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signs of overtraining

15 Signs of Overtraining, Tips for Recovery & When to See a Doctor

Seeing signs of overtraining can be frustrating, it almost feels like you’re being punished for trying to stay healthy! But, nonetheless, overtraining is a problem among eager athletes, which is why we have listed the key signs to look out for. 

In this article we will cover:

If you take exercising to the extreme, you may see some signs and symptoms of overtraining, so continue with this article to get clued up on everything you should know and look out for. 

Before we dive in, if you are a fitness enthusiast, why not check out our diploma in personal training to get started in the sector? Alternatively, find all of our fitness courses here in our downloadable course prospectus. 

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What is Overtraining?

It may sound self-explanatory, but overtraining is generally when athletes perform more exercise than their bodies can handle. More specifically, training intensely without adequate rest periods can cause performance to decline rather than improve.

Engaging in almost any type of sport or fitness activity runs some risk of overtraining, however, it’s something that is more common with cardio exercises such as running, swimming, and cycling. So, although spending time at the gym and pushing yourself is great to an extent, continuing to do so when your body is begging you to stop, will not be beneficial long term. 

There are two levels of overexercise – overreaching and overtraining. Overreaching is less severe and is usually any muscle soreness that exceeds your normal levels after a workout. This occurs when you don’t give yourself adequate time to recover between workouts. It may make you feel run down and in need of a rest. Fortunately, that’s just what you need to do to reverse the effects of it! Head over to our handy article on rest days and how many you should take here for some help.

Overtraining syndrome (OTS), also known as burnout, is more serious. Common with athletes, the basic overtraining syndrome definition is the condition when a person experiences declining performance and fatigue despite continuing or increasing training. 

This is when the symptoms of overexercise become more serious. Overtraining can result in prolonged muscle soreness, performance plateaus, and poor-quality sleep. This has a much longer recovery period than overreaching, meaning that athletes or fitness enthusiasts may be out of training for weeks or even months depending on the severity of injuries. 

Recovery from overtraining syndrome is much harder on the body than healing after overreaching. Keep this in mind the next time you choose to exchange a rest day for some intense training when your muscles haven’t sufficiently recovered. 

Now that you understand the definition of overtraining, let's find out what you should be looking out for if you are at risk of over training...

Signs and Symptoms of Overtraining

It’s likely that if you’re already asking, ‘what are the signs of overtraining?’ you may need to reduce the intensity of your workout.

Thankfully, there are many different overtraining syndrome symptoms, so it isn’t too difficult to spot the early warning signs of overtraining. 

#1 Workouts Feel Harder

One of the first signs and symptoms of overtraining you may notice is that your usual workouts feel a lot more challenging, you may find that the sports and exercises you frequently engage in require more energy and effort than they normally do. 

This increase may make you feel you’re working harder than you are, even though your body is moving at its usual rate. This can result in a higher heart rate during exercise, and it may take a while for it to return to normal once you’ve finished your workout. 

It’s likely your body will feel the same pain or soreness as when you haven’t exercised for a while. This unfavourable feeling during workouts can be frustrating when you’ve worked hard to build yourself up to a certain level. However, if you continue to ignore the effects of overtraining, you’ll only be setting yourself back even further.

So be sure to take regular rest days!

#2 Decreased Performance

You may believe that ‘more is better’ when it comes to exercising, and this is true to an extent. However, overtraining can have the opposite effect and cause performance to decrease rather than improve. 

Signs of overtraining and decreased performance levels include lower endurance, strength, and agility. It can also slow down your usual running speed and reduce reaction times during training. If your body hasn’t sufficiently recovered, naturally you won’t be performing at your best, which could potentially undo all your hard work.

The effects of overtraining aren’t always a decrease in performance, it can also result in your training reaching a plateau. This means you ‘hit a wall’ with training and see very little change or progress, this is a common thing people experience during their weight loss journeys.

After initial weight loss, many people find their body stalls and it becomes much harder to shift the extra pounds. Even though they’re still exercising and eating healthy, their declining metabolism causes them to burn fewer calories and halts weight loss. 

Overtraining syndrome has a similar effect, as although you haven’t altered your exercise routine, you find you’re no longer meeting your goals. This can of course feel frustrating, so be sure take our advice to prevent this, and if you need help with your diet read our article on the best metabolism boosting foods here.

#3 Excessive Fatigue

Tiredness is perfectly normal after exercise and is usually a sign of a successful workout, however, fatigue isn’t the same as drowsiness or feeling sleepy. 

Fatigue is an overwhelming tiredness that isn’t relieved by rest or sleep. While there are many different medical causes of fatigue, such as anemia and depression, it’s also one of the major signs of overtraining. 

As this research highlights, most athletes will recover after a two-week period of adequate rest if they suffer an abnormal response to training. However, a diagnosis of overtraining syndrome may be made if the fatigue becomes so severe that recovery doesn’t occur after two weeks of said adequate rest.

