Overreaching is a technique that can deliver some very good muscle gains. It’s a fact and many bodybuilders will attest to this, but in order to fully appreciate the concept of overreaching let’s first take a look at a concept that’s very closely linked – overtraining.
Muscle growth is an anaerobic process, but it does not happen automatically. It needs to be triggered and, in the case of bodybuilding, it is triggered through resistance weight training. Whenever the muscles are fatigued enough through working out, muscle fibers become damaged. This is the “catabolic” process that triggers the need for repair and, as the body overcompensates when it comes to repairing any damage sustained, it will generally make the damaged area a little bigger and stronger to reduce the likelihood of further damage, and deal with the load of weight better the next time.
This anabolic (repair) process occurs in the periods after the training has finished. Sufficient time must be allowed for this process to be completed and, of course, sufficient nourishment is also required so that the body has all the necessary elements it needs to complete the repair. If bodybuilders train too long and too hard though, or do not allow sufficient time before they work specific muscles again, it will matter little how much nourishment is provided because the muscles will be overtrained and the muscle tissues will be damaged at a faster rate than they can be repaired. That’s not good, but it gets worse; if such overtraining is allowed to go on for any length of time the muscles will grow smaller and weaker instead of bigger and stronger.
Overreaching bridges the gap between normal training and overtraining. It is a technique whereby the muscles are overworked and hit a little harder than normal, but only for short periods of time. Overreach for too long or too often and the muscles will be overtrained—it’s as simple as that. But when used correctly, and in moderation, the practice of overreaching can offer some good additional muscle gains and can be especially useful for bodybuilders who have reached a plateau.
How Much is too Much?
Everybody’s body is different. It pays to bear this in mind. So monitor results regularly and listen to your body if it starts screaming “no more”. In general though, it is unwise to overreach for any longer than three weeks, after which it will be necessary to return the training intensity to a more sensible level for at least a week. Even then, the body can only take such abuse for so long so it is inadvisable to have too long a succession of overreaching periods even if each one is followed by a one-week break. The overreaching periods are just an extra triggering mechanism. As with any bodybuilding technique, the real dividends come during the anabolic repair periods.
Some Additional Considerations
Working out harder than normal requires more energy than is needed for less strenuous workout routines; so it is doubly important to ensure the body does not run low on vital reserves. This may be achieved by the use of additional supplements (maybe one or more extra energy bars) or by pre-loading with some extra complex carbs prior to hitting the gym.
Working out harder will also result in more sweating than normal so it is important to ensure adequate hydration by remembering to pack a bottle of water or possibly an energy-providing drink.
If free weights are to be used it may also be worthwhile requesting your training partner spot you, or if you do not have a regular training partner seeking the assistance of a fellow gym-goer or a gym-worker. Training alone may be more hazardous than normal because if your ambitions overreach your abilities serious injury cannot be ruled out—especially when attempting to bench or shoulder press a heavy barbell.
As always, it is important to ensure adequate nourishment throughout the day, and too many late nights are likely to be counterproductive, but when practiced correctly, and not too often, overreaching can offer untold benefits – even to hardgainers.
Follow the link below to take a look out our article discussing what food to eat for hard gainers to build mass.