How to Avoid Overtraining and Injuring Yourself

Updated: May 30, 2012

Tahlee Rouillon

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This is a guest post by Tahlee Rouillon of The Attitude Revolution.

Before I became a certified Personal Trainer, I was an expert Catabolic Trainer. I tried to “whip” myself into shape by training harder and faster every day, ended up overtraining, and spent thousands of dollars on acupuncture, osteopathy and physiotherapy.

Before I get into the nitty gritty of expertise, first up is a little anatomy lesson to help you understand the mechanism behind catabolic training.

Catabolism + Anabolism = Metabolism

When you blast your pecs in the weight room or run 10k, our muscles require fuel for movement. They do this through a complicated process of breaking down energy called the catabolic pathway. This is represented by the pink area labeled “Training” in the graph above.

We've all heard of anabolic steroids right? They’re the ones that grow your muscles for you. They’re named after the anabolic pathway in the body whereby muscles repair and grow naturally during rest. This is represented in the little red area labeled “Recovery”.

When you’ve given your muscles sufficient time to rest (usually between 24 and 48 hours depending on how hard you train), your muscles get a little bit stronger and your fitness level improves. This is called “Supercompensation”. This process of supercompensation can really be applied to any pursuit of acquiring expertise.

It’s the duality of practice and rest that enables you to get a little better each time.

BUT - if you want to become an expert in catabolic burnout, you must avoid supercompensation at all costs and continue to train, train, train in the catabolic pathway!

3 Tips to Ensure Catabolic Success

  1. Train your whole body every day
We want to avoid any anabolic pathways (or “rest”) so catabolic trainers work every muscle every day.
  1. Give 100% maximum effort every time
Every muscle should be worked to failure. The harder you work those muscles, the bigger the breakdown of energy is, and the longer you’ll stay in the catabolic pathway.
  1. Rinse and repeat
Whatever your chosen activity is, repeat it as often as you can. Pump out those last few reps with no consideration to fatigue or form. That’s the catabolic way.

3 Indicators of Expert Catabolic Status

  1. You’ve “hit the wall”
When you become catabolic, you will feel more exhausted then you ever thought possible. Charlotte Anderson of The Great Fitness Experiment calls it a “metabolic reaction" and her explanation of symptoms is down pat.
  1. You’ve got the flu
Your immune system has packed it in and now you’re picking up bugs faster than a bug zapper.
  1. You’re staring at the ceiling of a physical therapist’s office
That form that you ignored while you were training is the shortcut to expert catabolism. Now you’re flat on your back on a physio’s bed and on your way to becoming flat broke.

Now, I know for some of you, this type of training sounds intense. And it is. It’s a grueling regime that requires a level of self-hatred not many people can sustain. And let’s face it – we’ve all experienced burnout of some kind when we apply the principles of catabolic training to the process of acquiring expertise.

Luckily there is a shortcut to expertise that circumvents the catabolic pathway.


Easier said then done. Let’s break it down further as there are a few different approaches to resting shortcuts.

Learning How to Rest

  1. Take a day or two off
This is the probably the most obvious and easiest ways to rest. Remember, muscles grow during rest so give them a chance to recover and “supercompensate” over the next 24 – 48 hours. As Maya Angelou said “All great achievements require time”. While you might not need 10,000 hours of exercise to reach your fitness goal, you will need roughly equal time spent resting as you do working out.
  1. Use a periodisation program
Periodisation is a way that industry experts and elite athletes break down their training cycles into more manageable chunks. Think of it as the framework for the deliberate practice required to improve your performance.

When you create a specific long term (macro), medium term (meso) and short term (micro) training cycle you can effectively plan your workouts for optimum gains.

For example, your macro cycle could be 12 weeks before a marathon. Your meso cycle will be the days you schedule for training during each week. And your micro cycle will be the exact workout you will follow on a specific day. This means you can schedule days for heavy workouts, light workouts, and rest periods.

  1. R-E-S-P-E-C-T your body
This is the most subtle, but can be the hardest to master. If you (like me) have spent years trying to whip, guilt-trip, or shame yourself into shape, then you need a shift in attitude from self-criticism to self-respect.

The beauty of this process is that it doesn’t just apply to training. You can apply it to any goal or method of acquiring expertise. It requires you to pay close attention to your body, how you are feeling and respecting your needs enough to know when to expand your comfort zone and when to rest.

So, if your muscles are really aching and you’re feeling exhausted, respect your need to keep resting.

If you’ve got a bounce in your step and feel ready to tackle your next workout or practice session with vigour, then go for it tiger!

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