Fatigue will become increasingly worse if your body doesn’t have the chance to recover from previous workouts before pushing yourself further. Exhaustion is normal after an intense workout, but you should always give yourself rest days in between, especially when starting out with a new exercise routine.

#4 Reduction of Appetite

As your body burns calories to maintain energy levels, exercising may increase your appetite to replace the calories burned during workouts. This is why athletes often consume thousands of calories, so they can replenish the amount they’re constantly burning during training. 

However, one of the symptoms of overexercise can be a reduction of appetite. This may be surprising as naturally you would think there would be a risk of gaining weight from an increased calorie intake, especially if you’re exercising every day. 

A loss of appetite may be attributed to shifts in certain hormones, such as ghrelin and cortisol. This can be detrimental to athletes and anyone engaging in exercise as it can result in a low energy availability (LEA).

LEA is a state when the body does not have enough energy left to support all physiological functions required to maintain peak health. A negative energy balance causes your body to break down fat and muscle to ‘fix’ the energy deficit by using these energy stores and help the low energy availability.

Your body will try to restore the energy balance by ‘switching off’ fewer essential functions to save energy. If you’re training, this is an undesirable state as you should be aiming to improve the function of your body, not worsen it. 

Fortunately, the recovery from overtraining syndrome regarding appetite is something that can easily be resolved. Your body needs fuel and plenty of it, so make sure you are eating a balanced diet and having three set meals a day, even if you don’t feel like it. 

If you need some inspiration to make a great dinner tonight, read our article on the benefits of eating healthy on the body and mind here.

#5 Mood Changes

Are you finding yourself more irritable and agitated? Well, you may be interested to hear that mood swings are one of the common signs of overtraining. 

The reason for this is because overtraining syndrome significantly affects stress hormones. These hormones include cortisol and epinephrine, and so overtraining can have a negative effect on your general mood. So aside from frustration and grouchiness, overtraining can be a catalyst for brain fog and in some cases depression

Typically, exercise is very good for mental health, however, the effects of overtraining may have the opposite effect and make you feel worse mentally. 

Now, this isn’t to say your personality will completely shift and you’ll suddenly suffer from increased irritability or depression, but it could worsen these existing personality traits. If you believe you’re suffering from overtraining syndrome and it’s starting to have a negative effect on your mental health, you need to take some time away from it.

Regardless of your fitness goals, nothing is worth sacrificing your physical and mental health for. If it’s becoming an obsession, it may be best to reduce the intensity of your workouts and create some smaller, more achievable goals. As always, listen to your body and mind, and act accordingly.

#6 Restless Sleep

A sign of overtraining you may be surprised to find is a lack of or restless sleep. This may sound confusing because you’d think intense daily training would lead to constant exhaustion rather than restlessness. 

However, a consequence of overtraining syndrome is a reduction in sleep and increased experience of insomnia. This is largely a result of a stress hormone imbalance and a nervous system overload which makes it difficult to relax or ‘switch off’ when you try to sleep. Rest is important during training and not sleeping properly reduces the vital time your body needs to repair and restore itself after workouts.

The NHS states that insomnia is a problem experienced when you have difficulty sleeping, this can either be that you find it difficult to fall asleep or you constantly wake up throughout the night (disturbed sleep). While this may not sound so bad, a lack of sleep can lead to many different health issues and will eventually affect your daily life. 

The short-term side effects of insomnia are things like daytime fatigue, anxiety, depression, poor concentration, and low motivation. However, it can lead to more serious long-term health effects. This is because sleep is crucial for the maintenance and function of nearly every system in the body. 

According to this 2016 review, sleep plays many roles in the maintenance of cardiovascular health so not getting enough of it can eventually result in issues such as heart attacks, heart disease, and strokes. A lack of sleep also appears to affect the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar which may result in diabetes.

If you’re worried this is one of the signs of overtraining you’re experiencing, try some of these ways to treat restless sleep:

  • Establish a routine by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day.
  • Put away all electronics such as phones and laptops at least one hour before sleeping. This can keep your mind alert. Try taking a bath or reading instead to relax mentally.
  • Ensure you have a comfortable mattress, as well as soft pillows and covers.
  • Try blackout curtains to eliminate light or use an eye mask.

Many people underestimate just how important sleep is for the body, though when training, it should be treated as important as eating a healthy diet. 

#7 Persistent Muscle Pain

Muscle pain is normal after intense workouts, especially if you’ve just started exercising and are using muscles that haven’t been utilized for a while. However, continuous pain may be a sign of overtrained muscles. 

If you’re still sore after a couple of days, it’s likely you aren’t recovering properly. Your body won’t heal efficiently if too much stress is placed on it, and this will hinder your muscle-building goals. It’s important to treat muscle pain as you would with any injury. 

