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Muscle soreness and overtraining - Do you know the difference?

Are you worried or do people tell you that you’re overtraining when you experience muscle soreness during your first couple of weeks of training? If you are, you shouldn’t be and the people telling you that you’re overtraining are mistaken! It is important to know the difference between overtraining and muscle soreness and to remember that they are not the same thing.

So, what is muscle soreness? Let’s look at it in more detail. Delayed muscle soreness is a normal response to unfamiliar efforts that the body exerts. It is an important part of the body’s adaptation process if you want to improve strength and stamina within your muscles and to build hypertrophy (an increase in muscle size).

What type of exercises cause the most muscle soreness? Eccentric muscle contractions play a significant role in this process (Baechle and Earle, 2006). These are forcefully contracting movements while the muscle lengthens such as the downward motion of squats, pushups, and the lowering phase of a bicep curl.

Now, let’s find out more about overtraining! Overtraining is a condition that occurs when someone has reached a plateau in their training or has noticed a drop in performance over time. It can be the result of your body not being able to sufficiently recover from training before the next workout on the same body part. The main cause of overtraining is due to the lack of or failure to have rest days between sessions, returning to training too soon after an injury or from too many sessions per week.

Rest days, why are they important?

We all want to avoid injuries, hitting a plateau phase and we all definitely want to avoid a drop in performance and the solution is to prevent overtraining by incorporating rest days.

Incorporating rest days into your training regime is important and beneficiary not only for our muscle fibres to recover and replenish but to gain strength, muscle endurance and size. Injury is the first sign of fatigue in most situations in everyday life, whether it is too much work or too much exercise. Rest days are important because our bodies need to have a break in order to recuperate and improve.

Prevention is more desirable then a cue, therefore gradually increase training intensity, eating properly and getting adequate amounts of sleep are just a few things we can adapt in order to help reach our optimal physique, avoid injury and improve our overall performance.

To gain optimal results from our training sessions, why do our bodies require adequate sleep?

Let me explain… sleep is an important part of training as it serves many dynamic functions. In regards to weight training the two primary functions of sleep is growth (obviously) and mental alertness. In order words, while we are sleeping and dreaming away our body produces growth hormone (GH) and the protein synthesis (process of building proteins) takes place. Therefore without adequate sleep our bodies will fail to adapt and will not recover sufficiency from our training.

Adequate sleep can be hard for some people to acquire and some people are burdened with disruptive sleeping patterns, myself included! It is important to find out what is causing your restless nights because sufficient time in the gym could be, to a great degree, squandered due to the lack of recovery. After realising how much sleep I wasn’t getting I now make a conscious effort to get around 8 hours quality sleep every night to help promote growth, mental alertness and all round general health.

T, R, Baechle,. R, W, Earle (2006). Weight training: Steps to success (3rd edition). USA: Human Kinetics.