How to Over-reach


When it comes to training, I've never set a time restraint to my training. I go in with a plan and it takes as long as it takes. However, there set amount of volume and intensity I need to hit to make my required progress. 

A set training plan is a fantastic way to ensures further progress, but it also ensures that I don't overdo it in the gym.

A good plan factors in rest and recovery as well as volume and intensity to encourage progressive overload. Training harder and for longer is not necessarily better. Training and recovering in a smart way is key to progress. 

There are still various pockets of the world (often the internet) that would insist that over training does not exist and that it is either under recovering or under eating. However, all of these things should be managed in a good plan. Adequate training, recovery and diet will always lead to greater gains than pure blood, guts, and hard work. 


Over Reaching

If you are into any sort of competitive sport or training for events, you may be familiar with the idea of overreaching. This is where your plan will accumulate the volume of your exercise and workouts to the point of near over training. The reason for this is to elicit the ‘compensation’ effect. 



When your body becomes used to a particular amount of training volume it begins to recover to that volume. If some of this volume is removed for a short time, your body will still recover as efficiently from the same volume as before.

Meaning that if your body is used to being broken down to 70% and then recovering up to 100%, you could all of a sudden train so that you are only dropping to 75% and your body will still recover by the previous 30%, putting you, for a short time, at roughly 105%.

This will only last for a short time as your body always tries to find it's way back to a comfortable 100% (homeostasis/balance) and will then start to recover to your regular 100%.

This is why ‘over reaching’ is used in sports such as powerlifting. The athlete will be worked to a point close to over training in order to take advantage of the compensation effect. Meaning that, if planned correctly, a powerlifter could turn up on meet day at something like 105%.

There are obvious issues with this. It's difficult to monitor a person or athlete to a point where they are just hovering over the point of over training. Rest and recovery need to be perfect. This state of optimal awesomeness can only be maintained for around 7-10 days and it should be quickly followed by a phase of rest and then back into training.

In this state you would be as close to perfectly as possible. Your functional capacities, mental arousal, as well as your neuro-muscular coordination would be perfect. Training to reach a level where you can fully accommodate all of your functions and movements sounds very inviting, but it makes sense to aim for this state after increasing these capacities as much as you can over a span of training.

In other words, before attempting to reach this stage of training you should have a good foundation of training, i.e. a high level of physical preparation, as well as all the biomotor abilities required for your particular area. The higher your level of training before starting this, the higher your effectiveness will be in this state.


Periodization (Long term training plan)

This is where you put yourself, or your athlete/clients, through a variety of training phases geared towards reaching the goal of compensation.  The different training phases involve increases and decreases of both the volume and intensity.

As the volume in your routine goes up, the intensity should go down, and vice versa.

Volume is the amount of work done throughout a workout or program, it covers:

  • Time or duration of a workout
  • Loads used or distance covered
  • Reps of an exercise performed. 

Intensity is the difficulty of the work, it is the qualitative (feel) aspect of a routine as opposed to the quantitative (numbers) volume. A high intensity workout might involve lifting weights of 85% or more of your one rep maximum or practicing a particularly advanced and difficult skill.

The way you would periodize your own routine depends upon your goals. I'm from a powerlifting background so for someone like myself it is likely to follow a high volume phase at first, including some heavy work. This might only be heavy singles or doubles.

Throughout this initial phase the volume is likely to slowly increase until a point just below over training. At this point I would take a deload week where I still train the movements but the volume is drastically cut down, and the intensity is kept moderate.  

Following this would be a strength phase, which would focus more upon the heavy weights and less upon the volume in the previous phase. This would be done in line with a competition phase, where I would likely take the week before the competition easy. By this point I will have acquired the essential training benefits, such as the improved functional capacities and neuro-muscular coordination, and they would be difficult to improve any further in a week’s time. So this energy would be saved for competition day. 


Over training

As you can see from the above over reaching is where you integrate a gradual increase of training and volume in a controlled manner to result in a competitive edge over a short period of time.

Over training implies a similar increase in your workload will occur but in a way that is uncontrolled or unplanned.

Without a sufficient recovery phase or a planned deload, an increase in training will lead to, at best, a slower rate of improvement and, at worst, a higher chance of an injury being incurred.

When it comes to training, an athlete or gym goer will suffer from acute fatigue, and hopefully avoid chronic fatigue. Acute fatigue is simply tiredness from that workout which can be recovered with sleep, rest or diet. Chronic fatigue, however, is where a person stays in the overreaching phase for too long. 

I’ve highlighted the benefits of going into a planned overreached phase but if you do it by accident or for too long you will suffer. It would result in you going into a phase of chronic fatigue, and the continuation of, accumulated stress and will affect you both mentally and physically.

The symptoms of over training include: 

  • Poor performance
  • General fatigue, dehydration or just a lack of energy
  • Joint pain 
  • Sleep irregularity 
  • Headaches
  • Depression
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of enthusiasm for training
  • Suppression of immune system (constantly getting colds, etc)
  • Altering of physiological stats – e.g. change in heart rate or lung function


Over training can come from any kind of training, whether it be strength, cardio or technique training. Regardless of what it is it can put stress on both your mind and body and both of these need looking after. 

A large portion of this has focused upon the idea of a general training phase leading to over training but similar effects can happen in a shorter period. For example, training past the point of tiredness in one session will lead to your movement becoming sloppy which in turn negatively correlates with skill development as well as being more likely to get injured.


Ending thoughts

Work smart, work hard but also rest smart and rest hard.

Without planned rest, or even the occasional spontaneous rest, you will not progress in your fitness journey. Rest is vital to avoiding physical and mental pitfalls. If you find yourself constantly feeling ill, sore or even depressed then maybe you need to re-evaluate your training, take a step back or a day/week off and then come back to it recharged.

Overreaching can be a great tool to reap great rewards through compensation.

Over training, however, should be avoided for your overall health. 

Daniel Lee is a coach at Taylor’s Strength Training, a registered powerlifting club with the English Powerlifting Association. He has competed in powerlifting competitions various times since 2014, even participating in national level meets. If you want to find out more about Daniel and his training, you can learn more about Daniel by clicking on his image.