Try some of these methods to relieve muscle pain and recover properly:

  • Elevate: Elevate the area, ensuring you give it enough time to rest. The best way to elevate your legs is to raise them so they’re above the level of your heart. Use pillows or foam leg raisers to do this. Try doing this a few times a day for around fifteen minutes. Alternatively, if the muscle pain is in your arm, use arm rests on the sofa or a sling for a few days if pain persists. 
  • Ice Packs: If you are suffering from inflammation, use ice packs to reduce the swelling. You can then alternate this with heat to improve blood flow and treat muscle stiffness. 
  • A Warm Shower: Another way to treat the symptoms of overtraining muscles is to take a warm shower. The heat relaxes your muscles by dilating blood vessels and increasing blood flow. Muscle tightness is reduced when there is an increase in blood flow and the steam from the shower can relieve tension. Even better, why not try soaking in a bath with Epsom salts? These tried and tested pure minerals have been used for centuries to treat all kinds of aches and pains. 
  • Medication: It's often best to try natural remedies before immediately jumping to medications. However, if you want to relieve this aspect of overtraining syndrome, try taking some over-the-counter pain relief tablets such as aspirin or ibuprofen.

If pain persists and muscles continue to feel stiff, you may benefit from a sports massage or a deep tissue massage. These types of massages are great for athletes and fitness enthusiasts as they target muscles and specifically treat strains and sports injuries by using slow, deep strokes.

If you see any warning signs of overtraining muscles, it’s best to provide the right care and treat them accordingly. Muscles need adequate time to recover and heal, and this is important for avoiding long-term health issues and longer periods of inactivity.

#8 Overuse Injuries

Overtraining syndrome can result from almost any form of exercise. However, it’s very common to see signs of overtraining after cardio workouts such as cycling, running, and swimming; a reason for this is because it’s common for people to continue to push and challenge themselves during these kinds of workouts, especially beginners.

Straining muscles or not giving yourself sufficient recovery periods will result in overuse injuries that will then stall your training progress. Overuse injuries are common signs of overtraining after running and other cardio activities, and can result in stress fractures, shin splints, broken bones, and joint strains. 

High-impact exercises like this are likely to bring about overuse injuries as the effects of them may not be felt until a few hours after your workout rather than during it. 

Signs of overtraining after cycling are common too, especially among those who focus on endurance and speed. If you’re worried you may be seeing the warning signs of overtraining such as sleep disturbances or muscle tenderness, try this test by monitoring your performance. 

When you are feeling strong, take one of your usual high-intensity rides and monitor everything – speed, heart rate, and time. Take the same ride at the same intensity when you feel you may be overtrained and compare both results.

The best time to treat an overuse injury such as knee or ankle sprains is as soon as possible after it occurs. Use the RICE method (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation) to reduce swelling and relieve pain.

Alternatively, try using over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen to help with injuries. When the soreness has eventually subsided, perform muscle stretches and gentle exercises to avoid stiffening.

The most important thing to remember is that while training can be difficult, you shouldn’t be exercising to the point of injury during every workout. Moderate DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) are natural after training and anyone who begins a new exercise routine will suffer from it at some point. 

However, you shouldn’t aim to work out to the point of exhaustion, and while having the determination to achieve your goals is great, your health is more important. If you’re new to exercise, find the answer to ’what is delayed onset muscle soreness?’ here.

#9 Increased Illnesses 

As one of the signs of overtraining syndrome is a general ‘run-down’ feeling, you may notice you get sick more often.

In the winter months, illness is common and expected for most people. However, it can also be one of the signs of overtraining, the reason behind this is a lower immune system due to your body being in a constant catabolic state. 

This results in side effects such as joint and muscle pain, fatigue, and increases your chances of becoming ill. Don’t ignore this constant sickness as it’s your body’s way of telling you to have a rest. This could make you more prone to other infections such as upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs) which are infections of parts of the body involved in breathing and this will set you back even further!

Other health issues and illnesses could result from long-term low energy availability. This may eventually lead to nutrient deficiencies such as iron deficiency anaemia which can be detrimental to overall health and performance.

Further health complications can also involve the cardiovascular system as well as the nervous and reproductive systems. This doesn’t mean these things will happen, but there is always the potential for future problems if issues aren’t dealt with early on. This is just one of many reasons as to why it’s so important to pay attention to the warning signs of overtraining. 

Ensure your body receives adequate rest so your immune system can work efficiently and fight off illnesses. For further guidance, head over to our article on the best immunity boosting foods.

#10 Altered Resting Heart Rate

Your heart rate is the number of times your heart beats per minute (bpm). According to the British Heart Foundation, a normal resting heart rate for an adult is anywhere between 60 and 100 bpm. However, this depends on what you were doing before checking and when it was measured. Most people’s heart rate should be below 90 if they are relaxed and healthy.

If your heart rate is elevated during periods of rest, this may be a sign of overtraining. This can raise your heart rate by 10-15 beats per minute, but even changes of more than 5 bpm is a good indicator you may be overtraining. 

Give yourself enough time to recover to avoid any long-term cardiovascular issues. If the issue persists, it’s best to consult a doctor if your resting heart rate continues to be unusually high.

