What is Overtraining?

How Do I Know if I am Overtraining?

Over Trained
Over Trained

Overtraining is not good. Your performance and quality of life will suffer if you are chronically overtrained. Beware!


How to Detect Overtraining
Physical Signs & Symptoms
Psychological Signs & Symptoms
Impaired Athletic Performance
Immunological Signs & Symptoms
Biochemical Signs & Symptoms
Contributing Factors
How to Avoid Overtraining
How to Recover from Overtraining

There are plenty of signs be aware of when it comes to your body’s signals about pushing yourself too far. Over training your body will cause you to plateau or worse – regress.

The most common sign of overtraining is the total loss of motivation to train, and exhaustion mixed with some the symptoms listed below.

How to Detect Overtraining

Common warning signs of overtraining include:

  • Washed-out feeling, tired, drained, lack of energy
  • Persistent muscle soreness
  • Mild leg soreness, general aches and pains
  • Pain in muscles and joints
  • Sudden drop in performance
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Decreased immunity (increased number of colds, and sore throats)
  • Decrease in training capacity / intensity
  • Moodiness and irritability
  • Depression
  • Loss of enthusiasm for the sport
  • Decreased appetite
  • Increased incidence of injuries.
  • A compulsive need to exercise
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Decreased appetite
  • Irritability
  • Elevated resting heart rate
  • Increased susceptibility to infections
  • Increased incidence of injuries
  • Loss of motivation
  • Decreased performance

You may feel exhausted in the morning, even after a good night’s sleep. Your legs will feel heavy and you will feel sluggish. Getting out of bed in the morning is a pain when you are overtrained.
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What is Overtraining?

Physical Signs & Symptoms:

  • Elevated resting pulse / heart rate
  • Intolerance to exercise
  • Decreased performance
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of muscle mass
  • Exhaustion
  • Increases in minor injuries
  • Muscle soreness and damage
  • Joint aches and pains
  • Lethargy
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Frequent minor infections
  • Increased susceptibility to colds and flu’s
  • Insatiable thirst or dehydration
  • Appetite loss
  • Swelling of lymph nodes in the neck, groin, and armpit.
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Altered resting heart rate (HR), blood pressure and respiration patterns
  • Decreased body fat and post-exercise body weight
  • Increased VO2, VE , and HR during submaximal work
  • Decreased lactate response
  • Increased basal metabolic rate
  • Sleep and eating disorders
  • Menstrual disruptions
  • Headaches, gastrointestinal distress
  • Delayed recovery from exercise

Within your muscles, you will feel a persistent soreness. Joints and tendons will also be sore and stiff.

Additionally, you might find that your bodily functions aren’t working quite right. Females might notice their menstruation cycle is thrown off schedule.
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Psychological Signs & Symptoms:

  • Fatigued, tired, drained, lack of energy
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Inability to relax
  • Nervousness
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Apathy or no motivation
  • Anxiety
  • Decreased self-esteem
  • Decreased ability to concentrate
  • Decreased self-efficacy
  • Sensitivity to stress
  • Twitchy, fidgety or jittery

When you are overtrained you will experience a loss of interest in training. All you really want to do is try to relax, yet you probably won’t be able to. Instead you will be nervous and irritable, but you will have minimal interest in blowing off steam at the gym.

You could experience a loss of focus that might affect your performance at work or in school. Academics could suffer due to symptoms of overtraining.
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Impaired Athletic Performance:

  • Decreased performance (strength, power, muscle endurance, cardiovascular endurance)
  • Decreased training tolerance and increased recovery requirements
  • Decreased motor coordination
  • Increased technical faults

Immunological Effects of Overtraining:

  • Increased occurrence of illness
  • Impaired immune function
  • Decreased rate of healing

Biochemical Effects of Overtraining:

  • Hypothalamic dysfunction
  • Increased serum cortisol and SHBG
  • Decreased serum total and free testosterone, testosterone/cortisol ratio
  • Decreased muscle glycogen
  • Decreased serum hemoglobin, iron, and ferritin
  • Negative N2 balance

Factors that contribute to overtraining:

  • Jet Leg
  • Ongoing Illness
  • Overwork
  • Menstruation
  • Poor Nutrition
  • Poor Lifestyle Habits
  • Too Little Sleep
  • Too Much Exercise
  • Drinking too Much Alcohol
  • Poor Skills for Coping with Stress

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How to Avoid Overtraining

  • Warm up. You should warm up your entire body for 5-10 minutes before your workout. A proper warm-up can help prevent injuries. Use light weights, cardio, odd objects, or whatever you can find to warm up. Just don’t push it too hard.
  • Use a post-workout drink. Your body needs energy to recover and that comes from food. Studies tell us that immediately after a workout you want to drink a specially formulated shake rather than eating a whole-food meal.

    Use a post-workout recovery shake like Biotest Surge Recovery within 20 minutes of training. Eat a healthy meal about 1 hour later.

  • Stretch. Tight muscles can often cause other muscles to overcompensate, which can cause injury over time. Always use dynamic stretching before a workout and static stretching after a workout. Never use static stretching before training.
  • Get adequate sleep. This is one of the most important ways to avoid overtraining. Most people need 8 hours a night, some need 6, and others need 10. Once agani, listen to your body.
  • Short term recovery. Listen to your body and schedule recovery days into your weekly routine. If you’re 10 minutes into your workout and you’re feeling tired and unmotivated, go back home and rest or do a short, light workout. Yoga is a great recovery tool.
  • Long term recovery. Take a week-long break from intense training 4-8 times a year to allow for proper recovery. Training 4-5 times a week, every week of every month, all year long, is not any better than regularly skipping workouts.

