“Pain is weakness leaving the body”. Oh shut up you idiot!"

It’s very easy to think of exercise and activity as not having an effect unless it leaves us heaved over sucking air or drowning in a pool of sweat. No pain, no gain. Sweat is a weakness leaving the body. Insert any other catchy slogan devised by some group of gobshites sitting around the marketing offices of Nike. Said same group of gobshites have probably never studied a thing with regard to training, if they have that’s even more embarrassing.

Just trying to kill yourself in the gym to get healthy is tantamount to an eating disorder. It might provide temporary psychological or emotional relief but it is not how exercise or health works in the long term.

Really quickly let’s look at how it does work. Training provides the stimulus, while the adaptation to the stimulus takes place during the recovery period. That is the key. There is a finite amount of energy available for the body to draw from in order to complete the physical demand imposed on it. Just because a demand is imposed on the body does not mean there will be adequate energy available to meet this demand. Therefore we can not expect that simply adding more and more demands will facilitate an increase in strength or fitness. In fact it may have the exact opposite effect. Keep flogging a workhorse without feeding it and you're eventually going to kill that horse, regardless of how much work you need it to get done.

Recovery from the stimulus becomes just as important as the stimulus. They work hand in hand. Recovery alone will not drive adaption and stimulus alone will not allow for adaptation. However, recovery is one of the least understood and most under researched constituents of the exercise-adaptation cycle.

While recovery is currently a popular topic and research is following suit. The majority of this research is showing us that the complexities of fatigue and recovery are still unknown and further research is needed. Outside of sleep there is no magic recovery tool proven to work.


Overtraining as a concept gained popularity in the late 00’s. The traditional approach to training before then had been one of pushing harder and adding more volume. This created a survival of the fittest atmosphere rather than an intelligent and progressive overload that allowed for the trainee to develop appropriately. This would eventually lead to burn out or chronic fatigue. Ever gone back into an exercise program really committed, decided to give everything you got. Go everyday, work really hard only to get injured or sick and end up worse than where you started? That’s normal...welcome to the world of under recovery formerly known as overtraining.

The hypothesis being that without adequate energy reserves the body will start diverting energy from the basic bodily functions and restoration deal with the demands being placed on the body. “Energy to maintain the immune system, recovery from muscular strains or injuries, digest your food...nah who needs it? I got to train hard bro!’


Are you guilty of this? Watch out for the symptoms of overtraining:

  • Training - related
  • Unusual muscle soreness after a workout, which persists with continued training
  • Inability to train or compete at a previously manageable level
  • "Heavy" leg muscles, even at light exercise intensities
  • Delay in recovery from training
  • Performance plateaus or even declines
  • Thoughts of quitting or skipping training sessions



  • Prolonged general fatigue
  • Increase in tension, depression, anger or confusion
  • Inability to relax or poor quality sleep
  • No energy, decreased motivation, moodiness
  • Things once enjoyable are no longer
  • Health-related
  • Increased occurrence of sickness
  • Increased blood pressure and morning pulse
  • Irregular menstrual cycle or loss of menstrual periods
  • Weight loss, appetite loss
  • Constipation, diarrhea


Recognizing the signs and symptoms of overtraining, may not be as obvious as looking for the above symptoms. The awareness of what your body needs and when is a skill that you will build over time. Just staying mindful is key.

If you want to get really serious about it there are a lot of companies with products on the market to help with this. I generally only recommend it for two types of people though. Those who consistently look to avoid hard work and those who consistently look avoid rest. In both cases having external feedback will coach them into making the right decisions.

Most of the time though just quickly looking at this chart will give you all the answers you need.

Improving the Recovery:

While there are hundreds of products out there from foam rollers to massage guns to oxygen tanks claiming to improve your recovery there is only one scientifically proven recovery method. Sleep!

The rest of the stuff may work and it may not, if it does great, if it doesn’t then don’t worry about it, it’s not for you. I personally find sitting in 200 degree saunas mixed with ice baths works wonders for me. I feel like a new human and do it at least once a week. However, you may hate it and therefore it won’t work. Recovery is highly subjective, find what makes you feel lighter, breath easier and gives you the sensation of floating. That’s your thing.

Back to sleep though. This is not a debatable subject. It is truly the only form of ‘recovery’ that is scientifically undisputed as a necessity. If your sleep is screwed, all else is screwed.

I have a very unique rule. If you sleep less than 5 hours then we are not training early in the morning. All of my clients know that I will not be annoyed with a last minute 6am cancellation due to lack of sleep. I strongly encourage that cancellation and focus on getting another hour or two of rest. Likewise, once or twice a year I will cancel early morning sessions with my own clients because of the same reason. If I did not get the requisite sleep, then it is not happening. My health comes first.

Sleep and recovery methods deserve their own detailed examination so I will leave it there for now.

Treat recovery methods as unique to you. Judge the activity, be it meditation, yoga, massage, walking by how relaxed it makes you feel and if it is improving your sleep. It might even be dinner with friends and family. Whatever, it is if it improves your sleep quality it improves your recovery.

Health is absolutely about activity but it is also about balance. Learn how to work hard but also learn how to relax. Too much of one and not enough of the other leaves you out of whack. Find the level that you are happy with so as to make movement an exercise a life long endeavor not an all or nothing assault.


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