To do a reading of your heart rate, you need to check your pulse.

  • Put one of your hands out with the palm facing upwards.
  • Using the index finger (first finger) and middle finger on your other hand, place these fingers at the base of the thumb on the inside of your wrist.
  • By pressing lightly, you should feel your pulse. If you can’t, try pressing harder or moving your fingers around the area to locate it.

If you find yourself asking ‘am I overtraining?’ After workouts, why not try using a heart rate monitor? While they aren’t an essential tool for fitness, they allow you to see the intensity of your workouts and adjust them accordingly.

You can check out some heart rate monitors to track your data in this OriGym blog post.

#11 Weight Gain

When you engage in frequent exercise, especially at a high intensity, you expect to lose weight, not gain it. However, this may be one of the symptoms of overexercise. Weight loss may be made harder because of overtraining, as this can lead to stress-related hormonal fluctuations. 

This is one of the common signs of overtraining after cardio exercises as physically demanding activities like marathon training can produce increased levels of the body’s main stress hormone cortisol, and decrease testosterone levels. 

While cortisol is important for the body, increased levels of it have been associated with other common signs and symptoms of overtraining such as inflammation, sleep disturbances and excess stomach fat. 

Weight gain may also occur from junk food cravings and increased hunger, resulting from the elevated cortisol levels. To avoid cravings for foods that are high in sugar and fat, consume enough calories throughout the day to avoid snacking on unhealthy foods at night. 

Be sure to stay hydrated as drinking plenty of water may reduce hunger and it is essential to eat three high-protein meals a day.

However, don’t be alarmed if you find you're gaining weight while engaging in a normal volume of exercise. If you’re building muscle, weight gain isn’t necessarily one of the signs of overtraining for weightlifting as you’ll likely gain weight on the scale because you’re increasing muscle mass. 

#12 Insatiable Thirst

After an intense workout, you’ll probably find water has never tasted better. Dehydration is natural after exercising because your body sweats as it tries to return to its ideal temperature. 

While heat is removed from your body as the sweat evaporates off the skin, you also lose body fluid. The liquid that is lost through sweat needs to be replaced during exercise so it’s important to drink plenty of fluids during and after workouts. However, constant dehydration may be a sign of overtraining syndrome.

If you’re constantly dehydrated after gym sessions, you may have to ask yourself ‘am I overtraining?’ This can put your body in a catabolic state, meaning your body is using its own muscle tissue for protein, rather than carbs or fat. 

Naturally, this has a dehydrating effect on the body and is what may be behind your excessive thirst. Fortunately, this can be easily treated by keeping yourself sufficiently hydrated and getting enough sleep.

According to the Eatwell Guide, you should aim to drink at least 2 litres of water a day, which equates to around 6 to 8 cups or glasses. This includes low fat milk and sugar-free drinks, including tea and coffee. However, it’s important to avoid too many fizzy drinks or energy drinks as these can damage teeth and increase caffeine levels - in turn leading to headaches and potentially heart problems.

#13 Depression

Overall, exercise has been proven to have many positive effects on mental health. It can help reduce anxiety and depression, as well as improve negative moods, cognitive function, and self-esteem. 

There is useful research examining the effects of exercise on mental health that notes how the best improvements are caused by rhythmic, aerobic exercises such as jogging, swimming, and cycling. 

Low to moderate exercises that use large muscle groups are great and should be conducted for 15 to 30 minutes at least three times a week - programs should be carried out for 10 weeks or longer to see improvements. However, one of the signs of overtraining is that it can have the undesired effect of harming mental health. 

It’s perfectly normal to have down days and periods of low moods as we can’t always be at our best. However, depression differs from this as it is a persistent feeling of unhappiness and hopelessness that can last for weeks or even months. 

According to the mental health charity Mind, 1 in 6 people report experiencing a common mental health problem like anxiety or depression in any given week in England. 

There are many different reasons people suffer from mental health issues, but overtraining syndrome can certainly be one of them. These hormonal shifts can stir up negative emotions and impact your mental health. 

While it’s great to challenge yourself, understand what your motives for training are. It shouldn’t become an obsession or battle but something you should have a healthy relationship with. 

Depression can also result from other factors such as low self-esteem and loss of motivation. There are many different reasons people begin exercise routines and one of these reasons is to look a certain way. Losing weight or seeing a noticeable change in your physique can be great for your self-esteem. 

However, it may have the opposite effect if you aren’t achieving a desired shape or look. The effects of overtraining can make matters worse as you may become more obsessive if you don’t want to take adequate recovery periods. The best thing you can do is focus on yourself and make sure the goals you’ve set are realistic, especially if you’re a beginner. 

This is important because if you aren’t finding enjoyment anymore, it will be much harder to find the motivation to begin a workout which is always the most difficult part. If you see the warning signs of overtraining and begin experiencing persistent negative moods or no longer find pleasure in the things you once enjoyed, talk to someone. 

