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I'm an averagely built guy (183cm, 85kg, 20% body fat) that's looking to build a bit of muscle, lose some fat, and generally turn some heads if I ever go running topless down a beach, but I've got a bit of a problem when it comes to constantly being tired after working out. How would I know if I'm training too hard? I'll try to (briefly!) illustrate what I'm doing at the moment:

  • Mondays - off day
  • Tuesdays - cardio (usually stationary bike) for 60-70min @ 160BPM heart rate
  • Wednesdays - resistance training, 4 sets each exercise with max weight I can manage with 12-10-10-8 reps, doing: bench press, shoulder press, squats, pull-downs, push-ups and abs
  • Thursdays - off day
  • Fridays - same as Wednesdays, just with different exercises: bent-over barbell rows, single-arm rows, squats, pull-dows, push-ups and abs
  • Saturday - off day
  • Sunday - super-set day, 3 rounds of 10 reps of each exercise (no rest between exercises, 3 minute rest between sets) on max weight I can complete them with doing: bent-over barbell rows, bench press, squats, pull-downs and rowing machine for 400m

Each of my days at gym take about an hour, and every time I'm finished and can't function for the rest of the day as I'm so tired. I eat (honestly) 3 meals and 1 snack a day, all carbs low GI, and have a protein shake with added L-Glutamine directly after training sessions.

Is it normal to be so tired after training? Or am I just expecting too much and should decrease the weight?

Update (18 October)

Thank you everyone for your thoughts, answers and comments, and I wish I could mark them all as correct as they all share valuable information and insight. I realise that there are a few questions within this one (specifically ones on nutrition and training habits) that might deserve their own question sections, but for the purposes of this question you all have given me much needed food-for-thought that has eased my mind.

Update (24 October)

As mentioned by Adam in his very insightful answer, one of the best ways to figure this out is to realise that you need to keep learning about yourself, and with this in mind here are a few things I've learnt along the way that's helping me:

  • a rest week every 5th week works great for me
  • pushing myself to "failure" was a very bad idea
  • if you're getting tired after working out, that's ok...if there was something seriously wrong, you'd know!
  • lightening the weight / resistance slightly and adding 1 or 2 reps gave me a just as satisfying workout without the "kill my muscles to failure" way of doing things
  • nutrition is important, but when I feed myself was also just as important - eating 2 hours before working out, followed by a protein shake 30 minutes before gym, then having a low-GI carb drink on hand during my workouts has helped to keep me going a lot better
  • don't underestimate the effect of stress (work or otherwise) on your energy levels - a stressed mind makes a stressed body

With so many ideas and products out there, and combining it with the fact that we're all different, really gives you thousands of things to try, but when you start figuring out what works for you, that's the real reward.

Thanks again for all of your truly helpful answers guys, I wish I could mark them all correct, and I also hope this post helps someone else sometime!

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Are you getting enough sleep? Drinking enough water? –  Jordan Carroll Oct 17 '13 at 17:05
    
My sleep could be better - although I'm getting around 6-8 hours a night, it's pretty irregular on start-times. Water, yes, I'm rarely dehydrated and I drink constantly while I'm at gym. –  Chris Kempen Oct 17 '13 at 17:38
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I had similar problems when I used to lift heavy weights. I don't have any professional advice, but can tell you what works for me: a) when after my workouts I feel mentally exhausted, I eat a few tablespoons of raw honey (ok, maybe a bit more than "a few" :-) --- generally it helps (this is perhaps to low glycogen), b) even if I know how to breath during heavy-weight lifting, my inhalation/exhalation is far better during other sport activities (like running, biking, swimming, crossfit) (cont) –  Michal R. Przybylek Oct 17 '13 at 17:51
    
(cont) I may guess this may be another reason why we feel "exhausted" after lifting weights --- I simply switched to other disciplines. –  Michal R. Przybylek Oct 17 '13 at 17:52
    
Interesting @MichalR.Przybylek, think I'll give breathing better and eating honey post-workout a try...I think, ultimately, I just want to gauge my approach before I tried something (possibly) unnecessary like going to the doc for blood tests O__o –  Chris Kempen Oct 17 '13 at 17:57
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3 Answers

up vote 1 down vote accepted

If your performance is improving week-to-week and you're not suffering any health side-effects (compromised immune system, injuries, for example) you're not overtraining.

