Muscle Building Mistake #6: Undertraining Syndrome

By

Vince Del Monte, WBFF Pro Fitness Model, Certified Fitness Trainer
and Nutritionist and author of No Nonsense Muscle
Building.

Everyone is familiar with “overtraining syndrome,” which is a real problem with negative side effects but the truth of the matter is that 99% of people will never even come close to experiencing the true definition of overtraining!

In fact, sports scientists are overwhelmingly concluding that individuals will never reach a true overtraining state. Research on elite athletes has found an ability to tolerate a threefold increase in training volume for up to three weeks. Think about that for a moment. A threefold increase in training volume, not for a single day or week, but for three weeks straight! I tripled my training volume while at Charles Poliquin’s 5-Day Hypertrophy Bootcamp (15 workouts in five days) and felt like George St. Pierre’s punching bag. I couldn’t imagine repeating that for an additional two weeks! Again, it’s extremely hard to reach a truly overtrained state.

Overtraining vs Overreaching

Losing your appetite, altered sleep patterns and change in mood are often a reflection of overreaching, not overtraining. Do not confuse the two. Overreaching or overwork means a short period of increased work that deliberately exceeds your abilities. It’s an intentional stress that is placed on your body for a brief period of time followed up with a period of undertraining or deloading to allow for a greater super compensation after-effect, as opposed to periods of normal training. You can recover from overreaching after one or two weeks. It took me approximately seven days of doing nothing to recover from the 15 workouts in five days.

Overtraining has been blown out of proportion for commercialism…

Overtraining certainly exists (primarily in endurance athletes, not bodybuilders) and can absolutely hinder your progress, which is why we introduce deload and recover weeks. However, over the years I’ve watched the concept of overtraining become blown out of proportion and distorted. Most exercise gurus are capitalizing on the desires of lazy people looking for an easy way out with messages like, “Train more than 3x a week and you’ll overtrain.” Really? This type of marketing  has created a generation of lifters more concerned with how much rest to take rather than how much training to perform. Most people who discuss overtraining are using it to justify not working hard, instead of working harder.

 I, personally, have never met someone overtrained in my 10 years in the business…

Take it for what it’s worth but, have you? Sure, I have had clients who express feeling of staleness in their workouts and even use terms like, “I feel burned out…” However, that’s nothing that one or two weeks of rest and good nutrition can’t fix. Now that we know that a truly overtrained state is a fear we can throw in the dumpster, it’s time to address a bigger problem:

Undertraining Syndrome

I believe that most people are lacking progress due to undertraining, not overtraining. Although there are no “negative side effects,” undertraining can take a toll on your motivation and self-esteem. Here are the biggest culprits of undertraining:

  • Rest periods. A beginner can stick to a generous 90-second rest period between sets and get bigger – to a point.
  • Intensity (as defined by how close you are to your 1RM). A beginner can improve his bench without doing reps lower than his 6RM – to a point.
  • Frequency. A beginner can gain weight training only three times a week – to a point.
  • Tempo. A beginner can ignore lifting speed and gain size – to a point.
  • Volume. A beginner can build his arms with only six sets per workout – to a point.

Adaptation = Stagnation

All in all, if more overall work is not achieved, your body has no reason to progress. When most people sign up at the gym, they should ask for the “social membership,” not the “gym membership” because their workouts revolve around 20-30 minutes of sub-intense training, lots of resting and deciding which exercises to do based on where the cute girl is going next. On top of this, every few weeks they go missing in action, so they lack consistency. These types of people are undertraining and never see any real results. This approach never gets the job done.

Failing to manipulate your loads, rest times, tempos, duration and frequency is the fastest way to undertrain. It’s about perioidzation and if you’re not using it, you’re swimming upstream without a paddle! Case in point – every single athlete that recently competed in the 2012 Olympic Games used some form of periodization, which simply means to plan. No one here will probably make the Olympics but there is still a lesson to be learned.