You may think you can deal with it yourself but bottling up emotions is likely to make them worse and can lead to self-harm and suicidal thoughts. Consult a doctor, mental health care professional or even just a friend or relative for advice if you’re struggling.

#14 Change in Physical Appearance

Do you feel you don’t look your best lately? This may be one of the signs of overtraining. While exercise itself isn’t necessarily going to make you look bad, the effects of overtraining syndrome certainly can. 

As conditions such as fatigue and depression can cause feelings of apathy and hopelessness, this may start to affect your everyday appearance. If you don’t look after yourself, the overtraining signs will start to show on your face. This may leave you with pale skin, dark circles under the eyes, and heavy eyelids. 

Furthermore, if you are overtraining and eating very little, it may leave you falling below the boundaries of a healthy weight for your height and age. While BMI calculators are far from a perfect measurement, they can help you gain a general idea of what your ideal weight should be. 

Being underweight can eventually lead to hair loss, dry skin, and gum and teeth issues. So, if you keep track of how your body is changing, you should be able to avoid this.

Exercise should be something that makes us feel better, not worse. If you’re noticing changes in your appearance that are negatively affecting you, seek advice from a doctor, relative or friend. 

This symptom may be the result of a larger physical or mental problem that needs addressing. If you’re interested in how exercise affects our mental state, read our article on the mental health benefits of running here.

#15 Using Exercise as Only Stress Relief

While this isn’t one of the signs and symptoms of overtraining, it’s still something to consider. Exercise and other physical activities produce endorphins, which are chemicals produced by the body to cope with pain and stress. These ‘feel-good’ chemicals can temporarily relieve stress and boost your mood. 

Stress is usually a reaction to emotional or mental pressures and there can be many reasons for feeling stressed. This can be down to financial problems and family issues, or even things that are viewed as positive such as getting married or moving away. 

This releases stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline which can give you motivation and energy. Everybody needs to blow off steam and get rid of pent-up emotions occasionally – it’s even healthy to do this. However, while there certainly could be worse ways to do this, using exercise as your only stress relief could lead to signs of overtraining. 

If your emotions are high, you may push yourself too far without realising just to relieve anger and frustration. It can also have a negative impact on something that should be done for enjoyment. 

You may begin to associate anger with training, and it could quickly become your only coping mechanism, bringing more frustration if you’re in a situation where you can’t workout.

Other ways you could try relieving stress other than high-intensity exercise are:

  • Meditation
  • Listening to music
  • Going for a long walk
  • Keeping a journal
  • Meeting up with friends
  • Creating artwork

You want to aim for activities that don’t require a lot of thought or pressure. While learning a new skill is a great way to relieve stress, it could also lead to frustration rather than ease if you’re struggling to pick it up. 

If you’re experiencing persistent stress and frustration, it may be best to seek help and talk to someone about your problems.

To recover from muscle injuries, ensure to use our stretches below as preventative:

Tools for Identifying Overtraining

As the list above demonstrates, there are many different signs of overtraining. Now, this isn’t to say you will experience all of them but if you’ve noticed a couple apply to you, it may be best to take a break for a few days.

It can be difficult to measure and identify whether you’re overtraining because the symptoms aren’t always overt. However, if you’re already asking, ‘can you overtrain?’ or ‘am I overtraining?’, then chances are you might be. 

Don’t worry, if you want to identify whether you’re overtraining, there are easy ways to do this. You don’t have to run down to a lab and have your nutrient and hormone levels tested as some healthcare providers may suggest. 

Here are a few easier ways for identifying signs of overtraining:

#1 Performance Assessments

To spot early overtraining signs, it may be best to assess your performance during the first workout of a new fitness routine. This can provide you with a good baseline to compare to your performance in future workouts and track progress in the early stages. 

The important areas to take notice of are endurance levels, strength, speed, and cardiorespiratory fitness. Do this periodically when you’re at your strongest and are more experienced with a certain workout.

This will be beneficial during the times that you aren’t feeling at your best and may be spotting signs of overtraining. You can also do general performance assessments such as a 1-mile run or seeing how fast you can swim a certain number of lengths of a pool.

#2 Recording Performance

You may find it beneficial to keep detailed records of each workout to make it easier for you to see any effects of overtraining. 

This allows you to pinpoint exactly where you may have gone wrong and can help you track whether you’re seeing signs of overreaching or signs of overtraining. Record things such as times and the number of completed sets so that you can compare performances and track progress. 

Moreover, if you’re engaging in morning workouts, you can keep track of sleep, daily nutrition, or any pain and injuries.

With all the available technology out there, it’s never been easier to do this, there are plenty of apps and smartwatches with features like these available. However, you don’t need any fancy gadgets to record your performance. 

You can simply grab a journal and log your workouts this way. Do whatever is easiest for you, just make sure the one you choose will be the one you’re more likely to stick with; we can help too, as we have listed the best fitness journals to keep you motivated here!

