How to overcome overtraining syndrome

Overtraining your body can lead to a variety of side effects as well as poor performance. Your body can only take so much without receiving any rest or recovery days. But you can come back from overtraining — with adequate recovery time.

Aug 15, 2021
Brianna Clifford, CPT, CSCS
Woman tired on a treadmill

Intensity. Toughness. Unrelenting work ethic. When we think of these descriptions, we probably envision an uber successful professional athlete, a marathon runner, or even a bodybuilder. Generally speaking, these are positive terms that are associated with success. But what happens when these terms are taken to the extreme… when the intensity and frequency of training pushes the athlete past the point of recovery?

Effective training operates on somewhat of a bell curve. There needs to be enough stress (the aforementioned intensity and effort) on a body to create an adaptation or improve performance. However, constant overload doesn’t mean constant improvement. The body can only tolerate increased training when there is an adequate rest and recovery period. If the amount of stress continues to increase over a prolonged period, and the recovery is not adequate enough to keep up, performance results may diminish. If adaptations and progress begin to decrease, while training excessively the athlete may be experiencing overtraining syndrome. 

Symptoms of overtraining can include chronic fatigue, mood swings, plateau in performance and trouble with sleeping. If left unaddressed, overtraining can even produce injuries such as stress fractures, sprains and strains or joint pain. Mental symptoms of overtraining include lack of concentration, lack of enjoyment in exercise or sport and decrease in confidence.

There can be a myriad of signs of overtraining depending on the individual athlete, but it remains true for all athletes that it is important to approach training from all angles. It’s not just the relentless physical effort that gets an athlete to achieve a goal, but the assessment of total physical and mental well-being that will ultimately progress them further. This is what separates the greatest of athletes from the rest.

So, how do we combat overtraining syndrome? The biggest factor is rest. Athletes may see improved performance by simply decreasing training volume. Training volume might be decreased by 50-60 percent, and in some cases the athlete may be asked to stop altogether for a brief period.

Aiming for seven to nine hours of sleep can also help with recovery. Turning down the thermostat, spending the last 30 minutes before bed phone-free, and making your sleep space as dark as possible are just a few ways to improve sleep quality.

Making sure you are eating enough to fuel intense workouts is an underrated tool in assisting with recovery. Working with a nutritionist can be a helpful step in making sure your macronutrient count is appropriate for the training goals.

Another approach is taking care of your mental health; perhaps monitoring time spent on social media, or maybe taking up meditation can also aide in recovery by helping you focus and relax.

Once you’ve recalibrated and when the time is right, you can gradually increase training back up, building in rest days and recovery periods. Finally, understand that overtraining is not strictly for professional athletes. If you find yourself unable to recover from extreme workouts, or start experiencing burnout, you may consider that overtraining is to blame. Working with your coach and finding a balance of proper stimulus, and adequate recovery will go a long way in achieving your fitness goals.


brianna clifford

Brianna Clifford

Brianna Clifford, CPT, CSCS, is a certified personal trainer who specializes in strength training. She understands that all clients have different structures, limitations and goals, and she loves working together to find what works best for each of them.

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