spending weeks or months in a slump is not really an efficient use of your training time. If we catch it early and we make adjustments, we can put the training back on the rails without much trouble before serious problems come up.
However, if either of these are left unaddressed, overreaching can metastasize into becoming overtraining.
Overtraining is a severe medical condition that is defined by multiple complex symptoms that last for months or even years. It can even end your athletic career.
When people think they are overtraining, they don’t realize how bad overtraining actually is and don’t consider whether it is actually possible to overtrain from lifting.
While overreaching and overtraining have been studied endlessly in endurance athletes, it has actually never been seriously investigated in the context of strength training. True overtraining is highly unlikely if it’s even possible for strength athletes and it is characterized by persistent symptoms made worse by outside life stressors (i.e. stress, sleep, protein consumption, reps & sets).
If you are feeling rundown, but not about to peak for a competition, you might be in nonfunctional overreaching and a deload period will actually help get you back on track.
If you feel like your progress has stalled, I highly encourage you to follow the algorithm created by Eric Helms. I show you in the video that helps you make decisions based on how you’re feeling in training.
Basically, this algorithm incorporates multiple training variables that are most likely contributing to your decrease in performance. These variables are things like your stress, your sleep, your protein consumption, and the amount of reps and sets you’re able to do in a particular training session as they compare to your lifts in the test.
It’s pretty easy to navigate and I feel that it’s pretty self explanatory so just screenshot it and keep it in your files!
To give you guys an example, let’s say your progress has stalled but you are sleeping A+ hours, you’re eating enough protein, you’re estimating RPE efficiently, and you’re training consistently with solid technique.