#3 Blood Pressure & Heart Rate

As mentioned previously, if your resting heart rate has risen, it may be a sign of overtraining. Using fitness watches to monitor heart rate is a great way to identify if you may be pushing yourself too hard.

If you don’t have a watch, you can measure your pulse and track it that way. The best time to do this is after waking up in the morning, just before getting out of bed.

As well as resting heart rate, overtraining can impact your recovery heart rate which is the one immediately after exercise. Those who are active find their heart rate returns to normal quicker than those who aren’t. Therefore, you can see if you’re overtraining by observing how long it takes your post-workout heart rate to return to normal levels. 

Another overtraining sign may be a rise in resting blood pressure. This can be tracked at home, but you may want to speak to a healthcare provider as they can advise you on reliable monitors and targets, which differ from person to person.

That said, if you are ever concerned simply call your GP and they can measure your blood pressure and heart rate!

#4 Perceived Exertion Ratings

If you are unfamiliar with the term Perceived exertion, it is simply how hard you feel your body is working.

The Rated Perceived Exertion (RPE) Scale is used to measure the intensity of your exercise and ranges from 0-10 or 0-20. It is used to rate how easy or difficult you find an activity.

This can be used at any point during a workout and is an easy way to record and keep track of your exercise routine so that you can spot any signs of overtraining. For example, you may assign a score of 6 for a run on the treadmill and think that this is a normal day of cardio for you.

However, by keeping track of these scores, you may see your scores of perceived exertion steadily rise, showing that what was once pretty simple is getting harder due to the symptoms of overtraining. So, keep a log book and keep an eye on your usual scores. 

Be sure to act when there are abnormalities that are persistent!

#5 Environment Assessment

This one may sound strange, but signs of overtraining don’t just occur from pushing yourself too hard, it may also be down to the environment you’re training in. Factors such as temperature, humidity, and space can all impact your workouts.

So, if you’re feeling fed up with the environment you’re training in, this may lead to feelings of demotivation, causing you to overcompensate during future workouts if you think you aren’t trying hard enough. 

A change of scenery can be great! You might be surprised just how much better it makes workouts and helps you avoid possible signs of overtraining.

Treatments for Overtraining

Just as there are many different signs of overtraining, there are also many ways to treat overtraining syndrome.

The first thing you need to do is slow down! Whether you’re seeing signs of overtraining after bodybuilding, cycling, or any form of exercise for that matter, all issues of overtraining can benefit from the same treatment. Relax, recover, and reflect. 

You don’t have to feel guilty about taking a break from working out, there’s nothing wrong with admitting to yourself that you’re feeling rundown. Switch off from all physical activities and give yourself the rest you need and deserve.

If you think you’re seeing signs of overtraining muscles, hot and cold therapies are great ways to treat pain and inflammation. Ice is a common treatment for acute injuries, such as those that occur suddenly during or after exercise like sprained ankles. Use an ice pack or a bag of frozen vegetables to control inflammation, reduce swelling, and avoid muscle pain and spasms.

Never apply ice directly to the skin as this can cause ice burn. Instead, wrap it in a towel or piece of fabric and keep it moving around the injury. Apply ice for periods of 15-20 minutes but never for longer than half an hour. 

Heat is best used for muscle pain and stiffness, so if you’re seeing signs of overtraining muscles, keep reading! 

Don’t use heat to treat fresh swelling or inflammation as this can make it worse, heat is best used to relax muscle tissue and stimulate blood flow to the area. You can use a heat pad or even a hot towel and apply it to the affected area. 

However, never use them for extended periods or when sleeping as this can leave burns. Similarly, taking a hot shower or soaking in a warm bath is great for relaxing muscles and easing tension. This can soothe pain and is ideal for relaxing the body but also the mind, all of which are beneficial if you’re seeing overtraining signs after exercise.

Another treatment for the signs of overtraining is a massage, especially a deep tissue or sports massage, as these specifically target muscles used in exercise. If you don’t have time to schedule a professional massage, you can massage knotted or painful areas like your neck and legs yourself using muscle balms or essential oils.

However, if you’re experiencing a lot of muscle pain or tension, a full body massage may just be worth the time and money.

Ensuring you’re hydrated and receiving enough nutrients are also simple ways to support muscle recovery. Drinking plenty of fluids is important for recovery as it regulates body temperature and delivers nutrients to cells. 

Finally, ensure you’re getting enough protein and carbohydrates into your diet as these are important for endurance levels and building muscle tissue.

How To Recover From Overtraining

Recovery differs between individuals so we can’t give you an exact length of time you may be out of training for. However, recovery periods for the signs of overreaching and signs of overtraining greatly vary. 

Recovery from overreaching can range from a few days to two weeks, while it could take months to recover from overtraining syndrome. This is a reason why it’s so important to pay attention to the early warning signs of overtraining so you can stop it from getting worse.