    If you are strictly dedicated and disciplined not to miss a workout, you may be doing more harm than good at the gym. Set aside one week every 2-3 months to take a break.

    Some people allow one week away from fitness to revive their bodies and mind, and then when they return to training, they have more focus and are enjoying themselves again. Try Yoga, cycling, hiking, or any other low intensity exercise if you just NEED to workout – no lifting! This is called Active Recovery.

  • Reduce training volume. Reducing the intensity and/or volume of your training will allow your body to recover quicker. There is no need to always do 5 sets for every exercise. If you always do 5 sets for each exercise, why not do just 2 or 3 sets for a couple weeks, lower the weight, and focused solely on form. Strengthen your mind and muscle connection by fully tuning into each rep of each exercise.
  • Reduce training time. It has been shown time and again through various studies, that the average person should not train with max intensity for longer than 45 minutes in a single session. At Project Swole we like to recommend 60 minute workouts that involve a 5-10 minute warmup, 45 minutes of intense training, an a 5-10 minute cool-down with stretching.

    An exception could be made if you insist on doing endurance cardio after your weight training. I could see tacking 20-30 minutes of endurance cardio onto a 45 minute workout. However, most Swole readers must know by now that endurance cardio interferes with muscle and strength gains, and can actually make you lose muscle and strength when dieting to lose fat. Using endurance cardio is occasionally appropriate, but not often recommended. It’s your choice.

  • Massage. Deep-tissue or sports massage of the affected muscles is one of the most effective forms of therapy for releasing muscle tension and restoring balance to the musculo-skeletal system. Regular massage sessions may help athletes prevent injuries that might otherwise be caused by overuse. A constant build-up of tension in the muscles from regular activity may lead to stresses on joints, ligaments, tendons, as well as the muscles themselves.
  • Use a foam roller. Using a foam roller is sort of like giving yourself a massage. You can also choose specially designed ball or even just tennis balls to help with pain relief. This sort of massage can be targeted to the hamstrings, calves, knees, quads, shoulders, back, or any muscle or joint. People who are stiff and inflexible, or are prone to injury, will benefit from foam rolling, as it elongates and massages muscles and opens and flexes joints.
  • Temperature contrast therapy. Ice baths or alternating hot & cold water in the shower, uses the body’s reaction to hot and cold stimuli to enhance recovery. The nerves carry impulses felt at the skin deeper into the body, where they can stimulate the immune system, improve circulation and digestion, influence the production of stress hormones, encourage blood flow, and lessening pain sensitivity.
  • Eat enough of the right food. By ensuring calorie intake matches or exceeds calorie expenditure, you can avoid depleting the body of vital nutrients. To assist in the process of recovery, it is important to use a diet that is high in complex carbohydrates, lean proteins, and healthy fats such as Omega-3, Omega-6, and Omega-9 essential fatty acids (EFAs). Carbohydrates provide the body and brain with fuel, EFAs help relieve depression and improve recovery, and proteins will rebuild the overtrained muscles.
  • Take your vitamins. Addressing vitamin deficiencies with nutritional supplements can give you a boost over what your regular diet provides. When overtraining is a concern, supplementation is beneficial. Vitamin and mineral supplements should be taken in the morning with meals for proper absorption.

    Common vitamin deficiencies include:

    • Vitamin A (Beta-Carotene)
    • Vitamin B Complex
    • Vitamin B12
    • Vitamin C
    • Vitamin D
    • Vitamin E
    • Vitamin K
    • Folic Acid

    Common Mineral Deficiencies include:

    • Calcium*
    • Chromium (GTF)
    • Copper
    • Iodine
    • Iron
    • Magnesium*
    • Phosphorus*
    • Potassium*
    • Sodium*
    • Sulfur
    • Zinc

    *Denotes an essential mineral for maintaining balanced electrolytes.

  • Change your training split. When overtrained, splitting the training program so that different sets of muscles are worked on different days might help you recover from overtraining. Sometimes full body workouts can lead to overtraining when you use them 4 or more times a week with high intensity.

    Once you have rested enough for your body to recover from overtraining, be smart and plan your training split according to what your body is telling you. This will help to prevent over training from occurring again.

    Allow at least 48 hours between training a body part twice with high intensity. Sometimes 72 hours is even better if you are already on the verge of overtraining. Always have at least one day of rest from training each week.

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How to Recover from Overtraining

  • One or more recovery days should be added to each training week.
  • Periodized training programs can provide the necessary training variety to avoid overtraining.
  • Avoid monotonous training.
  • Check that training volume and training intensity are inversely related.
  • Avoid too great a relative intensity (percent 1RM) for extended periods.
  • Avoid too great a training volume (number of sessions, exercises, sets and reps) for extended periods.
  • Avoid performing every set of every exercise of every session to absolute failure, with no variation.
  • Avoid incorrect exercise selection (overuse of certain muscles or joints).
  • Avoid excessive use of eccentric muscle actions.
  • Take into account the cumulative training stresses from other forms of exercise like cardiovascular training, sport-specific training, etc…

Now you know the signs and symptoms of overtraining, as well as how to avoid overtraining in the first place. You’ve got a strategy for recovering if you are already overtrained, or if you become overtrained. You also have some tips for restructuring your training and lifestyle to avoid overtraining in the future.

You’ve got no reason to lapse into overtraining anymore. So go out there and train, but train smart. There is no use in wasting time at the gym.

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