You don’t arrive at the gym and bench press 315 pounds. You design a plan preparing you to lift 315 pounds. You don’t just commence “high volume training.”  You cycle an HVP (high volume phase), an MVP (medium volume phase) and an ELVP (extremely low volume phase). Anything else is a Dummies approach and the Dummies approach is simply dumb.

It’s very hard to get leaner, stronger and bigger by accident. Progression is the name of the game and many people are just hoping that showing up to the gym is enough to progress. It might have been when you were 16 years old but for many of you, those days are long gone my friend. Without progress, you will be undertraining and have little to show for your “social membership,” I mean gym membership.

Self-Check Time

It’s time to be honest with yourself. How far have you come in the last few years? Some of you are nodding your head with pride and good on you! Most likely you’re following some form of periodization and are experiencing the fruits of your labor. Keep rocking. Some of you are realizing that you’ve been doing the same number of reps, sets and weights for months, maybe years without changing anything. Maybe you’ve changed a few variables but your frequency, duration and intensity haven’t changed. The ultimate self-check is to look in the mirror – that will tell you very quickly if you’re undertraining.

5 Tips If You’re Suffering From Undertraining Syndrome  

  • Train your weak body part twice a week. On a five day split, you could do this Monday and Friday.
  • Start wearing a stopwatch and reduce your rest periods by 15 seconds every set.
  • Start following a tempo — a 3 or 4 second negative on most of your lifts will instantly extend your sets.
  • Start training each body part twice a day – an Intensification workout in the morning and an Accumulation workout in the evening for the same body part. We teach this protocol only to our Hypertrophy M.A.X. members.
  • Get someone to write out your workouts. Either hire a personal trainer or follow a periodized program like No Nonsense Muscle Building. Get on the Waiting List for Hypertrophy M.A.X. when it reopens December 18th — the most epic 12-month periodized muscle-building program in the galaxy. Yes, in the galaxy.

 

Conclusion

The only time undertraining is acceptable and encouraged is for planned deloading/recovery weeks. Other than that, say “NO” to undetraining.

Let me know your thoughts and comments below, OK? Do you agree with me? Are you tired of hearing about overtraining? Is overtraining blown out of proportion? What are signs for you that you’re undertraining? 100 comments below before I post the next mistake!

==> Don’t forget to VOTE for the $1,000 Transformation Contest Winner. These pics are INSANE!

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Muscle Building Mistake #6: Undertraining Syndrome , 4.7 out of 5 based on 3 ratings

Comments

23 thoughts on “Muscle Building Mistake #6: Undertraining Syndrome

  1. I very much enjoy your blog here, thank you so much you have helped me out greatly Smile spread the love.

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  3. This blog is really entertaining as well as factual. I have found many helpful things out of it. I ad love to come back again soon. Thanks a bunch!

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  4. Fascinating post!
    I do find the only times I truly am overtrained, is when I’m doing lots and lots of cardio. Although primarily a bodybuilding, I also do some endurance events – marathons, century bike rides, etc. Endurance events are infrequent, but if I’m running big weekly miles in addition to my time in the gym for example, sometimes I do overtrain.

    Otherwise basically never happens

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  5. I recently started what I call and “9-day split” with 3 days on, 1 day off, 3 days on and 2 days off. I work each body part approximately twice a week, but I put the focus a on a particular body part each work out. For example, I may have my Chest and Triceps workout on Monday, with the emphasis on chest movements, and on Friday I’ll put the emphasis on triceps. I’ve found that my muscles are becoming tighter and harder and not neccesarily growing in size as much. The weights I use have gone up 10 to 15 pounds each workout so I like seeing that, but I will probably only do this split for another week or two just to break the plateau I recently faced. I personally am a mass freak and would like to pack on as much size as possible but this workout isn’t exactly doing what I need it to, but I encourage anyone trying to cut up to try it out.

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    • Funny Nik, that was my routine years ago & it worked out great for me, in fact I did pretty consistently for many years, with an extra day off here & there (after 3 in row) if needed. But, coming from a power lifting background, I alternated all of my compound lifts (bench, squat, dead, etc) with lite & heavy days. The heavy days: max. weight, lower reps in pyramid style after my 2 days off (start of cycle). So bench on Mon was heavy (5 working sets, up to 3 rep maxes), and Friday was 4 working sets of 8 reps approx. 75 to 80% of my max. bench weight. I gained strength, size, definition, pretty much everything I wanted. Oh, and not a single supplement, although I did snack on hard boiled egg whites.

