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How to Avoid Overtraining


How to Avoid Overtraining

It’s not unusual for clients to push and to train according to the slogan “no pain, no gain.” Indeed, this could be a worthy idea for a competitive athlete but for our normal everyday client, it tends to lead to overtraining.

Overtraining can be defined as an exercise program that leads to “an undesired outcome of fatigue and performance decrements.” We know from the GAS that this is very real. Now we also know it may have psychological or mental consequences including:

  • Muscle pain or soreness
  • Weight loss
  • Gastrointestinal disturbance
  • Overuse injuries
  • Loss of self-confidence
  • Anxiety
  • Emotional/motivational changes

How Do You Know if a Client is Overtraining?

The easiest way to see if your client is experiencing overtraining is by assessment – such as taking their resting heart rate after a full night’s rest, upon waking up. Some trainers also encourage this practice to be done before the client retires to bed in the evening. Usually, a well-conditioned client will see resting heart rates decrease through positive adaptations to training, but if your program design is overly intense, your client may actually experience an increase in their resting heart rate. Not only would this have a physiological effect, but it most certainly would affect the client’s mental states as well.

The Importance of Recovery

Most clients don’t enjoy (or even feel like themselves) when taking excessive days off, as some believe that it detracts from their ultimate goal. The best feature of recovery, though, is that it can take many forms. Giving the body proper time to recover is essential to regenerate emotional and physical energy and is generally considered to be the easy part of an exercise program design. Try promoting practicing relaxation techniques such as progressive relaxation, autogenic relaxation, or guided imagery.

Think of recovery as just one supporting factor to reduce stress in all areas of your client’s life. For example, if your client is overwhelmed with work-life being too challenging or certain relationships are causing them undue stress, try to encourage the client to lessen or alleviate those stressors during those times when they are not working with you. Without this, clients may see stress as a significant barrier. In most cases, this is a contraindication in terms of their goals.


The 3 Levels of Recovery

Recovery has three levels: physical, social, and environmental.

Eating right, practicing yoga or taking a hike on days off are all practical suggestions for your client to use physically based strategies in order to better recover.

Consider social recovery – meaning that one will participate with people that they like in social activities that are relaxing and rejuvenating. This is often overlooked by trainers because it occurs outside of the environment where work with your client is done.

Environmental recovery can be as simple as changing your training locale. This can also include where the time spent in session with the trainer occurs. A trainer in tune with the needs of his or her client should monitor client reactions and responses to training variables to ensure that the client is not overtraining. This will help to prevent burnout. The trainer should also try to understand their client’s needs as completely as possible.

Your Client’s Focus

Focus, from a client’s perspective, helps concentration and hopefully, competency. The term “attentional field” is used to describe the thoughts, emotions, and physical responses coming from within the client as well as the outside sights and sounds that they are focusing on. Trainers could view this as the ability for your client to attend to internal and external cues in your attentional field at the same time. This will also require practice and cueing from the trainer. When attentional focus decreases, so does the risk of injury or at the very least, poor performance.

A well-coached client knows where to focus their attention on the best results while training. Some people find success through an internal focus style; they will concentrate on their form and technique while training, while being comfortable knowing that there may be distractions or activity in their immediate surroundings.

Other clients who lack this experience of feeling comfortable are far more likely to be distracted and thus, injured. In terms of personality traits, those who are more competitive tend to do best with an external focus style, focusing on outside sights and sounds right up until the moment of exercise execution. During training, they are also aware that if they over-thinking about anything, they may be misdirecting their focus or concentrating too much.

What type of focus works best for your client?

Trainers should be able to analyze past exercise experiences with their clients and contemplate the techniques used successfully with them, in order to have a repeat performance. This should seem fairly logical.

One of the simplest ways to improve focus on your client is to instruct them to place their eyes where you want them to focus. To eliminate external distractions a trainer might encourage a client to keep the eyes averted during the time used under load or during a particular activity.

The topic of focus is sometimes viewed as similar to mindfulness, or the complete attention on the present. The current body of scientific evidence suggests that the effects of mindfulness impact the thoughts, emotions, and performance of the client.

Focus also reaches into other areas of the dynamics between a trainer and client, including mental toughness, imagery, relaxation, and self-talk. For some activities, the exerciser’s thought processes must be congruent with their ecology and environment. Having clients mentally ‘psyche up’ might include challenging some clients with more demanding tasks, while meaning that you may find it necessary to hold others back from levels of progression until you feel that their attentional focus is acceptable.

Promote the idea of focusing only on what your client can control. The only real control your client has will have to come from within, but good feedback and cues from the trainers always helpful. In order to help your client to help align their focus, have your client try the following:

Positive: Avoid negative thinking or replace each negative thought with a positive statement.

Process: Focus on what your client needs to do in order to stay engaged and to put forth their best, from training to mastery of technique.

Present: The past is over and positive goal outcomes are to be in the future. What is your client doing at this very moment? Keep them in the moment by encouraging them to focus on the here and now.

Progress: Comparing themselves to others is a no-win situation. Promote the idea of clients focusing only on their own improvement.

Focus may seem simple, but developing the right type of concentration to facilitate focus is vital for each client. A trainer who is fully engaged with their client can create the focus needed to exercise safely and to optimize client outcomes or results.

Starting Your Personal Training Career

If a fitness professional has more tools to evaluate the client, and if they have additional skills to help understand client motivations or other important behaviors, then the client should have a better experience. We could also take this one step further by saying that a trainer with more knowledge will be better able to help get clients to their goals in the quickest and safest way possible.

Your reputation, as well as your success as a trainer, are somewhat influenced by your ability to get your client results – and this is done more easily when we know more about our client’s personality traits, their perspectives and their responses to our training directives.

Now it’s your turn to take action. Did you know that most fitness careers don’t require formal education or a degree?

Learn more about the variety of fitness industry careers. There is always something exciting about earning a new training or coaching certification and applying that new knowledge of how you train your clients. This also helps you hit the reset button.

Check out what it takes to start a career in personal fitness training. This is your most affordable and fastest way to become a highly qualified personal trainer.

Is your recertification coming up? Learn more about earning your CEU credits. You can find the full list of CEU courses here.

If you are ready to start your online personal training or coaching business, don’t forget to learn more about our online coaching course. You will also really enjoy this very comprehensive training course called Online Expert Empire.

There is always something exciting about earning a new training or coaching certification and applying that new knowledge of how you train your clients. This also helps you hit the reset button.

NESTA and Spencer Institute coaching programs are open to anyone with a desire to learn and help others. There are no prerequisites.

Thanks for reading!

The NESTA/Spencer Institute Team

PS: Click here to see many helpful business/career resources