I really enjoying training, and feed off the momentum of a disciplined regiment, but sometimes I do it too much. Usually excessive intensity without sufficient recovery.
Here’s some strategies and tactics I use to to accommodate this addiction..
Shorter workouts, with a limited focus.
I enjoy full body training, and still prioritize compound movements (multi-joint exercises that engage multiple muscles), but I might focus on a single compound lift certain days, giving the other lifts a break.
Instead of doing three sets of five reps on the squat, overhead press, and barbell row, I might only do squats that day, knowing full well I’m going to be drawn back to the gym the next day, and can complete the other lifts at that time.
This has a couple of benefits.
Reduces the risk of overtraining.
Allows me to focus on a single lift.
Regardless of how you train, some lifts will get a priority in terms of CNS (central nervous system) resources. For example, if you were to cram eight exercises into a single workout, some of those latter movements will begin to suffer, even if you didn’t explicitly work those muscles yet. The CNS impacts all.
This is relevant if your priority is to build strength. It’s not only your muscles that need to be prepared and ready to execute a heavy deadlift or squat, but also your CNS.
Assess training over multiple days, rather than each single day.
I hate taking days off, but it helps to recognize the role that recovery plays in my week’s overall progression. Recovery is necessary for growth and injury prevention. Looking at it as an extension of training is helpful, psychologically.
Leverage active recovery.
If I get a few walks in during an day off, it reminds me that I’ve done something, but didn’t interfere with the recovery process. Instead, some very light walking likely helped it.
I prioritize multiple short walks versus a single, long hike, for example. This ensures I don’t go hours on end without moving. It keeps blood flowing to my muscles throughout the day, and avoids overexertion.
In my experience, it’s far more valuable to engage in frequent, light recovery, than a single, longer session. I’ve yet to discover a more effective way to reduce the symptoms of DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), than frequent, brief strolls.
Recovery Plus: Treat Yo’ Self.
I like to plan enjoyable recovery days as well. This still includes walking, but also cold exposure (cold pool, showers), sauna, stretching, and lots of healthy protein, water, salt, and anything else I might need.
Essentially, I treat myself like a pro athlete.
All these strategies have helped me…
✅ Reduce the risk of overtraining while maintaining momentum.
✅ Experience more enjoyable recovery days.
✅Achieve better results by ensuring my body is properly recovering and growing between strength training sessions.
Do you have any tactics that help ensure you aren’t overtraining?
One of the drivers motivating me to start this blog was my desire to improve my writing. Somewhere to post frequent writing on a topic that interests me, in this case fitness. At this point, Salt & Iron has viewership hovering close to zero, and that’s okay. Of course I want people to read these posts, engage with me, and hopefully take something of value away. But if that doesn’t happen, this project won’t have been in vain. Ultimately, I’ll still have gained the experience from crafting these posts.
I initially considered starting this project as a private google document. Something closer to a journal. In fact I wrote one entry before switching gears and deciding to post my writing publicly, though I honestly haven’t shared this blog with any friends or family yet, save my wife. So in a sense, the blog still feels somewhat private.
Like so many other domains, writing can be improved through consistent practice. Writing these posts gives me this practice, and the fact that a few folks might read them, motivates me to write them better (or so my theory goes). So, as often as I’m motivated to, I’ll post to this blog. Ideally that would be a few times a week, though preferably more.
For the past year or so I’ve been diligently stretching most evenings. Typically, if my wife and I were to go to our basement to watch an episode of say, Narcos, I’d make sure to spend a brief 5-10 minutes moving through a number of stretches before getting too comfortable on the couch. A small additional win for the day. Not much more than that.
I’m not here to tout the benefits of stretching, because honestly, I’m still not sure if there are any. In fact, some folks would tell you stretching should be avoided all together, and may even hamper strength gains, as an example. Regardless, I find there are certain positions where I wish I had greater ranges of motion and flexibility, so I engage in light work towards this goal. I’m not trying to become Gumby here.
I also take a minute after getting warmed up in the shower to perform some light stretches, and even while brushing my teeth. Actually, as I write this, I realize I’m stretching quite a bit, maybe too much? The point I’m trying to make is, you can layer in these healthy (depending on who you ask) habits to your day, without any significant disruption. I can now easily work through a five minute routine at the start of a Netflix show with little effort. While I had to consciously force myself for a number of weeks in the beginning, now it takes little to no willpower. It’s a just a given. Head downstairs, fire up Netflix, get into position. Easy.
The same is true when taking a shower or brushing my teeth. I have specific stretches I work on that lend themselves better to one area or another (I’m not trying to work on the splits in the shower, for example).
These are just small windows of time throughout the day where I can layer on additional, positive activities. Stretching is just one example. The activity doesn’t take any additional time over and above what I was going to do anyway. This fact alone makes the act much more likely to happen on a frequent basis. Nice.
