Client Case Study: Overreaching, Overtraining, And Recovery

A perfect program is only perfect for an individual on paper—or in a vacuum. That’s why elite athletes live ascetic lifestyles. For everyone else, training and exercise happen in real life, to real people. This is an example of things not going right for one of my clients, my analysis, and my recommendations for how to avoid that specific situation going forward.

Client: BH

Age: 51

Training: 4 years

Goals: To be “fit” (per my definition – ed.)

Deficits: Poor squatter, which affects overall fitness/life.

Background: BH had just learned and added deadlifts to her program, and was about to leave on a trip.

BH: Hi. I think I over-trained last week. Not that I’m training for anything in particular, but my body just didn’t feel up to doing much before our departure. I still feel like I dragged myself to the gym this morning. If you get a chance, can you look at my training log?


BH Weekly Training Log
Mon Tues Weds Thurs Fri Sat Sun
10 min TGUs @12kg Spinning Personal training session 5 min TGUs @16kg 5 min. jump rope, or
10 min. on bike
5 min TGUs @16kg Off
5×2* wall squats 5×2 wall squats 5×2 wall squats10x2 squats 5 min jump rope
10×2 squats 10×2 squats Deadlift: work up to 135# for 4 singles
(5x):- 10 KB squats @12kg

– 2 min jump rope

– 2 min rest

Clean & press @12kg (L&R)1 clean, 1 press; 1,2; 1,3; 1,4; 1,5 5×3 evil wheel (5x)- 5 push-ups

– 2 neg pull-ups

– 10 BW squats

5×3 walk-outs 5×2 suitcase row @20kg 2000m row fast; shoot for 90% PR
30 sec. bent arm hang Heavy 1-hand swings (L&R)5×5 @28kg
10×4 goblet squats@12kg Yoga 10 min. jump rope Yoga Spinning

*This chart is written Reps X Sets. TGUs = Turkish get-ups.

NM: Great that you actually wrote it all down for me to see. Now that I’ve reviewed everything, I’m going to tell you pretty much what I would have said anyway:

You’re only two weeks into a new program, with a new and very demanding lift added to it. Learning deadlifts is a huge jump in activity. You’re feeling run down because you added to the program I gave you. Spinning and yoga might not sound like a lot, but on top of your planned activities they added up to too much for right now. Since you’re about to go away and might have to miss a few workouts, this was actually a great time to overreach.

But don’t confuse overreaching with over-training. Overreaching is defined as

…the cumulative effects of a series of workouts characterized by short term decreasing performance, feelings of fatigue, depressed mood, pain, sleep disturbances, and other miscellaneous defects that require up to two weeks to recover from.[1]


Compare that to overtraining, which is

…the cumulative result of excessive high-volume or high intensity training or both without adequate recovery that results in the exhaustion of the body’s ability to recover from that training stress and adapt to it.[2]


Overreaching is the beginning of overtraining, but one week isn’t long enough to overtrain. If you were to put yourself through that pace for another two to three weeks, then overtraining could become a possibility. You feel crappy right now, but overreaching can be a useful way to change your perspective—as long as you realize what’s going on in time to prevent overtraining.

It’s fine to test how your system handles added stress/activity periodically, but you’ll get better results–and won’t feel so drained–if you do so deliberately. I think that once you run this program as originally written for a little while—maybe even just a few weeks—you could totally handle all that and more, if you liked.

I’m taking the series of seminars at Gym Jones, and they have a saying I like: “you’re not overtrained, you’re under-recovered.” So if you want to do extra work, you need to pay for it with extra recovery. It’s definitely not a passive act. To be able to handle that volume of work, you need to spend more time on the foam roller, sleep better and/or sleep more, contrast shower (alternate hot and cold water), or any of a hundred other activities. The trip you’re going on will give you sufficient time away from training to recover, so don’t worry about it this time. Just remember the recovery activities next time you’re pushing yourself.

So give it some time. If you stick to the program as written, don’t add more new stuff, and pursue recovery proactively, your body will adapt. And that’s the purpose of training: teaching your body to adapt to stress so it doesn’t get damaged by stress.

[1] Mark Rippetoe and Andy Baker, Practical Programming For Strength Training, 3d ed. (Wichita Falls, TX: The Aasgaard Company, 2014), 18.

[2] Ibid.

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