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Thank you for the insight Kate...and in terms of the tiredness, do you have any experience or suggestions? What I mean is, is that possibly a side-effect of harsh training? –  Chris Kempen Oct 17 '13 at 22:15
    
@ChrisKempen Re: suggestions, I can't tell for sure, but three meals + one snack seems on the low side of things. Eat more, or snack more constantly. Monitor body fat% so you don't get too worried when you don't see your weight going down (you might be trading fat for muscle). Tiredness is definitely a side effect of training (whether you call it harsh training or not is a matter of opinion). I wouldn't treat tiredness on its own as a signal of overtraining, though. Overtraining usually shows up with multiple symptoms (insomnia, irritability, poor workout performance, etc.). –  Kate Oct 17 '13 at 23:42
    
Thanks again Kate...some valuable insights and continued help, plus first to answer :) –  Chris Kempen Oct 18 '13 at 6:23
    
You don't have to snack constantly to keep you energy levels up...Theres no such thing as "trading" fat for muscle (at least not as stated). People get tired when they're done training, it's from depleting your energy and energy reserves. If you train at night, try training in the early morning to kick-start your day. and try post-workout meal, unless you train fasted, or are thinkinga bout it, which proves to be more efficient in lean mass gaining and fat loss than ANY "constant" snacking advice...lulz –  Hituptony Oct 18 '13 at 20:01
    
@Hituptony True, you don't have to snack constantly, and I didn't say it was necessary. There is such a thing as trading fat for muscle. It happens when on a recomposition plan (see this answer). You say it yourself when you say "lean mass gaining and fat loss"... lulz –  Kate Oct 18 '13 at 20:22
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How to know

Well, since our friends looking at the problem in a very "sports science way" I will rephrase and add more details (which may not be as practical as you think. Please refer to an expirienced trainer to be the judge of the symptoms below (Self judgments can be too soft and over sensitive sometimes))

"Overtraining" might be to blame if your athlete has any of the following symptoms:

  • elevated resting heart rate
  • loss of appetite and weight loss
  • chronic fatigue, workouts described as draining
  • an increase in colds or infections
  • inadequate sleep
  • a decrease in performance, or an inability to reach training goals
  • lack of enthusiasm, psychological staleness

Inadequate rest and recovery can lead to compensation and injury. If signs of overtraining start to occur, adjustments can be made to the programs acute variables, including training volume, intensity, duration, frequency, and/or exercise selection.

For example, when an athlete experiences an intense case of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), reducing the intensity and duration of training, or training different muscle groups for the days following will give the affected muscles time to recover (1).

DOMS If you come back to the same muscle group - say, biceps - ** it can be the sign that you may still haven't recovered from your last biceps session**; in other words if your biceps are still sore or sensitive for pushing and pulling, this could mean you need more rest period and you may need to look for the symptoms above to confirm that you're over training.

There are lot of debates about the word over training. I am just using it in terms of "not rested enough for the load of training you've done."

What happens if...

Training before recovery isn't that constructive. If you are familiar with the muscle building process, in very simple words, you injure the muscle and you feed him properly during recovery then it recovers in a better shape. Hence if you keep injuring the muscle without letting him to recover, you're not doing great PLUS you increase the risk of long-term injury.

What do to

If that's the case, you should either give your muscle group more time to rest or boost the recovery by taking supplements and foods which help you in this case. The keyword to do some research for this would be recovery and BCAA (Branched Chain Amino Acid) .

References

1)Penney, Stacey, and NASM CES. "Overtraining–When There Isn’t Enough Time to Recover."

UPDATE

I have stumbled upon this article called The Myth of Overtraning by Vince Del Monte the other day in my IroMan Magazine newsfeed and thought this definitely needs to be here since it's extremely informative.