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  6. Awesome post Vince, you make a lot of great points. I have noticed over the years that the fear of ‘overtraining’ cripples way too many people.

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  7. Training 6 days a week (like 10 – 12 hours total) doesn’t get me overtraining syndrome. However, compound that with school deadlines and stimulant-based fat burners (or any kind of stimulants that are strong enough) totally get me into adrenal fatigue. So I just know to at least remove one of the things that put a load on my adrenal (e.g. train 5 day a week instead of 6 if I have a deadline and am taking fat burners).

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  8. Hey Vince, great article as usual! I’m competing in my first competition even this weekend, and am super excited. Your articles, and workouts like the wave loading, and 6-12-25 protocols have played a huge part in my preparation. Thank you so much! After the competition I’m excited to start bulking again though. I’m going to try German Volume Training… any tips for that?

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  9. I got caught in the “overtraining” game and it hurt me badly. Now I’m doing 3 workouts a day 5 days a week and finally see some good results.

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  10. Vince, Spot on as they say in Aussie land! I had been confused over overtraining. I like the limited OVERREACHING idea and will check it out. THANK YOU!

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  11. Hi Vince
    Excellent as always, and plenty for me to discuss with my trainer. It’s a Monday orning here so I’m feeling a bit brain dead and hope you can spell out for me exactly what you mean by the two following points. I think I get it just need some clarification.They both come from the section on Undertraining Syndrome.
    “Intensity (as defined by how close you are to your 1RM). A beginner can improve his bench without doing reps lower than his 6RM – to a point.” Does this mean the bigger gains come from working at smaller than 6rm?
    “Tempo. A beginner can ignore lifting speed and gain size – to a point.” Do you mean I should be slowing the pace?
    thanks
    Andrew

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    • When Vince says to a point, he means that you can only do that for so long, then you have to change things up (sets/reps/tempo/rest periods etc.).

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  12. Hey Vinnie,
    I am a newbie to your system. And am reading everything I can get my hands on. Back in 2007 I was 44 and about 215 lbs at 28% b.f. I’d tried many things and final found a system that helped me loose about 45 pounds. This system consists of 6 days a week of training combined with a solid clean eating program. But as good as it has been and as good as I feel I am ready to take it to the next level. As a kid I was always skinny as a rail. Now that I’ve turn back the clock and gotten into decent shape I’m ready to bring it to the next level. I read what you wrote here and my question really boils down to this question, isn’t it true your body doesn’t grow and change during your workout but instead when you are resting? Is this a myth? I closely monitor my muscle mass on my fancy bathroom scale and the morning after a particularly tough legs and back workout I can see as much as 2 pounds of muscle LOSS. Could I be breaking down that much through catabolic action? How much does your muscle TYPE, fast, versus slow, versus type A / type B play into what the best most effective,training methods with work for a given person. I work out at home and have a set of 90 power blocks as my fundamental weight set. I’ve been thinking about getting an Olympic bar and some bumper plates but just don’t know if they are truly necessary to,take it to the next level. I need to study your exercise subsitution matrix to see what its going to take to move forward. My goal is to spend the rest of 2012 bulking and then start out 2013 with the mass I want and get really cut before summer hits next year when I’ll be turning 50!

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    • Hey Jerry,
      Congrats on your big transformation brotha! Now let’s talk about a few things. Yes it is true that you grow after you workout (providing you fuel your muscles), but the recovery/growth phase starts as soon as you finish your last rep for the day.
      When you have a hard workout, a loss in weight is NOT muscle. Most likely it is water loss due to sweating. It takes a lot more than one workout to lose even one 1lb of muscle mass.
      Don’t lose sleep over what type of workout you need to be doing to put on muscle mass. Get an INTELLIGENT trainer to write out a program for you, or look into one of Vince’s programs. 21 day fast mass, NNMB, and my personal favorite HypertrophyMAX are all excellent programs that WORK. Good luck bro! Keep up the good work.

