By: Mike Collette (Owner of Prototype Training Systems)

A member asked me in an email:

“How do you determine when it’s too many days per week aka overtraining? Sometimes I feel like it’s helpful to come in really sore and get things moving and other times I do that and I feel completely drained…not sure if it’s age-related but lately I’m having a hard time telling the difference between good soreness and overtraining…”

This is such a good question and something we get asked quite a bit at Prototype so as part of my 30 Days of content challenge, I wanted to address this!

I used to think that being sore was the only way to tell if you got an effective workout or not. Remember the phrase back in high school, “no pain, no gain!”? That certainly applies to the concept that if you workout, you should be sore afterward. But the question I want to propose to you is if you workout and you’re not sore, was it a good workout?

There are a 5 major things I want to here:

1.) What is soreness? What is DOMS?

2.) The SAID Principle

3.) Repetitive Strain

4.) Rest

5.) Additional factors

To give you some context into what soreness is, it’s ultimately a response your body gives you that your muscles have broken down and you have done something it hasn’t accommodated to. After we exercise, we can create microscopic tears/damage to our soft tissue. That damage can potentially cause soreness. Typically, after you work out or the days following, that soreness is referred to as DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness). DOMS can last a day or two or even up to 5 depending on the level of stress you put on your body!

There is more than stress/strain that goes into soreness as well. It ultimately comes down to the SAID principle which stands for Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands. The SAID principle, simply put, is that your body adapts to the stress that you put on it. So the more repetitive, consistent stress you put on your body, your body is resilient enough to adapt to it, not giving you the same response gradually.

The easiest way to think of this is running. If you run 1 mile at the same pace every day, it might be hard the first few times and you may be sore the first few times. However, over time your body will be used to it. But if you turn up the speed, add in hills or change your tempo, doing something your body may not be used to, it can feel differently.

Another example of how soreness works is a personal one. I workout 5 days per week and do some pretty intense training at Prototype. I lift weights, run, jump, sprint, jog… basically movements that would enhance my athletic capability. But I can go play 3 hours of basketball and the next day I may not be able to walk because I’m so sore. Did I look like LeBron James out on the court? Probably not. Did I work and do something that my body isn’t used to? Definitely. Am I sore? You bet. Why? BECAUSE I NEVER PLAY BASKETBALL!

A better example that you may be able to relate to is if you do 100 Wall ball shots (everyone’s nemesis!) your body may or may not be sore the next day. You will most likely be sore if you do 100 wall ball shots in a row. You may not be as sore if you do 10 sets of 10 wall ball shots with :20-:30 seconds rest between each set. You may even feel completely fine the next day! The same total volume, same exercise, and heck, the 10×10 may take you just as long to do 100 wall ball shots without resting! 

The concept here is the repetitive strain without rest. Rest ultimately is what allows your body to recover (that’s why sleep is so important!).
These workouts, even though they’re the same, the strain is different. Your body responds differently to volume. If you’re not used to doing 50 wall ball shots in a row without rest, your body hasn’t accommodated to that type of stimulus and it may respond with some more than normal soreness.

So how do you know what is good soreness and when you may need to rest more? I hate these responses but ultimately the answer is, it depends. Being sore is a response, not necessarily a bad thing. However, if your body is constantly aching, fatigued, tired and chronically in pain then something else may be going on. The concept of “overtraining” gets thrown around a lot with chronic soreness and overuse. 

Overtraining is essentially a physiological state caused by an excess accumulation of physical, psychological, emotional, environmental, and chemical stress. The good news is you’re probably not overtraining. In fact, it’s really hard to over train. There are Olympic athletes that train 20+ hours a week and don’t overtrain. If you’re training 4-6 hours per week you’re more than likely totally fine, just focus on your sleep and recovery!

What may be the issue is how you’re recovering from your training sessions and as a result, you’re overtaxing yourself. Some additional factors that relate to increases in soreness from your workouts outside of sleep and rest are:

1.) Hydration-Dehydration

2.) Nutrition

3.) Additional stressors

So you need to ask yourself a few questions: 

Are you giving your body the TLC it deserves after those 1 hour intense training sessions/workouts? 

Are you getting 7-8 hours of sleep a night?

Are you eating enough food throughout the day? How about your protein intake?

Are you drinking enough water throughout the day? Especially on the hot ones!

Are you doing a lot of unstructured physical activity that is causing more strain than you realize on your body?

Are you drinking too much alcohol? THIS PLAYS A MAJOR ROLE IN SORENESS!
Those are a lot of questions, but outside of the actual training session, there are additional factors that you need to consider.

Looking to improve your recovery? Talk to one of your coaches today to get the best prescription for you with a free goal review session. We are here to help and serve you the best we can, just ask! Use the link below to talk with a coach today!