6 signs you’re overtrained

Overtraining feature image

6 Signs you’re overtrained

Are you constantly tired? Are you unable to perform in the gym? Are you more susceptible to flu and other infections? These are all signs that you may be overtraining.

While the risks of overtraining are often overstated in the press from some sensationalism, the fact remains that our hectic modern lifestyles make it more likely that we’ll suffer from some degree of burnout without the right approach to rest and recovery.

Overtraining becomes more of a risk when you combine the stress of prolonged bouts of intense or high-volume exercise with other everyday stressors, like pollution, emotional and psychological stress, a poor diet, and other general life stressors like finances, work commitments and our relationships.

Overtraining can also occur if you suddenly increase your training volume, frequency and/or intensity, follow a monotonous training programme, or have an excessive bias towards certain high-intensity training methods and techniques, like hitting the CrossFit box twice a day, 5 days a week.

Learn how to deal with the next-day soreness that often follows hard training sessions.

Here are six signs to look out for if you want to reduce  your risk of overtraining:

1. Persistent illness

Overtraining is generally accompanied by frequent illness, especially upper respiratory tract infections (URTI). This is generally caused by a depressed immune system and low levels of vital nutrients and vitamins, which become severely depleted over time due to the excessive demands placed on your body.

2. Reduced performance and an inability to progress

When you’re overtrained your ability to perform high-intensity exercise is reduced. This usually presents as diminished power, endurance, strength and/or speed during an exercise session or race. An inability to concentrate, which is also closely associated with overtraining, can also negatively impact performance.

You may also find that you’re unable to add muscle, achieve training goals or improve your previous PB, because improvements in strength, size and fitness only occur during the recovery phase. This process can take days to complete, so without sufficient rest, you never fully recover – what exercise scientists refer to as an under-recovered state. If this imbalance persists then your performance will eventually start to decline.

3. Changes in heart rate

A sure-fire way to catch early signs of overtraining is to regularly measure your resting heart rate (RHR). Measuring your heart rate as soon as you wake up, before you get out of bed, and recording it daily will give you an indication of how well you are recovering.

An increase in your RHR is generally considered to be a good indicator of overtraining (it’s also an early indicator of illness). Other heart rate indicators to look for include your recovery heart rate and a drop in maximal heart rate values. If your heart rate doesn’t drop at least 12 beats in the first minute after exercise, or if your heart rate exceeds 120 bpm after five minutes or 100 bpm after ten minutes then you may be overtrained.

You may also experience reduced heart rate variability during training. This means your heart rate remains consistently elevated during training, even during easier intervals or rest periods. In severe cases, heart palpitations may also occur.

4. Constant fatigue

The length of time it takes you to recover between exercise sessions or races will increase when you are overtrained. Athletes who are overtrained also experience persistently high levels of fatigue and other symptoms like prolonged muscle soreness.

5. Uncontrolled weight loss

In an overtrained state the body can become both nutrient and calorie deficient. This means the rate at which the body breaks down body fat and muscle for energy exceeds the energy supplied from your diet and supplement intake.

Overtrained athletes also often experience a loss of appetite, which reduces calorie intake and creates an even bigger calorie deficit. This can lead to severe weight loss, which includes precious muscle, over a relatively short period of time. The body can remain in this state for extended periods as levels the of stress hormone cortisol increase when you’re overtrained.

6. Psychological changes

When you are overtrained you may also experience changes in your mood, along with a loss of apathy and motivation, irritability and/or depression. Your sleeping patterns also tend to change, often resulting in restless sleep or even insomnia.

Learn more about the important role sleep plays in the recovery process.

Recovering from overtraining

Mild overtraining may require several days of rest or reduced activity to recover, but bouncing back from severe overtraining, also known as overtraining syndrome, may require weeks, months or, in serious cases, even years of rest, rehabilitation and recovery.

So, if you don’t want to miss that big race, lose all the gains you’ve made in the gym, or take yourself completely out of action, then take note of these signs and symptoms. If you’re at risk, get a fitness professional to properly periodise your training, and find ways to reduce your overall stress levels.