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  13. Dear Vince,
    what does 1RM and 6RM means.I still don’t understand what is over-training and overreaching.I am 49years of age and I have trained till I was 30 then I left due to the demand of my profession, I have earlier practiced Tai Qwon do and is red1 belt which also can not regularly practice due to my profession( traveling on long tours)If I over train that is bring down my interval training routine my biceps have pain after training and it will carry on the alternate day when I have to train.
    I can not do my squats because after training with 30 kgs or more,in the night while sleeping I have cramps in my Hamstring muscles.Therefore I have taken over for cycling.I do some 5 Kms on alternate days up country, but this has not shown any development in my legs.
    I train at home, I have my bench and weights.I normally do on alternate days bench press, curls with bar and then with dumb bells for biceps.The other alternate days I exercise my triceps and shoulders by lifting bar bells and dumbbells.
    need your sincere guidance.
    Kind Regards,
    Amit T

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    • Hey Amit,

      1RM stands for 1 repetition max, or in other words, the maximum amount of weight you can lift for one repetition. 6RM would be the maximum amount of weight you can lift for 6 repetitions. So let’s say for example you are doing a bench press and you try to lift 200lbs and you can only lift it once. That would be your 1RM for the bench press.
      When you have overtrained you feel tired all the time, lack motivation, feel week etc. Most people never actually get to that point. Try weight training 3-4x per day for a month or two…you’ll know what overtraining is then.

      You are getting most likely due to a deficiency in your diet. Most likely you are lacking one or more of the following: Water (are you drinking 4-5L/day?), potassium and calcium are some of the more common deficiencies.

      If you have been training that way for more than 4-6 weeks, your body has adapted to that stimulus and you need to switch up your protocol. Have a nice day!

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  14. Thanks for writing such a great, informative and considered article Vince. Much appreciated.

    I recently asked you a question on this very subject on your facebook page, which you were kind enough to respond to, and hope I in some way contributed to you wanted to write about this topic.

    There are so many ‘experts’, including Mens Health, writing about the dangers of over-training, so it’s not suprising alot of people like me are concerned about it. I’ve also developed tennis elbow and strained a tendon in my wrist in the last 12 months and some people say these are caused by overtraining.

    Any ideas how to avoid things like tennis elbow from lifting weights?

    Aaron.

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    • Hey Aaron,
      Here are some recommendations Vince gives to his clients when the feel pain.
      1) Get it checked out! The longer you wait the worse your injury could get.
      2) Decrease the weight, tempo and ROM.
      Keep rockin it!

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  15. Vince you are a big truth everyone sees overtraining bad coaching is also a source of joy happiness all have their topic VS HIIT cardio LISS, High intensity low frequency vs. high frequency low intensity. I only planned on break when I have trained the week before I went on observations.

    And no one sees your diet your rest.

    the truth, I have a friend who trains triatltonista a competitive swimmer as a competitive runner, bicyclist and a strong and is in great shape.

    phelps training style my friend and was able to finish an Ironman 17 YEARS.

    For example, I would go to hell with your workout as I am a former powerlifter though my contraction fibers are intermediate but ta all depends on the person.

    I noticed that it worked fine 3 days of weights and 2 days of sprints one in the pool and another running. I train using all types of workouts as HIT and high volume.

    I also do sports in summer as a replacement to boring cardio.

    I love to train and makes me better my mood and concentration.

    Sorry for gramatic nice job.

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  16. I agree 100%, very well explained! Like the fact that you define certain concept such as overreaching and next time would like a definition of 1RM or 6RM. Thanks Vince

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    • Hey Jean,

      1RM stands for 1 repetition max, or in other words, the maximum amount of weight you can lift for one repetition. 6RM would be the maximum amount of weight you can lift for 6 repetitions. So let’s say for example you are doing a bench press and you try to lift 200lbs and you can only lift it once. That would be your 1RM for the bench press.

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