T Nation

Plateaus, Stalling, Can't Overtrain?


I have no clue as to which forum to post this question.

We do need a general fitness forum and a recipe forum, but to my question.

If you can't overtrain, why will progress stall? Thibs mentioned how he doesn't like to attack a diet program all out, the way Dan John suggests, as this leaves no way room to increase load or effort.

But if you can't overtrain, why can't you just kill it every time, why can't you just workout 4-hours a day?

Same thing with diet. Anorexics lose weight, folks with no food lose weight, why will fat people who reduce calories not lose weight? Yes I get that there is a massive loss of muscle. BUT, do you get my question?

I get that I am not understanding, which is why I hope someone can clarify this simply for me.


Progress stalls because the body adapts to the demands you make on it. So if you want to continue to make progress you must make progressively more and more demands on the body.

When on a diet, your body adjusts to the lowered caloric intake by not burning as many calories as it normally would. It resets your BMR to your new level of eating. So if you go on a crash diet, your body will adjust to the severely lowered caloric intake and you will have no room to lower calories any further.

Anorexics lose weight like gangbusters because they eat nearly nothing for months at a time. Your brain and organs require a certain amount of energy to survive, so your body will eat all the muscle and fat off of you to keep those things functioning.

EDIT: So Thibs is right in that if a person starts out doing 30 hours of exercise a week and drops their cals to 1200 then when their progress stalls they won't have much room to increase exercise or decrease cals.

But Dan John is also right in that most people will reach their goal before they stall unless their goal is to step on a stage in a banana hammock or a ridiculously overpriced bikini.


Thanks Steel Nation

So if I am understanding correctly, what happens is people that start out going at max-effort (really for them) probably burn out in a short time and probably not enough time for a payout of their efforts. They aren't overtrained, they are just underfed and not enough sleep, so they are more fatigued, than overtrained.

Regarding the calorie thing, people who starve do so on a longer basis than people who are stuck on a weightloss plateu due to low calories. And sure, you can lose weight but you would lose muscle.

So...the body adapts to intense effort and that isn't over-training?


As great as Thibs and any author your a fan of is keep in mind that most of the theories are just that, and not facts. His theory that he just put out on his article is taken within the simple context of training.

Many of the articles these guys write are how they feel relative to what they are talking about that day. What I mean is that both Thib and Shugart have mentioned that results of overtraining can be seen in the average person when not getting enough sleep, nutrients, and too much phsychological stress, but it the limited scope of strictly training there's no such thing as overtraining(or rather difficult).

My personal belief is that the body as well as life in general is a system of systems. The body especially can withstand a loose screw and still operate at a fairly decent constant equilibrium. In order to force a change you have to hit it with a significant change. NOT eating such as aneroxia is a significant change and will of course force the system to lose weight until it gets to a new equilibrium. People getting fat is a result of a significant change in overeating. While it may only be a few cookies, a few cookies represents a high density of calories. The same with training, if you train with too low intensity your body will not change much, since it really doesn't have to. But with a higher intensity level (either in difficulty or time) your body has to change the system to adapt.


Not exactly. CTs line of thinking is coming from a bodybuilding mindset, where the goal is to reach 4% bodyfat with maximum muscularity. In that case, going full bore from the start would be counterproductive because you could not sustain progress long enough to get to the 4% level without sacrificing a lot of muscle mass. So he employs the slow and steady, gradually dropping calories and gradually ramping up the volume of work being done. But you still don't exceed your body's ability to recover, which is what overtraining is.

Dan John's line of thinking is coming from an average Joe's mindset, where willpower is a finite thing and dietary compliance isn't something to be taken for granted. In this case going full bore for a month with the Velocity Diet twice a year will yield better results than the slow and gradual approach, because mentally the person can always say "this is only a month long thing and then I can go back to normal." In this case the body's ability to recover is also not exceeded.

In my opinion, they're both right because they're really speaking to different audiences.

Right, you can lose lots of weight by starving yourself, but at the cost of your health. If you're stuck on a weight loss plateau (EDIT: forgot to finish this thought) it is because your body is burning the same amount of energy that you are consuming on a daily basis. It has adjusted and now either calories must be reduced again or more calories must be burned in order for progress to continue.

Right. Adaptation to stress is NOT overtraining. Overtraining is an inability to meet the body's demands for recovery, or an overload of stress (same thing really).




Because the body adjusts to consistent situations to most effectively use the body's resources.

alright..... that makes sense

and thanks for the explanation about the theory and the current thinking for coaches


Over the years, I have come to learn that you won't be able to go into the gym every single day and bust major ass simply because your energy and recovery vary over time. There are days where you feel great, and other days where you feel like crap. And this could be due to all sorts of reasons. What I tend to do is vary my intensity and volume according to how I feel.

So when I feel good, I can kick ass in the gym, and when I am run down I will tone it down a bit. That being said, I will also let me dietary practices follow my energy output for the day. Higher carb and calorie days when I am going all out, and reduce them when I am going easier.


ah sure, use that old trick "common sense" =)

thanks Maximus


Your welcome OG, after all, I can't be wrong all the time.