Overtraining – How Much is Too Much?

By Doc Goody
Knowing our audience of PT animals, this is probably one of the most important topics we’ll be covering. It has been engrained in your head and heart to push beyond pain, crank out the last few reps, then add a few for good measure and to strive for greatness no matter the cost. Hey, don’t let me stop you, get in line and give me some repetitions! I’m simply going to help you help yourself by providing some guidelines to avoid overtraining and becoming counterproductive.

So, PT phenoms, I hope you enjoy this read and benefit from the advice. 

The PT cycle is pretty simple, we push ourselves, recover, push harder, recover, increase reps, recover, get stronger, recover and simply repeat this process. But how much is too much? At what point am I hitting the benefit side of the spectrum and at what point am I simply hurting my progress by going too hard with certain exercises? If I’d only read this years ago when I was in my 20’s maybe I’d have made more progress, but instead I was a numbers guy. I would go to a field and crank out push-ups, pull-ups and other calisthenics until I couldn’t move, then I’d do a few more and I repeated this almost daily. If only the now me knew the then me and educated me!

When you conduct an exercise there is a certain amount of muscle tissue damage you incur. When the muscle tissues are damaged, satellite cells found on the outer layers of muscle tissue get to work by fusing together in an effort to biologically repair your damaged tissue and proliferate to the injury site. This often results in cross layering and of course, hypertrophy. After this occurs, some of the satellite cells remain as organelles and some will convert into muscle protein strands (myofibrils) creating new, thicker muscle tissue or a little something we like to call gains.

In other words, pushing yourself and damaging the muscle tissue is a necessary part of making progress and gains. That being said, the healing process is vital to making progress and pushing through the healing or over exerting your muscle tissue will harm the recovery process resulting in the exact opposite of your desired result and could potentially lead to rhabdomyolysis, a condition resulting from rapid destruction of muscle tissue and the release of protein into the bloodstream resulting in acute renal failure. Unless you’re a big fan of hospitals, excessive bags of sodium bicarbonate and not hitting your fitness goals, try and avoid this one and simply avoid overtraining.

How Much Is Too Much?

When it comes to calisthenics (aka bodyweight exercises), too many people make the same TWO mistakes:

1 – Calisthenics every day of the week (same muscle groups / exercises).

2 – Way too much volume, too fast.

Ca.  For instance:

If you can do 20 pull-ups, 80 pushups, 80 sit-ups – a good and challenging calisthenics workout would be 100 pull-ups, 400 pushups / sit-ups.  That may sound like a lot of reps to you – well it is!  And when you hit this kind of volume in a workout, you need to recover.  It is all relative, however.  So if you can only do 10 pull-ups / 40 pushup/sit-ups it is too much to do 50 pull-ups / 200 pushups / 200 sit-ups day after day after day.

I do have a TEN Day plan that works very well if you are trying to increase your max rep 2 min testing in pull-ups, pushups, sit-ups.  See links:

10 day Pull-up + 3 days rest = Day 14 Test

10 day Pushups + 3 days rest = Day 14 Test

10 day Situps + 3 days rest = Day 14 Test 

Calisthenics at a low volume several days a week is not a bad idea if treated like a dynamic warm-up for 5-10 minutes a day.  But, when people do hundreds of repetitions of pull-ups, pushups, dips, sit-ups, lunges, even flutter-kicks and other hip / abdominal exercises, there is such a thing as TOO MUCH.  Here is an easy way to fix both problems of daily PT and too many reps for your own good:

I call it the 5TIMES test.  Take your max 1 set repetitions (2 min time limit pushups / sit-ups) and multiply by FIVE.  Whatever that number is – that is a sufficient workout total repetitions for a day BUT not repetitive day after day after day

All are TWO -WEEK overload / specificity training programs that will help you increase your testing numbers.  Some have seen 100% increase is scores in 2 weeks.  You should only do this ONCE – then go back to a normal every OTHER day training program with calisthenics.

Still Too Much – Now if you are well above your 5x Max rep during a total workout too often, you will pay usually with some form of tendonitis of the elbow, shoulder/chest connections, or bicep connections (pushups, pull-ups, dips).  So take it easy on the 1000 rep workouts and 250 pull-ups workouts.  I am not saying you cannot push yourself every now and then and test those numbers but be smart and recover, rest, and go back to normal numbers / split routines of moderate reps in your workouts for a month of so before doing TOO MUCH again.

Your joints will thank you for it.

Doc Goody
doc goodyBIO: Shawn Goodwin, HM2 Navy Corpsman of 7 years with multiple deployments in both hostile and non-hostile zones. Deployed ISO 5th Group SF & 98th Division “Blacksheep” as medical augment.
Duty stations include:
-II MEF CBIRF (ISO Presidential Operations)
-Guantanamo Bay Cuba ISO HUMINT / Detainee Ops
-Command Fitness Leader


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