Overtraining Your Movement Pattern

First, I want to apologize for my long delay between blog posts. I have been more than a little busy as of late. Between work (I do have a regular “9 to 5” job), moving into a new house (and all that entails), and writing quite a bit of articles, my blog just took a back seat. (Speaking of writing articles, I now have an article in almost every issue of Planet Muscle, so that’s where you can find all of my latest stuff. And I now only write occasionally for Iron Man.)

With that out of the way, let’s get on with this blog post:

As regular readers of my material know, I believe that fairly high-volume, frequent training is the best (the quickest, the most result-producing) route to bigger, stronger, more (dare I say?) functional muscles. (It must be noted that this wasn’t always my opinion. If you read a lot of my early stuff in Iron Man – mid ‘90s to very early ‘00s – you’ll find that my training programs tended to be based around infrequent training. But all of that changed when I actually started performing high-volume workouts, and began to achieve fantastic results.)

So, basically, I think the whole “overtraining” thing is overdone. Here’s something from Christian Thibaudeau (which you can find in a previous post from last July):

One of the reasons why these people fail to train hard enough to stimulate gains is out fear of overtraining (which is often just a justification for laziness).

Well, let me tell you this: True overtraining is exceptionally rare. In all my life as an athlete and coach, I've only seen two real cases of overtraining, and in both the guys were Olympians training over 30 hours per week under tremendous psychological stress.

In reality, most elite athletes train over 20 hours per week, with some even hitting the 40-hour mark. Not all of this is strength training; speed and agility work, conditioning, and skill practices are also on the menu.

Before you throw the doping argument in my face, I've seen a ton of young athletes who were obviously not on drugs follow that type of schedule. I've worked as the head strength coach of a sports academy where kids ranging from 12 to 18 would go to school from 8:30 am to 12:00 pm, then train or practice from 1:00 to 5:00 pm every day. Their programs included daily strength work, agility training, and practices cumulating over 20 hours per week. None of them were overtraining; all of them progressed quite well.

Having said that, I think there are a couple of reasons why lifters often believe they’re overtrained. The first – and I’ve mentioned this elsewhere – is that they have a low work capacity. They’re simply not capable of frequent, intense, voluminous training because they have never placed demands on their bodies that would (eventually) allow them to perform such workouts. In more simplistic terms, the reason you get so sore from training everything once per week is, well, you only train everything once per week.

But there’s also another reason.

While it’s relatively difficult to actually overtrain, it’s relatively easy to overtrain your movement pattern. I believe this is the reason that the methods of Louie Simmons have been so successful. Westside Barbell understands this, and they make good use of it. This is also the reason why you can’t continually train heavy on the same exercise and make good progress. Your body grows too accustomed too quickly to the exercise, and another exercise needs to take its place. If you have attempted to train your bench press heavy (and by heavy, I mean sets of triples, doubles, or singles) on successive weeks, then you probably know this. The first week, everything goes well. The second week – especially if you’re new to these almost maximal loads – things go even better; you’re stronger. By the third week, however, you’re often back to your week one poundages. And if you attempt it for a 4th week, then you’re even weaker than week one. Well, technically you’re not weaker, but you are slower from training the specific movement pattern just too damn often.

Here’s another thing: depending on the exercise, certain movement patterns become more quickly overtrained than others. Let’s take powerlifting as an example. You can train the squat frequently for long periods of time. This is the reason that Olympic lifters can max out on this exercise every damn day (although I don’t advise training that extreme). But you can’t train the bench press and the deadlift to anything approximating the same frequency. You can train the bench press more frequently than the deadlift, but I still wouldn’t advise more than one all-out bench press session more than once per week. As for the deadlift: about one all-out session every two to three weeks seems to work well for most people.

But all of this is not to say that you shouldn’t train the muscles that you deadlift and bench press with frequently.

To make all of this very simple to understand, here’s the “in-the-gym” version of how to apply what you (may have) learned here:

• Build up your work capacity to the point that you can train with a fairly large amount of volume 4 to 6 days per week.
• Train your squat frequently. I think that 2 days per week will do fine.
• Train the muscles that you squat and deadlift with even more frequently. I think 3 to 4 days per week is ideal. Not all of this has to be weighted workouts – I love sled dragging, tire flipping, and farmer’s walks.
• On average, I believe that you should train your upper body three to four times weekly. Just make sure that the movement pattern is different at each workout. At every session, put the emphasis on a vertical push or pull movement and a horizontal push or pull movement. That’s 4 different movement patterns for each workout.


  1. Then do you don't believe in the "Grease the Groove" concept of Pavel Tsatsouline ?

  2. Goering,

    Forgive me for my long delay in this response.

    Yes, I do believe in "GTG" training. At least, I think it CAN be effective. I have written about it elsewhere on this blog.

    To be honest, however, after many years of experience, I no longer think it's the most effective way to train if you want to train with full-body frequent workouts. I think the kind of programs I recommended here to be more effective.


Post a Comment

Feel free to leave us some feedback on the article or any topics you would like us to cover in the future! Much Appreciated!

Popular Posts