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+ I can see your diet isn't spot on. Not enough intake of proteins and carbs can lead to extreme feel of tiredness. However since you haven't told us in details about physical condition and diet I am not going to comment on that. If you need help with that please ask and i'll give you a hand. –  Mehrad Oct 17 '13 at 23:02
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Soreness is not a good measure for recovery. It is possible for a person to still make progress and lift safely through full range of motion while experiencing DOMS. DOMS is not a signal of over training. –  Kate Oct 17 '13 at 23:44
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@Kate: From the way question is asked I thought giving a simple tip which may be the case -from the description- would give our friend a clue instead of making him more confused. I am pretty sure you agree with me that an experienced trainer should be the judge of the signs mentioned above and if self-judged the person can actually under train based on the motivation level on the day and etc. Anyways. Thanks for the correction. –  Mehrad Oct 18 '13 at 0:39
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Thank you for this Mehrad - you're quite right, without specific details on diet this question is made more challenging to answer. I suspect my diet isn't the best, and I would need help (better asked in another question!), and I appreciate the help so much! This has been bugging me for a while now. I wish I could mark all answers as correct as for the purpose of this question I was purely seeking solid advice and help...next step, better diet and better sleeping habits! +1 –  Chris Kempen Oct 18 '13 at 6:26
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Thank you for listing out the symptoms! I pretty much had these memorised during the competitive days, it was so important to keep them in mind. –  andrewb Oct 22 '13 at 22:46
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I had this same same question and did tons of research for myself. Some quick notes of mine to take with grain of salt as I am trying to figure this all out too...

Never stop learning. Treat your mind as a muscle and keep researching the subject.

Overtraining could be defined as exceeding your bodies ability to supercompensate (recover stronger than you started)...or doing more than you need to do to trigger maximum growth response. Log everything you do. Only increase effort (reps/sets/weight/decrease rest) when the current stimulus doesn't give you results over a reasonable time like a week or two (individual days are unpredictable). Learning and tracking how your unique body responds to stimulus is really the only way to answer your question.

Work with a trainer for a few months when you first start out. You will get solid return on investment. It is just so easy to do so many things wrong when you try and start alone. I grew more in a few months with a trainer than I did for years on my own. They will push you way harder than you would push yourself alone in the right ways, and stop you from hurting yourself with bad form and just wasting your time.

Follow a balanced comprehensive full body program. Different rep ranges every 4 weeks or so. Cycle through low reps (5) for strength, medium reps (8-15) for size, high reps 20+ for capillary growth/endurance. Cycle through different speed...2s up 2d and explosiveness. Instead of just bike for cardio, try and work all your muscles into cardio and strength. (Don't put off capillary growth because you want strength...endurance translates into more efficient use and supply of fuel, waste management, recovery nutrients, etc)

Try drinking your shake before hand. Some studies suggest that may help recovery start quicker, give you more energy while working out. Since I have started using 3fu3l before my workout, I have had more energy at the end of my hour workout. (Just suggested so you consider the effect of protein, carbs, fat during the workout).

Get way more sleep. Enough that you shouldn't need an alarm clock. Lots of growth hormone released during good sleep. < 8 hours and you may be spinning your wheels.

Don't do nothing on rest day. Practice active recovery...get muscles pumped up a bit (perhaps a few light sets at 50% max) to supply with nutrients, flush waste. Do prehab type exercises...foam roller, etc.

Don't go to failure so quickly (some people say never go to absolute failure unless you are expert and need to). A target of 5 sets x 5 reps is might be more effective. Look into methods like Grease the Groove where you do more sets less often. That might help you achieve your goals while feeling less tired from using up all your body energy stores at one time.

(Feel free to edit anyone)

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Good points mate –  Mehrad Oct 24 '13 at 2:06
    
Excellent answer Adam, thank you so much for this! After reading it, I feel like I'm starting to make the transition from beginner to intermediate gym-guy now, and things like properly watching diet, sleep, etc. are starting to become very important. I like what you said about not going to failure, and after lightening the weights a bit, and drinking a low GI carb drink during training, I almost feel like a new man! Some great insights here... +1 –  Chris Kempen Oct 24 '13 at 13:25
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