Can we please take a brief moment to acknowledge one of the most impressive examples of athletic expression; breakdancing. Modern day b-girls and b-boys (female and male breakdancers, respectively) have been rocking backspins and windmills on cardboard and linoleum for small crowds for decades, and now have provisionally been given the world stage to show off their moves at the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics.
Breakdancing forms one of the four ‘elements’ of hip hop, along with emceeing, DJing, and graffiti writing. It’s come a long way from the days of Beat Street (a classic hip-hop themed movie from 1984, featuring some of the best breakers at that time). Today’s top b-boys and b-girls exhibit a collection of strength, explosiveness, range of motion, and even impressive cardiovascular conditioning, not seen in any other domain. I can’t think think of another athletic endeavor that demands so much of the human body in all these different realms.
I love breakdancing, so I geeked out a bit when I heard the news about its potential inclusion in the Olympics. I used to ‘break’ in high school. Actually I still attempt to from time-to-time, but the breaking I’m attempting at the odd wedding looks nothing like what the top dancers are pulling off these days. And slowly, but surely, my six-step (one of the more fundamental step patterns a breaker learns early on) has been slowing down every year, making my floor game increasingly painful to watch for the wedding guests. Luckily, I usually don’t hit the floor until late in the evening, sufficiently lubricated with alcohol.
Of course some hip hop purists will tell you modern-day breakdancing isn’t true to its roots, and scoff at the idea of including the dance on the Olympic stage. The reason leveled is that today’s breaking often resembles something closer to a gymnast’s floor routine. Actual dancing, to the breakbeat of a track, often plays second fiddle to power moves (referring to the more explosive, gymnastic-like moves). It’s a generalization, for sure. Yes, you see more and more gymnastic-type movements, but when a dancer does in fact combine those particular skills with ‘traditional’ breaking, you get something truly special. That’s peak breaking in my opinion, and still makes my jaw drop when executed by some dancers.
If you’re curious, I recommend you check out the video below for a taste of what modern day b-boying looks like. If you’re familiar with Red Bull, you know they are among the leaders in producing extreme sport content these days. Unsurprisingly, Red Bull now appears to be heavily involved in the b-boying scene, and puts on some of the larger competitions, like this BC One World Final from last year.
I’m excited to see how breakdancing will be treated at the Olympics. Like many other sports, there is a large subjective component to judging. And to be honest, it doesn’t feel like a sport that really belongs on the boring Olympic stage, but that’s likely the reason it’s now being included (along with other sports that happen to be more popular among younger demographics, like skateboarding).
At the very least, I’m hoping there will be a large segment of Olympic games viewers that will be in awe when they are first exposed to this incredible dance. If we’re lucky, the Olympics won’t suck the cool-factor out of breakdancing, but instead inspire a new generation of b-girls and b-boys to hit the cardboard.
Stress is part of life. We need stress. In the right dose, we strengthen our body and mind from exposure to stress. But what kind of stress are we actually talking about? And in what dose?
When we speak of stress, we can classify it in one of two categories; acute stress and chronic stress. Acute stress, for example, might result from your thirty minute deadlift session last Tuesday. For half an hour, you called upon your body to lift very heavy weights, relatively speaking. The demand was significant, but short lived. For the next six days, you allowed your body to recover from this event. Hopefully, if the dosage of stress was adequately high, but not so high that damage was inflicted, your body will recover and adapt, providing some small incremental improvement in performance, making the same lift easier next time.
Chronic stress, on the other hand, is characterized by longer, milder bouts. Say for instance five days out of the week you sit for nine hours at a desk. If you’re like most humans, this volume of sitting, often in comprised positions, can wreak havoc on your body. In this case, however, the damage may come slowly over time, and be difficult to reverse.
Therefore, stress can harmful or beneficial. It depends on the activity or event, and the dosage. Unfortunately, it seems that we humans are increasingly engaging in activities that entail chronic stress, and more and more limiting exposure to more beneficial, acute stress.
Limiting chronic stress can be difficult. For example, a bad boss can ensure your cortisol levels stay constantly elevated, with limited opportunities for recovery and general health. Perhaps Friday evening brings some relief, with a relatively relaxing Saturday. As Sunday evening approaches, thoughts of work start flooding your mind, where they will continue to occupy this space for next five days. This particular form of stress, and its resultant higher than normal cortisol levels, will be present for most of the week.
Where once upon a time humans would only encounter brief bouts of severe stress (i.e. predator approaching), we now encounter longer lasting – albeit seemingly less intense – chronic stress. Exactly what impact this is having on our health is difficult to ascertain, but at the very least we can confidently say this way of living is not healthy.
So what should we do?
