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How intentional undertraining can benefit your health

Many gym-goers and athletes overtrain. Often leaving themselves fatigued/injured. Sound familiar? This article will help you understand the benefits of intentional undertraining.

The concept of intentional undertraining is not new and has been explored in relation to managing training loads. The exploration of how muscle clocks and the strategic timing of resistance training fits into a programme that includes intentional undertraining is a contemporary way to examine undertraining. This is what Amy Ashmore does brilliantly in her new book Timing Resistance Training.

What is intentional undertraining?

Intentional undertraining is in alignment with exercise programming strategies that focus on monitoring training load. Sometimes referred to as de-loading or tapering. Intentional undertraining can be beneficial in reducing the risks associated with overtraining.

Photo by Julia Larson from Pexels

A period of scheduled undertraining (like a gentle jog) can help recovery and prepare muscles in advance for future competitions.

Health benefits of intentional undertraining

Training can be ineffective, regardless of training load, if the athlete is tired and not feeling well. Thus, intentional undertraining can be a viable solution to help mitigate the relationship between high-intensity exercise and sleep disturbances. Although it is not suggested that all workouts be of low to moderate intensity.

Periodic intentional undertraining, when strategically used, is a solution to sleep disturbances. It can have a long-term effect on training efficacy and muscle performance. Because intentional undertraining is a training method that relies on your muscles’ ability to recognise timing cues, it can be used to improve the efficacy of periodic low to moderate training.

To find out more specifically about tapering or de-loading you might be interested in reading:

What’s the problem with overtraining?

Photo by Oliver Sjöström from Pexels

Training too much causes the body to produce cortisol and can increase the likelihood of injury.

We recently wrote a post on overtraining. Amy Ashmore writes in her new book Timing Resistance Training; Overtraining is counterproductive and it can even be deadly. Overtraining disturbs the body’s natural cycles and rhythms and causes desynchronisation of biological systems. In addition to disruptions that are easy to see, overtraining also increases free radicals, which are unstable atoms that cause negative changes to protein cells inside muscles. Free radicals cause oxidative damage and can lead to disease.

Overtraining also leads to unwanted catabolism or muscle breakdown. And to make matters worse, training too much causes the body to produce cortisol. That’s a stress hormone that causes more muscle breakdown and the body to retain fat mass.

The efficacy of undertraining

Undertraining is a possible solution to the threats of overtraining and to help modulate training loads. However, the problem is that most people tend to think that undertraining means underperforming. This line of thought has led to overdoing both training volume and intensity. This can lead to overtraining, fatigue and injury—all of which can cause poor performance during workout sessions and competition and even cause injury and death.

One way of thinking about the efficacy of undertraining is to reflect on the fact that sports are complex. Fatigue and other personal factors such as alertness, stress and mental state affect session training outcomes even if training load is the same. Simplified exercise programming, such as using biomechanically similar exercises and consistent programming time cues, uses muscle clocks and is a way to prepare muscles for training and competition while avoiding overtraining from movement paradigms and increasing volume and intensity only.

Effective programming

Resistance training does not need to be complex to be effective, in either exercise selection or programming, and the data on muscle clocks support that claim. Exercise selection can come down to easily pairing biomechanically similar exercises that provide muscle clocks with critical exercise training and programming cues. Regularly scheduled exercise and carefully programmed training loads can help muscle clocks learn what to anticipate when and click on adaptations associated with muscle performance even before training begins.

What is done during training sessions is an important part of the overtraining equation, but recovery is equally important to get the desired muscle performance outcomes. In exercise training and programming, rest is as important to training outcomes as the training load itself. It is imperative to keep in mind that intensity or volume can be increased at will to meet a specific performance goal, but overcoming overuse injuries and the variety of physiological and psychological effects of overtraining are much more complex; therefore, approaching training with the mind-set that muscles are intelligent and can learn to aid in training outcomes is paramount.

More on intentional undertraining

To read more about intentional undertraining check our Amy Ashmores new book Timing Resistance Training

Intentional undertraining Amy Ashmore

Adapted from:

Timing Resistance Training

Amy Ashmore

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Header photo by Leandro Boogalu from Pexels

This entry was posted in: Fitness & Health


Hi, I'm Ryan, the Marketing Manager and chief blogger here at Human Kinetics Europe Ltd. As somewhat of a washed-up athlete I've always had a passion for health, fitness and sport science. I now find myself working at the world’s biggest independent publisher of sport, health, dance and fitness resources. This means I get unrestricted access to all the best, most interesting, scientifically-proven writing on sports science. Of course I'm going to share this with you!

1 Comment

  1. josephtainsh says

    I like the term working out better with a balance of working in – tai chi, yoga and meditation really help if I feel over worked.

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