When most people hear the word “overtraining,” they figure it’s something they should be avoiding at all costs. But there’s an important distinction to be made between overreaching and overtraining. Advanced trainees who push themselves to the verge of overreaching — without going so far as to become overtrained — can show significant benefits when the method is used wisely.

Why Overreach?

It’s important that you push yourself on a continual basis in your gym sessions so that you see ongoing results. When you don’t provide your body with enough of a stimulus to shock it, it’s not going to feel the need to grow stronger. Most professional conditioning programs address this to some degree, ensuring continued results.

When you choose to overreach, you push your body that extra step in order to see significant results over a shorter period of time. When you overreach, you’re allowing your body to take on a much larger amount of stress over the course of a week or two, bringing yourself almost to the point of being overtrained. Just before you reach that point, pull back and stop training. This causes your body to go into supercompensation mode — your body grows back much stronger in supercompensation than it would if you were following your typical workout and rest routine.

Typically, overreaching is used for strength and size gains and should be used only once to twice per training year. Only overreach if you’ve been weight training for at least nine months.

Finding the Correct Workout Protocol

You can design your workout in one of two ways. If you’re looking to increase your muscle size, you will want to boost your reps up, while keeping the weight slightly lighter.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for strength gains, then you should increase your weight as high as possible, while staying within the lower rep range. Note that you may perform a higher number of sets with this lower rep range, thus still increasing total volume, but keeping the focus on lifting heavy. Continue to increase the volume for a period of one or two weeks total.

As time progresses, you should notice that you’re starting to become fatigued sooner during the workout; this is an indication that you’re at the state of overreaching. You’re reaching the borderline of overtraining, and you’ll want to stop immediately.

Other signs you’re at the overreaching stage include a longer recovery time after your workout, a post-workout appetite that’s different from usual (either larger or smaller), more severe muscle soreness than you’re used to, and waking up in the morning feeling not quite as refreshed as usual.

Identifying When It’s Time to Back Off

Once these symptoms set in, it’s time to back off from your training and take a full break for four to seven days. This is what allows the overcompensation period to occur, as the body will undergo an intensive process to recover from being pushed so far beyond its comfort zone. Once the rest period is over, you will be ready to resume the training program you were following before the overreaching was implemented.

Injury Prevention

It is vital that you don’t try to get back into your training program too soon after overreaching, as you won’t have recovered fully and you’ll risk injury. Throughout both the training and rest periods, focus on getting at least seven hours of sleep, hydrating yourself correctly and doing some passive stretching exercises to help release any tension in the muscles and increase blood flow. Be sure to watch your form as you increase the weight or volume, as form can sometimes falter in times of heavy fatigue.

Your Nutritional Game Plan

While overreaching primarily occurs due to the physical program you are following, nutrition does play a critical role in helping you maximize your results. Any time you hope to increase the volume or intensity of your workout, make sure that the nutritional support you require is there. You want to focus particularly on carbohydrate intake, as this is the macronutrient that will supply the energy for weight-lifting sessions.

Overreaching for the Top

If you’re looking for an enhanced training technique, keep planned overreaching in mind. By paying close attention to your body as you train to the limit and recognizing the signs that overreaching is setting in, you can back off your workouts in time to prevent negative side effects but still reap the benefits.

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