Muscle Building Mistake #6 – Undertraining Syndrome

Everyone is familiar with “overtraining syndrome,” which is a real problem with negative side effects but the truth of the matter is that 99% of people will never even come close to experiencing the true definition of overtraining!

In fact, sports scientists are overwhelmingly concluding that individuals will never reach a true overtraining state. Research on elite athletes has found an ability to tolerate a threefold increase in training volume for up to three weeks. Think about that for a moment. A threefold increase in training volume, not for a single day or week, but for three weeks straight! I tripled my training volume while at Charles Poliquin’s 5-Day Hypertrophy Bootcamp (15 workouts in five days) and felt like George St. Pierre’s punching bag. I couldn’t imagine repeating that for an additional two weeks! Again, it’s extremely hard to reach a truly overtrained state.

Overtraining vs Overreaching

Losing your appetite, altered sleep patterns and change in mood are often a reflection of overreaching, not overtraining. Do not confuse the two. Overreaching or overwork means a short period of increased work that deliberately exceeds your abilities. It’s an intentional stress that is placed on your body for a brief period of time followed up with a period of undertraining or deloading to allow for a greater super compensation after-effect, as opposed to periods of normal training. You can recover from overreaching after one or two weeks. It took me approximately seven days of doing nothing to recover from the 15 workouts in five days.

Overtraining has been blown out of proportion for commercialism…

Overtraining certainly exists (primarily in endurance athletes, not bodybuilders) and can absolutely hinder your progress, which is why we introduce deload and recover weeks. However, over the years I’ve watched the concept of overtraining become blown out of proportion and distorted. Most exercise gurus are capitalizing on the desires of lazy people looking for an easy way out with messages like, “Train more than 3x a week and you’ll overtrain.” Really? This type of marketing  has created a generation of lifters more concerned with how much rest to take rather than how much training to perform. Most people who discuss overtraining are using it to justify not working hard, instead of working harder.

 I, personally, have never met someone overtrained in my 10 years in the business…

Take it for what it’s worth but, have you? Sure, I have had clients who express feeling of staleness in their workouts and even use terms like, “I feel burned out…” However, that’s nothing that one or two weeks of rest and good nutrition can’t fix. Now that we know that a truly overtrained state is a fear we can throw in the dumpster, it’s time to address a bigger problem:

Undertraining Syndrome

I believe that most people are lacking progress due to undertraining, not overtraining. Although there are no “negative side effects,” undertraining can take a toll on your motivation and self-esteem. Here are the biggest culprits of undertraining:

  • Rest periods. A beginner can stick to a generous 90-second rest period between sets and get bigger – to a point.
  • Intensity (as defined by how close you are to your 1RM). A beginner can improve his bench without doing reps lower than his 6RM – to a point.
  • Frequency. A beginner can gain weight training only three times a week – to a point.
  • Tempo. A beginner can ignore lifting speed and gain size – to a point.
  • Volume. A beginner can build his arms with only six sets per workout – to a point.


Adaptation = Stagnation

All in all, if more overall work is not achieved, your body has no reason to progress. When most people sign up at the gym, they should ask for the “social membership,” not the “gym membership” because their workouts revolve around 20-30 minutes of sub-intense training, lots of resting and deciding which exercises to do based on where the cute girl is going next. On top of this, every few weeks they go missing in action, so they lack consistency. These types of people are undertraining and never see any real results. This approach never gets the job done.

Failing to manipulate your loads, rest times, tempos, duration and frequency is the fastest way to undertrain. It’s about perioidzation and if you’re not using it, you’re swimming upstream without a paddle! Case in point – every single athlete that recently competed in the 2012 Olympic Games used some form of periodization, which simply means to plan. No one here will probably make the Olympics but there is still a lesson to be learned.

You don’t arrive at the gym and bench press 315 pounds. You design a plan preparing you to lift 315 pounds. You don’t just commence “high volume training.”  You cycle an HVP (high volume phase), an MVP (medium volume phase) and an ELVP (extremely low volume phase). Anything else is a Dummies approach and the Dummies approach is simply dumb.

It’s very hard to get leaner, stronger and bigger by accident. Progression is the name of the game and many people are just hoping that showing up to the gym is enough to progress. It might have been when you were 16 years old but for many of you, those days are long gone my friend. Without progress, you will be undertraining and have little to show for your “social membership,” I mean gym membership.

Self-Check Time

It’s time to be honest with yourself. How far have you come in the last few years? Some of you are nodding your head with pride and good on you! Most likely you’re following some form of periodization and are experiencing the fruits of your labor. Keep rocking. Some of you are realizing that you’ve been doing the same number of reps, sets and weights for months, maybe years without changing anything. Maybe you’ve changed a few variables but your frequency, duration and intensity haven’t changed. The ultimate self-check is to look in the mirror – that will tell you very quickly if you’re undertraining.

5 Tips If You’re Suffering From Undertraining Syndrome  

  • Train your weak body part twice a week. On a five day split, you could do this Monday and Friday.
  • Start wearing a stopwatch and reduce your rest periods by 15 seconds every set.
  • Start following a tempo — a 3 or 4 second negative on most of your lifts will instantly extend your sets.
  • Start training each body part twice a day – an Intensification workout in the morning and an Accumulation workout in the evening for the same body part. We teach this protocol only to our Hypertrophy M.A.X. members.
  • Get someone to write out your workouts. Either hire a personal trainer or follow a periodized program like No Nonsense Muscle Building. Get on the Waiting List for Hypertrophy M.A.X. when it reopens December 18th — the most epic 12-month periodized muscle-building program in the galaxy. Yes, in the galaxy.



The only time undertraining is acceptable and encouraged is for planned deloading/recovery weeks. Other than that, say “NO” to undetraining.

Let me know your thoughts and comments below, OK? Do you agree with me? Are you tired of hearing about overtraining? Is overtraining blown out of proportion? What are signs for you that you’re undertraining? 100 comments below before I post the next mistake!

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