8 Ways to Avoid Overtraining

Whether you’re a serious athlete or a fitness enthusiast, overtraining can occur when a person does more than what their body has the ability to recover from. Learn how to avoid overtraining and how to identify the causes.

What is Overtraining 

Overtraining is a multifactorial response from the body’s inability to recover from excessive or strenuous exercise, usually with symptoms spanning greater than 1-2 months.1 Most commonly, there will be a decrease in sports performance lasting at least 2 months. Too much load without enough rest can lead to both physical and psychological symptoms.2 There will likely be additional stress in the person’s life, along with other physiological symptoms including psychological, neurological, endocrine, or immune system changes.1 It is important that overtraining is identified early due to the negative outcomes that are associated with long term overtraining. In the most severe cases, overtraining can lead to an end in an athletic career. 

Signs & Symptoms of Overtraining

There can be hundreds of symptoms associated with overtraining syndrome. Here are the top 10 most common signs/symptoms:1,2

  1. Persistent heavy, stiff, sore muscles
  2. Lack of mental concentration and restlessness
  3. Irritability
  4. Persistent fatigue
  5. Depression
  6. Decreased performance and ability to maintain a training program
  7. Nagging & chronic injuries
  8. Sleep disturbances
  9. Tachycardia or bradycardia (abnormal heart rates)
  10. Loss of appetite and weight loss

With a typical overtraining diagnosis, the individual will usually demonstrate: decreased performance for weeks to months, mood changes, or diagnosis of other causes of underperformance.2

Causes of Overtraining

The causes of overtraining can vary, depending on the level of training and exercise. Some of the most common causes of overtraining include:1

  • Increased training load without appropriate recovery
  • Monotony of training
  • Excessive competitions
  • Poor sleep habits
  • Increased stress (personal or occupational)

Ways to Avoid Overtraining

It is important to learn how to avoid overtraining in order to fully enjoy and benefit from your exercise program or sport. Follow these tips for eight ways to avoid overtraining:1,2

1. Start Slow

When beginning a new training program, start slowly and always listen to your body. 

2. Periodized Training

By utilizing the periodization approach to training, you can have an adequate plan and adjustments for training to accomplish your set goals. Adjust the training plan appropriately to prevent injury and allow for adequate rest. 

3. Vary Your Training

Incorporate a variety of training and cross training. In other words, don’t do the same thing all the time.

4. Follow the 10-percent Rule

When ramping up your training program, don’t increase training volume or intensity by more than 10% at a time.2

5. Taper Training Before Competition

In order to have the appropriate performance level for a competition, training needs to be properly tapered to give the body adequate rest to perform at its highest level.

6. Check In with Mental Health and Mood

Make a plan to regularly check in with your own mental health and mood. Training volumes and intensity should be appropriately adjusted depending on mental state. 

7. Monitor Food & Water Intake

It is important to ensure that you are taking in adequate calories and hydration. Adjusting caloric intake and hydration for the intensity and volume of training is key to be sure the body has the nutrients and ability to properly recover from exercise.

8. Get Adequate Sleep

Sleep is prime time for recovery. If we don’t allow enough hours of full rest at night, the body won’t be able to fully recover from high level workouts. 

How to Overcome Overtraining

Once overtraining has been identified, it’s best to work with a professional to recover properly. Overall, you will focus on building up the volume of training (or time) before intensity. For example, start with 5-10 minutes of training and increase the time gradually until 45-60 minutes is tolerated while allowing adequate rest periods. It may even be helpful to include a mental health expert or a sports psychologist in the recovery due to the likely psychological factors and symptoms associated with overtraining.

Need help from a professional when it comes to your training plan? Contact us to set up a free physical therapy consultation and learn how we can help with sports injuries, overtraining issues, and more.

1. Kreher, Jeffrey B, and Jennifer B Schwartz. “Overtraining syndrome: a practical guide.” Sports health vol. 4,2 (2012): 128-38. doi:10.1177/1941738111434406. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3435910/
2. Roy, Brad A. Ph.D., FACSM, FACHE. “Overreaching/Overtraining, More is not always better.” ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal. Vol. 19:2 (March/April 2015): 4-5. doi: 10.1249/FIT.0000000000000100. https://journals.lww.com/acsm-healthfitness/Fulltext/2015/03000/Overreaching_Overtraining__More_Is_Not_Always.4.aspx

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