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I recently read an article at Flex Online called The Results of Overtraining. I’m somewhat dubious about whether the average person in the gym really can overtrain, but it’s a discussion worth having, especially since my Long Suffering Wife (LSW) is constantly worried that I’m a potential victim of overtraining.

To provide a little background, “overtraining” according to, is exceeding the optimum level of volume in working out resulting in loss of muscle mass, performance ability, and an increase in fatigue.

However, in order to overtrain, your workout volume has to be pretty much through the roof relative to your capacity and physical condition.

So what’s “volume”.

Men’s Fitness Magazine compares training volume to the volume on a stereo. It can be too low to hear or so high it blows out your speakers. Ideally, you’re shooting for somewhere in the middle.

More directly put, volume is how long and how often.

But then again, that depends on your training goals.

If you want to get big and buff, use a moderate number of reps and sets and moderate weight.

To gain strength, raise the weight and reduce the reps.

Volume can be represented either by using moderate weights and overdoing the number of sets and reps, or using extremely heavy weights, even at reduced reps, if the workout last long enough. Additionally, high volume can be basically living at the gym, doing excessively long workouts (over an hour) multiple days in a row.

The classic overtrainer is the guy who is constantly at the gym but who never changes, or worse, who is getting progressively smaller and weaker.

The idea, again depending on what you are trying to accomplish, is to keep your workouts at less than an hour long and give yourself a minimum of every other day off, at least from weight training or whatever you do for resistance work.

So how can we understand overtraining what it does to a person?

This article states:

I guess I should explain how the two are related and how that applies to you. First off, being natural (roid free) you have about 45 to 60 min. in which to complete your work out before cortisol is released (cortisol breaks down muscle, bad stuff) and beyond that you will be on the verge of over training. So to get in a good workout that will stimulate your muscles to grow, you must finish your workout fast.

rest day
Photo credit: Fitness Exercises

I recently had a conversation on one of my blogs about the possibility of overtraining and something called deload week.

A deload week is simply a reduction in weekly training intensity (weight load) and/or volume (sets performed).

For example, if your training routine consists of five workouts per week of 70 to 80 reps of heavy, compound weightlifting, a deload week might cut the volume in half (35 to 40 reps) or dramatically reduce the intensity (work with 50 to 60% of one-rep max instead of 80 to 90%).

The Flex Online article cited a study using rats to provide support for overtraining being a real thing, and the suggestion to avoid overtraining was…

…to prevent overtraining, one should look into a blocked periodization-type program where volume is variable.

In other words, program a deload week into your workout routine.

And this is what I’ve done, more or less by accident.

When, at the end of week 6 in my 5×5 strength training routine, I was struggling to lift a 205 pound barbell off the floor for hack squats or a 225 pound barbell for deadlifts, I knew I needed an alternative to get stronger and break through my plateaus.

As my regular readers know, I chose an adaptation of actor Hugh Jackman’s workout when he was training for the most recent “Wolverine” movie.

jackman skull crushers
Photo credit: Hugh Jackman/Instagram

In my case, I start out light for a week and then for the next four weeks, work up to progressively heavier weights while reducing the number of reps per set (the number of sets remains a constant).

This is week 4 for me, and I’m doing 4 sets of 4 reps each for my lifts. Next week is the fifth and final week in this round when I’ll be doing 4 sets at 3 reps per set, lifting as heavy as I ever have, and, in some cases, heavier.

The following week, I’ll start all over using lighter weights and doing 10 reps for each set. Guess you could call it my “deload” week, and it seems like I’m already using a program where the “volume is variable.”

Deload week still requires working out and it still requires eating right. I’m hardly perfect in the food department, but I try to eat reasonable amounts of good foods. The food diary, while not being incredibly accurate in its calorie count, at least lets me keep a record of everything I put in my mouth so I don’t (most of the time) overeat.

It also tells me that something like a beloved pastrami sandwich can add over 500 calories to my daily intake BAM! just like that.

In other words, deload week isn’t an excuse to spend seven days as a junk food junkie and couch potato. It just means taking a load off, or most of it anyway.

While I’m thinking about it (and speaking of compression), I want to park some information here about Zercher Squats which I just read about at The Fit Controller blog.

After reading Tom’s write-up about his training session with “England rugby legend and all round super strong and super nice guy Mr Andrew Sheridan,” I became curious (even though Zercher Squats are not for squatting newbies, and I’m certainly a newbie) and did a little research.

zercher squat
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According to a video (see below) made by Buff Dudes, one of the advantages of Zercher Squats is relieving spinal compression.

As you might imagine, doing back squats where the barbell is resting on your traps, or front squats where it’s balanced across your front delts, puts a lot of weight on your spine. With Zurcher Squats, the bar is seated in front of you in the crook of your elbows at about midway down your torso.

Admittedly, Zurcher Squats have little or nothing to do with avoiding overtraining or deloading, but they do have the advantage of adding a little variety to the same old routine, giving your spine a break, and, on heavier weeks, ramping up your game just like this:

There’s a good chance that you’re not currently using the Zercher squat in your routine. It’s not an easy or particularly comfortable movement, but that’s what makes it so killer, we’re throwing ourselves off centre doing this. We are not only hitting our quads, glutes and hamstrings! Were also hammering our core, bringing the traps and upper back into the mix and even using our biceps! Thats right, we’re polishing our guns doing a squat!

Am I overtraining? I don’t think so. I’m continuing to see gains in both size and strength. However, I’m glad I chose a workout routine that not only challenges me to lift heavy, but also lets me back off of the weight and each my workout volume. I’m hoping this is the right mix.

Now as promised, “Buff Dudes” demonstrate a proper Zurcher Squat. Enjoy.

We become what we think about.

Earl Nightingale


One thought on “Decompression

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