Some things you can do to help your recovery are:

Rest By now, you may find you need a rest just from reading so much about overtraining throughout this article. However, this level of detail is needed to highlight how important rest is for training. So if you’re seeing the early signs of overtraining, it’s best to cease working out for at least a week. 

You may have to cancel or reschedule upcoming events or competitions if symptoms are severe, but this doesn’t mean you have to stay in bed for a week. Light activities like walking or stretching can still be done, just avoid anything intense that is likely to put pressure on the body.

Sleep The NHS states that adults need between 6 to 9 hours of sleep every night. This is especially necessary if you’re experiencing the signs and symptoms of overtraining as it’s likely your body is begging for sleep. 

If you’re training, it’s clear you already have some level of self-discipline and a sense of routine. This should extend to the night-time too as you should have a set time to switch off and go to bed, and don’t forget to set an alarm in the morning to ensure you aren’t getting more sleep than you need. It may be difficult at first, but you’ll be surprised how accustomed your body becomes to a sleeping routine.

Restore During exercise, your body loses a lot of fluids and minerals. This is increased if you’re overtraining, so it’s important to ensure you're fueling it sufficiently and restoring anything lost through exercise. 

Drink plenty of water during and after training to replace the fluids lost through perspiration. Make sure you’re consuming enough calories, as well as protein and carbohydrates, if engaging in high-intensity exercise. This will help your body with recovery as amino acids are the building blocks of protein which help the body work the way it should. 

Reflect Sometimes change is good. While overtraining syndrome isn’t just down to workouts, it may be what’s causing the symptoms of overexercise. If you’re noticing the signs of overtraining after running, you may want to try a different form of exercise for a while.

This doesn’t mean you have to give it up, but it may be good to take a break for a week and try something else that isn’t as tough on certain areas of the body. If you don’t want to do this, try lowering the intensity and duration of your workout. Reflect on where you may be going wrong and take it down a notch to avoid worsening any overtraining syndrome symptoms.

How To Prevent Overtraining

So if you’re questioning “what is overtraining?”, you may be wondering how exactly you go about prevention, especially after reading about the dangers. So let’s find out... 

#1 Rest Days

Give your body a break! It needs rest to be able to grow and develop, so to keep it continuing efficiently and to avoid overtraining syndrome, have a day off; rest shouldn’t be feared, it’s required. 

Having a day of rest after intense training doesn’t mean you’re lazy, it means you’re paying attention to your body. However, don’t leave too much time between workout days and rest days. A day or two should do the trick to keep you from avoiding injury and burnout.

#2 Rest Intervals

While rest days are important after workouts, reduce the possible signs of overtraining by having intervals of rest during workouts. These can be anywhere between 30 seconds to 5 minutes, depending on intensity.

Rest between sets or different forms of exercise as this can reduce the risk of overdoing it. If you find you’re needing too many rest intervals, try reducing the intensity and volume of your workouts. However, make sure you aren’t resting for too long during exercise as this may lead to a loss of rhythm and motivation.

A good way to work up a sweat with regular breaks is to participate in circuits. You can find out all of the benefits of circuit training here in our article for more information.

#3 Alternative Activities 

A day of rest doesn’t have to mean staying in bed all day, in fact you may want to try having ‘active’ rest days that involve light exercise or activity. This can help you stay in a productive mindset and keep you motivated with more intense training the following day.

Low-intensity activities such as yoga or walking are great for keeping you healthy and active without straining muscles or causing further injury. Meditation and swimming can also help keep your mind and body relaxed if you’ve been subjected to specific muscle tension.

#4 Keep a Training Log

Keeping a diary or journal can be a great way to pinpoint exactly how you’re feeling and whether you need to increase or decrease the intensity of your workouts. By keeping a record of your progress or deterioration, it may be able to answer questions such as ‘Am I overtraining?’ easier than a general online guide can. 

Document as many variables as possible so you can check for pattern changes in things like speed, times, tiredness, and heart rate. You can either use smartphone apps to do this or just grab a pen and paper. Pick the easiest one and stick with it!

#5 Eat a Balanced Diet

Your body needs vitamins and nutrients to continue working efficiently and all of this can be obtained by consuming a balanced diet and drinking plenty of water. Avoid junk foods and processed foods that are full of fat and sugar. Instead, add more protein and healthy fats to your diet, as well as plenty of fruit and vegetables. 

Examples of some good foods to incorporate into your diet are:

  • Chicken 
  • Beef
  • Tofu
  • Nuts
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Cheese
  • Wholegrains

#6 Listen to Your Body!

The bottom line is that only you can recognise when you’re overdoing it. The most important thing is to work with your body, not against it. If you spot the early warning signs of overtraining syndrome, treat it early enough to help yourself in the long term. 

Ignoring these signs will only keep you out of training for longer when they become an issue you can’t ignore. The last thing any athlete or gym goer wants to do is stop training, and while this determination to continue is great and certainly required during normal workouts, it can be your worst enemy when you need to stop. 

