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Overtrain to Gain

Overtraining is bad. We all know this. There are countless articles on avoiding the perils of overtraining, and rightfully so. As bodybuilders our obsessive drive often leads to prolonged periods of overtraining which wreaks havoc on our hormones. Muscle loss occurs and our bodies become more willing to store body fat when overtrained.

However, while prolonged periods of overtraining can be detrimental to your health and physique, short, structured periods of programed overtraining, known as overreaching, can help push your body to new limits and break through muscle-building plateaus. Technically overtraining is the prolonged act of overreaching without adequate recovery. There is no exact science on how to overreach without overtraining and it is very easy to cross that fine line.

Programming periods of overreaching is common practice among athletes and leads to “supercompensation.” Supercompensation is the rapid accumulation of favorable adaptations which occur after a short period of increased work volume and intensity. So for the powerlifter, this means more strength from a higher motor unit synchronization; for the marathon runner there is an increase in muscular and cardiovascular endurance; for a bodybuilder we are hoping for an increase in muscle tissue. If the workload is not decreased appropriately no supercompensation will occur and symptoms of overtraining set in.

As long as you are eating plenty of calories and getting plenty of rest, this four week protocol could be exactly what’s needed to get your physique out of its rut.

Before You Start

It is very important that you are not already borderline overtrained before starting this protocol. If you are doing a high volume per workout (20+sets) or reaching failure on multiple sets then you will need to do 2-4 week deload where you cut the volume down and lower the intensity. Start increasing caloric intake the week before you start your overreaching program.

The majority of this increase should come from good complex carbohydrates and it’s vital that you are in a caloric surplus during this time period to maximize recovery. Do not attempt this program during a cut. You must also be able to sleep 7-9 hours a night uninterrupted. Sorry insomniacs and new parents; this program is not for you. Also if you are new to the gym and have fewer than two years of training, stick to the basics and wait to try this until after you have a solid foundation.

The right supplementation will also be vital in order to successfully walk that fine line between overtraining and overreaching. Testosterone levels often begin to fall when overtraining occurs, so supplementing with Sheer Alpha Testosterone can help you push yourself to the limits while maintaining healthy hormone levels.

As mentioned before, proper sleep is key to achieving adequate recovery. Sheer Sleep will help you if you have trouble falling asleep and promotes a deeper more restful nights rest. Poor sleep and lowered testosterone are two obvious signs of overtraining. A third is loss of energy and motivation in the gym. Sheer Pre Workout will get you amped up for your intense workouts and provide skin-splitting pumps as well. Make sure to take Sheer Recovery post workout to help recover faster and build new muscle.   

This protocol can be used for any training program. All that matters is that the principles stay the same. Every week a progression is introduced to push your body to the point of overreaching so that supercompensation can occur.

Week Progressions
1 Lower rest periods to 30-60 seconds. Increase total workout volume by 20-40%
2 Increase total workout volume by another 20-40%
3 Achieve total failure by incorporating an overload technique on the last set of every exercise.
4 After a proper warmup proceed to hit failure and incorporate an overload technique on every set of workout.


Crank Up the volume: The Loading Phase

The first two weeks of this overreaching protocol are aimed at increasing your total workload capacity. This means you are trying to get more done in the same amount of time. Right off the bat shorten rest periods to the 30-60 seconds mark, perhaps 90 seconds for compound lifts like squats and deads.

Also, the first week total volume will be increased by 20-40%. For example, let’s say that your split targets back and biceps together twice a week. 12 sets for back and 8 for biceps. The first week you decide to increase the volume for back and biceps by 25% each. So instead of doing 12 sets for back and 8 for biceps, you now do 15 sets for back and 10 for biceps. If you repeat this process and increase the workload by another 25% for week two, you would perform 19 sets of back and 13 sets of biceps.

When increasing volume you can either introduce new exercises or add sets to existing ones. Perhaps the first week, introduce a new exercise and then the next week increase the sets of every exercise performed by 1. You could also do it the opposite way; it doesn’t matter as long as you hit 20-40% increases each week. Where exactly on that spectrum you fall will depend on the volume of your current training program, and on your lifting experience. You may also choose to go higher in that range if you’re trying to bring up a lagging body part.

During this loading phase the weight used must be submaximal, i.e., don’t lift until failure. Try to finish with one rep to spare. The workout time should stay close to the same, although small increases are fine, the work rate itself should not slow down. In order to help keep workout times down, incorporate a variety of supersets to eliminate or shorten rest periods.

Bring the pain: The Intensification Phase

While intensity techniques that do not take you past failure (like supersets) are fine to incorporate during the loading phase, the intensification phase will focus on pushing your body past failure through a few “overloading’ techniques. An overload technique is a way to force your muscles to continue to work after reaching failure. If you are an advanced lifter you can combine multiple overloading techniques together

Overloading Techniques

  • Forced Reps: Once you hit failure, continue to lift for another 1-4 reps by having your partner help just enough to help you finish the lift. Some exercises allow you to perform forced reps without a partner like single arm preacher curls.
  • Rest Pause: This is a great technique if you have no spotter. Once you have reached failure rest for 5-15 seconds before continuing the exercise for as many reps as possible until reaching failure again.
  • Extended Set: This is a way to push past failure by increasing your mechanical advantage as you get more fatigued. For example, start with a steep incline, drop to a slight incline, then drop to a decline dumbbell press as failure occurs. Try to take as little rest as possible when transitioning.
  • Isometric hold: Adding an isometric hold is a great technique to finish off an overloaded set. It’s done by simply holding an isometric at the toughest range of motion possible once your muscles have reached failure. Take the bicep curl for example. Once you realize you will not be able to finish the rep, hold an isometric curl as long as possible with the weight as high as you can.
  • Partial Reps: Just because you reach failure at a full range doesn’t mean you can’t squeeze out a few more repetitions at a partial range. For example. if you can no longer lock out at the top of a chest press, continue to perform partial reps until you fail in that range as well.
  • Cheat Reps: When cheating is done right it can be a good thing in the gym. For example, you are performing upright rows and have hit failure. By getting a slight hinge and thrust from your hips you can keep cranking out a few extra reps.

The first week you will only apply the overloading techniques to the last set of every exercise. Think of it as a “challenge set.” The 4th week, every set becomes a challenge set. That’s not to say that you have to go nuts and throw every technique and the kitchen sink within a single set.

Some sets may only use a 10-second isometric hold at the end while another set may incorporate forced reps, then a rest pause followed by partial reps finished with that 10-second hold. Again it depends on the muscle groups you believe to be lagging and your training experience.

Wrap Up

Tailor this program to your needs. Increase intensity techniques and volume on lagging muscle groups. Make small changes and easier overload progressions if you are less advanced.  Also keep in mind that when you increase volume and intensity at this rate, injuries are more likely to happen. Even though you are pushing yourself, make sure to keep form tight and avoid movement compensations.

After you finish this four-week run, make sure to go through a “deloading” phase of at least four weeks where you take out the overload techniques and scale the volume down to lower than you even started at. This is when supercompensation will be occurring so we want to stimulate the muscles without destroying them. Wait at least eight weeks before attempting this overload protocol again.

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