Embrace the acute stress, limit the chronic stress. Simple in theory, but difficult in practice. We can’t all easily just quit our stressful jobs, but there may be other activities we can more easily limit, or remove from out life altogether.
For example, are you a runner addicted to clocking serious mileage every week? While exercise is beneficial, what dosages are we talking about? Is it really healthy to run 10 miles every single day? Is your body recovering from this effort? Of course the answer will be different for every person, but it’s important to note the dosage is what’s significant. We can’t just say “running is healthy” (or similarly, “lifting weights is healthy“). We have to quantify how much is healthy, how often, and at what intensity.
In order to maintain or improve our fitness, we must engage with acutely stressful activities on a regular basis, lest our body lose its ability to engage in these activities in the future. We want to experience extremes, safely. For example…
Strength Training: This involves temporarily stressing our muscles. This stress sends a ‘signal’ to our body to build more muscle, something most of us would agree is beneficial to our health and mobility. Without this signal, our body wouldn’t have a trigger to grow muscle. Why would it? If you never lift anything over 50 lbs, why would your body prioritize improving strength? It would be an inefficient use of resources in the world our ancestors inhabited.
Heat Exposure: For example, using a sauna for 15-20 minutes, three times a week. After time you’ll notice your body’s tolerance for the same level of heat will increase. You withstand the uncomfortable environment temporarily, then allow your body the requisite to time to recover. The next time you sauna, your body will be more adapt at withstanding the increased temperature.
Cold Exposure: If you believe the Wim Hof adherents, regular exposure to cold can improve your immune system function and help stave off sickness. While I don’t have any scientific literature to support this claim, anecdotally I’ve found this to be true myself.
For the last two years, I’ve religiously taken cold showers everyday, almost without exception. I aim for just sixty seconds, but that minute can feel like an eternity. My bouts with the common cold have been near zero during this period (an extreme rarity in my life). Whether it’s a result of the cold exposure or not, I can’t say with certainty. For the time being I’m a believer and will continue the self-inflicted daily torture.
Fasting: Fasting promotes a process called autophagy, whereby damaged cells are removed by the body to make way for healthier cells. In a world where many of us live with an overabundance of calories, the concept of not eating for a day can seem foreign. Likely however, our ancestors engaged in this activity on a regular basis (just probably not by choice). In the modern world, however, we need to actively forgo calories if we want to replicate this natural state. This disciplined effort alone likely has some mental benefits, too, aside from the physiological benefits of fasting.
And we can also look at fasting from another perspective. Limiting the constant intake of calories (three meals a day dontcha know!), removes what for many individuals can be a source of chronic stress. Food intolerance can be subtle. There may exist foods that you consume regularly that trigger some degree of inflammation (stress) on your gut. The simple act of fasting may reduce this nagging inflammation, allowing your body time to rest and recover.
And so I attempt to embrace the ‘good’ stress, while limiting the ‘bad’ stress. I expose myself to extremes temporarily, with sufficient time for subsequent recovery, and attempt to avoid the pervasive chronic stress that plagues modern life. And on that note, I’ve probably been staring at this computer screen too long. Time for a break.
I only really started training with a barbell regularly two years ago. Although I dabbled previous to this, I never engaged in any sort of disciplined, consistent training. And of course there existed years on end with little to no exercise at all, let alone any sort of barbell training.
Barbells have always been the domain of the Meat Head. Or that’s what I told myself. More likely the few power racks that I did have exposure to were simply too intimidating, and it was easier to convince myself the treadmill and some bicep curls were more than sufficient… nay better, than the what the idiots in the power racks were doing. They were just showing off. They were risking their health for aesthetics. Right?
Fast forward to two years ago. My interest in strength training was first piqued through exposure to Nassim Taleb (philosopher, statistician, author, bull shit detector, former trader) and reading about his experience deadlifting. Because Nassim Taleb took up this intimidating activity at a late age, and the fact that he doesn’t come from the health and fitness world, likely played a role in encouraging me to explore the domain further. I was curious more than anything.
Once I began to learn more about strength training, I was convinced it was something I wanted to introduce in my life, and sooner rather than later. The cost-benefit became clear. If I were to engage in a structured, safe, slow progression routine, this would benefit me more that many of the other common activities folks engage in to improve their health and mobility.
My goals were clear. Improve my strength and mobility using the minimal effective dose of stimulation. I wasn’t interested in slogging through grueling ninety minute runs every other day, only to lay up at night icing my knees. No, a few sets of heavy squats every few days (although grueling in their own right for the few seconds they take to complete), was far more compelling, and likely much more effective, at achieving my desired outcomes.
And so I lift. I train to pull hundreds of pounds off the ground in a safe, controlled training environment today, so that I might pull lighter weights off the ground, with less risk of injury, at an older age, tomorrow. I’m lifting today to help me continue lifting tomorrow.