Work hard, get huge. Sounds easy, right? Unfortunately, as some people discover, when riding high on motivation and buoyed up by the excitement of a new workout regime, this is not always the case. Transforming your body is not something that will happen overnight. Gaining muscle is a slow process that relies heavily on recovery and gradual increases in load.
Overtraining is what happens when someone works too hard, lifting weights that are too heavy and not allowing enough time between sessions to allow muscles to properly repair themselves. Instead of causing an increase in muscle size, this damaging practice actually causes overworked muscles to shrink.
A team of researchers from Brazil wanted to know more, and recently investigated the overtraining phenomenon in rats, known to be a good approximation of human gym rats in terms of their physiology and exercise response. The rodents were overtrained for three months. At the end of this period, scientists saw the results they were expecting - a 17% reduction in muscle mass.
They next looked at levels of proteins in the muscle and saw a 20% increase in MAFbx, a protein responsible for muscle breakdown, large and significant decreases in anabolic proteins, like MyoD and Myogenin, which were down nearly 30% each, and a massive 43% decrease in anabolic growth factor IGF-1.
This shows that overtraining leads to big biochemical changes in the body that not only break down existing muscle, but prevent any new muscle from being formed.
These profound changes really do emphasise the benefits of working slowly and steadily toward goals and investing in proper rest and recovery after training. Replacing protein after a workout speeds recovery, and many amino acids, such as BCAAs and glutamine are known to build and repair muscle. Getting enough sleep is also very important because this is when the muscles replenish and grow.
It might not happen overnight, but working solidly and sensibly in the gym and ensuring you have a complete recovery is the best and quickest path to a great physique.
Alves Souza RW, Aguiar AF, Vechetti-Júnior IJ, Piedade WP, Rocha Campos GE, Dal-Pai-Silva M. RESISTANCE TRAINING WITH EXCESSIVE TRAINING LOAD AND INSUFFICIENT RECOVERY ALTERS SKELETAL MUSCLE MASS-RELATED PROTEIN EXPRESSION. J Strength Cond Res. 2014 Feb 12.