[This post is written by Chris Hoina, CSCS – Athletic Development Coach at Athletic Lab]

Recently the question has been asked, what are the signs and symptoms of overtraining? Before we continue onto the signs and symptoms, it’s probably important to define and explain what overtraining actually is. While you may never experience this syndrome, it’s still important to address the potential threat and take steps to prevent it from occurring.

Overtraining syndrome is known by many names. Some may call it burn-out or just refer to the feeling of staleness, heaviness, or low motivation to achieve. As defined by Smith (2004) overtraining occurs when ?an athlete is training intensely, but, instead of improving shows a deterioration in performance, even after an extended rest period?? (p. 185). Put another way, overtraining is simply the imbalance between adaptation and time allotted for recovery (Sims, 2001). The body needs to be stressed just beyond its comfort zone in order to adapt, this is how we see gains in performance. However, when the stress and frequency outpace recovery the effects can often be deleterious.

While overtraining can manifest in many ways (psychological, physiological, biochemical, and immunological) you will probably notice first a change in mood followed by declines in performance (Smith, 2004). As an example, the first signs of overtraining will be psychological in nature; the athlete may go from an outgoing enthusiastic presence to being constantly tired, depressed and uninterested in training or competing (Smith, 2004).

While overtraining will affect athletes in different ways, the best thing that you can do is to be aware of its existence. Smith (2004) states that while a general consensus to overtraining does not exist it appears that overtraining is related to an increase in volume and/or intensity of training, or a consistently high volume of training/competing over an extended period of time, with insufficient time for recovery. If you fit this profile or think you might be at risk, consider the following recommendations:

  • Monitor performance by maintaining records of training and competition
  • Don’t increase exercise abruptly; follow the 10% weekly increase rule
  • Have at least one complete rest day (active recovery doesn’t count)
  • Variety in training schedule
  • Vary heavy load and light load days
  • Eat a well-balanced diet consisting of carbohydrates, protein, and micronutrients
  • Avoid treating with anti-depressants; determine if overtraining is the underlying cause
  • Consider stress elsewhere in life as this stress can be additive to the physical stress of training (Smith, 2004)

Keep these recommendations in mind and you should be fine. Hopefully, with proper training and recovery you’ll never find yourself in a position of being over trained. Remember, like most other areas, prevention is the best treatment.

Sims, S. (2001). The overtraining syndrome and endurance athletes. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 23(1), 45-46.
Smith, L. L. (2004). Tissue trauma: The underlying cause of overtraining syndrome. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 18(1), 185-193.