Athletes put their bodies under a certain amount of stress in order to increase performance. This is not only limited to professional athletes, but also amateur level athletes and those simply looking to increase their fitness levels. If the stress loads are appropriate, then performance will improve BUT if the stress loads are inappropriate then a state of overtraining/under recovery can occur.
Overtraining can be a physical, behavioural, and/or emotional condition that occurs when the volume and intensity of an individual’s training exceeds their recovery capacity. They cease making progress, and can even begin to lose strength and fitness. There are different levels of overtraining, so being aware of the signs of overtraining and the common causes and symptoms will help ensure your training does not head down this path.
Common Causes of Overtraining
1. Lack of recovery – Recovery is neglected in areas such as: time between sessions, sleep, body maintenance (massage and stretching), and nutrition.
2. Increase in frequency of training – Inappropriate increase in frequency of training sessions such as double or triple sessions (in one day).
3. Increase in training load – Too rapid an increase of loading after breaks (eg. holidays, injuries, illness) so that adaption cannot occur.
4. Increase in intensity – Intensity loadings that either too soon or for too long during a session.
5. High demand on the body – Too many races or events with maximum demands, combined with insufficient recovery time.
Top Signs of Over Training
1. Decreased Physical Performance – One of the first signs of overtraining. You will start to feel like you cannot complete a session at a quality level while your time trial or race results are heading in the wrong direction (becoming slower).
2. Heavy Legs – Also known as ”heavy leg syndrome”. Characterised by sluggish, heavy ‘woody’ legs and muscle soreness. It is not unusual to feel fatigued the day after a hard session or to be stiff when you first start training. But if the sluggishness does not go away within 48-72 hours it is a sign that you require additional rest.
3. Increased Resting Heart Rate – If your heart rate is higher than normal in the morning or you feel like your heart is pounding when you get out of bed, it is a sure sign of overtraining.
4. Increased Susceptibility to Illness – Exercise and training generally strengthens your immune system, however overtraining has the opposite effect. It will depress your immune system and you will become more susceptible to illness.
5. Chronic Muscle Soreness or Fatigue – If your muscles do not get adequate rest they can become chronically sore and fatigued. This is your body trying to signal that you need to give it a rest.
6. Slower Recovery – Generally as fitness increases, the time to recover decreases. A need for increased recovery time is a good indicator of over training. So if you feel like you are needing more time between hard reps or sessions then you are probably over training.
7. Loss of Enthusiasm – Training should be enjoyable. You wouldn’t be doing it if you secretly didn’t enjoy the way it makes you feel and/or look. There will be days when you aren’t highly motivated for training, however if you go through a long stretch where you dread training and have to force yourself to go then you could be overtrained.
8. Loss of appetite – One physiological aspect of over training is an increased production of hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine. These hormones can lower appetite. So if you appetite is dwindling you may need to back off the training.
9. Moodiness and Irritability – You find yourself becoming increasingly moody and irritable.
10. Increased Incidence of Injury – With lack of recovery or a training load increase that is too soon/too much your body becomes susceptible to injuries. Niggles keep hanging around and you can’t shake them.
Tips on beating Overtraining
As with most things, prevention is the best medicine. You can prevent overtraining from occurring by monitoring your workload. Make sure that you respond to any pain or feelings of fatigue quickly and be responsible for your own health. Continuing any activity when you are in pain or fatigued may only worsen the situation. Remember, we are all individuals and we all respond differently to different training techniques so you should not be putting pressure on yourself to be able to keep up with anyone else.
2. Follow a structured training program
By following a proven structured training program you will minimise the chances of over training. Don’t ’make up’ sessions if you miss them and always seek advice from qualified coaches/trainers if ever in doubt.
3. Keep a training log/diary
All athletes should get in the habit of keeping a training log/diary as this allows you to track your training, moods and injuries. If something is amiss, seek advice. Monitor your resting heart rate (get to know what your resting heart rate is) and if it remains high over a period of 3+ days take a session easier or have a day off.
Including rest from training, additional sleep hours, reviewing nutrition, deep tissue and self-massage, cryotherapy/thermotherapy (hot/cold therapy).
If you don’t change anything, nothing will change. Reduce the volume and/or the intensity of the training. Try for some variety, change to your routine. If you think you are heading towards overtraining, make sure you seek advice from a coach who has probably experienced different levels of overtraining. Being aware of common causes and symptoms will help ensure your training does not head down this path.
About the author: Ryan Bourke is a Triathlon Coach and Head Swim Coach at Tri-Alliance in Victoria.
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