Overtraining refers to a bundle of negative psychological and physiological effects that can be caused by exercising to the extent that the human body isn't capable of recovering quickly enough in between workouts. Overtraining is a very real condition, but lately it’s been taking a beating thanks to videos by the always charismatic CT Fletcher, who believes overtraining to be a myth invented by lazy ‘fatasses’ in order to avoid working out. While this can be the case, I would argue that it’s a lot more likely that CT is simplifying the problem and then misdirecting in order to confuse the actual point that he’s making.
CT tries to ‘reclaim’ overtraining, telling us in his videos that we need to take it back. We need to constantly overtrain (push ourselves beyond our previous limits) in order to get stronger and bigger. The problem is, none of that is actually relevant. If your body is capable of handling the load, even if that means pushing yourself further than you previously thought yourself capable of going, then it’s not overtraining. Period. Much the same as when John Romaniello tried to reclaim the ‘alpha male’ title, the problem here is that the very definition of the term in question precludes the possibility of its being reclaimed. Overtraining is a word which describes only those forms of training which lead to adverse physical and mental effects - if you don’t suffer a sustained negative effect from your training, then it’s not overtraining. It’s just training.
CT and most of his proteges are guys who have years of exercise experience behind them, and know exactly what to do and how to do it. They know their limits and how hard they need to push themselves to expand those limits. They know the right way to eat, sleep, and rest in order to recover in time for the next workout. In short, the chances of them suffering from overtraining are slim to none, because they have everything going for them and have already maximized the recovery potential of their own bodies.
Most ordinary men and women, on the other hand, don’t have any of that going for them. They don’t eat right, don’t get enough sleep, don’t know what a good workout is, and most importantly, they haven’t yet learned how to properly listen to their bodies and avoid injury. If they try to push themselves too much, too soon, then it’s very likely that they’re going to injure themselves. Crossfit also doesn't believe in overtraining, because they don’t believe in exercise programming, and that typically means that newer crossfitters are exposed to too much workload and we get numerous accounts of crossfit-induced rhabdomyolysis. Overtraining is very real, and largely affects lower-level exercisers. It isn't that they’re fatties; sure, they could be, but more likely they’re people genuinely trying to get into better shape (else they wouldn't push themselves so hard) and who get actively discouraged from exercising by negative experiences combined with a dedicated focus on not even acknowledging the potential negativity of these experiences by elite-level exercisers.
In short, CT Fletcher talking about overtraining not being real is like a fish telling a human that it should be able to breathe water (or vice versa). There are simply two very different experiences here, and no effort is being made to bridge the gap. (I’m all for human/fish genetic hybrids, scientists.) This, in turn, leads to lower-level exercisers being discouraged by the lack of effort to accommodate them, causing them to quit altogether or to fail to seek help from qualified sources, leading to lots of wasted time (or, god forbid, driving them straight into the arms of Planet Fitness). There's a huge difference between the sort of overtraining that CT is talking about, and the kind of overtraining that everyone else is talking about, and that's the problem.
I have great respect for CT, and I won’t deny that I love his videos. He’s honest and real, and brings so much charisma to the table. I can only hope that when I reach his age, I look as good as he does. His videos are a great inspiration. That being said, everyone needs a brand, and he’s trying to brand himself on the ‘overtraining isn't real’ line that I feel to be deeply flawed. The two principles of personal training that I feel to be most important are 1) get results and 2) get them in a sustainable way by helping your clients have good experiences while doing so. CT is all about the first, not so much the second. Causing clients to burn out and drop off isn't helping anyone. Let’s get better at empathizing with clients without having to sacrifice intensity in our own training.