Sometimes you must accept an unfortunate situation and give your body sufficient time to recover. Use this time of rest as motivation to come back stronger and smash the goals that will be waiting for you when you return.

When To See A Doctor For Overtraining

If you have persistent injuries that continue to worsen, it’s best to consult a doctor if the pain becomes too much. If your muscle soreness lasts more than usual or you experience joint and ligament pain, seek medical help or advice.

Most of the time, this pain is a natural adverse effect of exercise but on a more intense level. However, while it’s unlikely you’ll need emergency medical help, you’ll most certainly need the right advice on how to treat overtraining syndrome.

Your local GP may be able to provide you with a training program that emphasises the importance of rest and recovery, as well as giving you nutritional information and plans.

FAQs

Is it OK to workout at the gym every day?

Engaging in some form of exercise every day is a great way to strengthen muscles and improve your cardiovascular system. It keeps the heart and mind healthy, as well as increasing feelings of productivity and motivation. 

The act of going to the gym everyday isn’t the issue, it’s how intense your workouts are while you’re there. There are many benefits to working out – if you don’t become obsessive about it. 

Alternating exercises and decreasing intensity on certain days is ideal for avoiding the signs and symptoms of overtraining. A good model to follow is from the trusted NHS. The NHS advise to perform 150 minutes of exercise a week, spread out across different workout sessions. 

Shorter bursts of vigorous exercise are better than spending hours at the gym. Be aware that muscles, ligaments, and joints become weaker after an hour, increasing the chance of injury. If you want to work out at the gym every day, keep workouts short and avoid daily high-intensity exercise.

Do I need protein on rest days?

Consuming enough protein is important, even on rest days. Protein is crucial for many processes in the body, such as fuelling energy and transporting oxygen through your blood. It’s also a building block for muscles and helps them repair and recover, especially on rest days. 

This is one of the reasons why it’s important to have protein even on days of low activity, as it is vital for repairing and restoring the body to keep you at your best. 

According to the British Heart Foundation, most adults need around 0.75g of protein per kilo of body weight per day. For an average man this is 55g and for a woman it’s 45g; this is around two portions of fish, meat, nuts, or tofu. Ideally, a good protein portion should fit in the palm of your hand. 

It’s important to consume enough protein if you’re seeing some overtraining signs. While it won’t cure the effects, it can help you repair tears and strains, especially if you’re seeing warning signs of overtraining after bodybuilding or weightlifting.

How long does it take to recover from overtraining?

As mentioned at the beginning of the article, the signs of overreaching and signs of overtraining are two different things. Overreaching isn’t as serious, and you should recover within a few days or two weeks at the most, while overtraining syndrome is more serious and will take longer for your body to recover from.

Recovery periods differ between individuals based on the severity of injuries, but it could be anywhere from 4 weeks to 3 months or more. While this may not be the answer you want to hear, it highlights the seriousness of these effects and why you shouldn’t ignore the signs of overtraining. 

As always, it’s important to listen to your body during rest and recovery periods, and as tempting as it may be, don’t start working out again until you know your body is ready. If you want a specialist’s opinion, a physician can refer you to a physical therapist. They can help create a recovery plan to successfully get you back on track.

Before You Go...

We hope this guide has helped you get in the know of what to look out for in the future, or has at least shone a light on some issues you’ve been facing yourself. While ambition and determination are great for pushing you towards your goals, you must also remember that overtraining can pull you further away from them. 

The signs of overtraining shouldn’t be ignored and while you may not want to admit you’re struggling; this short-term sacrifice will decrease the chance of any long-term difficulties. 

So now you’re clued up there is just one more thing, if you think you’ve got what it takes to make a career out of your passion for fitness, check out our diploma in personal training here. Or, take a browse through our downloadable course prospectus!

References:

  1. Kreher, Jeffrey B.; and Schwartz, Jennifer B., ‘Overtraining Syndrome: A Practical Guide’ in Sports Health (March 2012, Vol. 4, Issue 2) 128-138, doi: 10.1177/1941738111434406
  2. Budgett, R., ‘Overtraining Syndrome’ in British Journal of Sports Medicine (December 1990, Vol. 24, No. 4) 231-236, doi: 10.1136/bjsm.24.4.231
  3. Budgett, R., ‘Fatigue and Underperformance in Athletes: The Overtraining Syndrome’ in British Journal of Sports Medicine (June 1998, Issue 32) 107-110, doi: 10.1136/bjsm.32.2.10
  4. Wasserfurth, Paulina et al., ‘Reasons for and Consequences of Low Energy Availability in Female and Male Athletes: Social Environment, Adaptions, and Prevention’ in Sports Medicine – Open (December 2020, Vol. 6, Issue 44), doi: 10.1186/s40798-020-00275-6
  5. Grandner, Michael A. et. al, ‘Sleep: Important Considerations for the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease’ in Current Opinion in Cardiology (September 2016, Vol. 31, Issue 5) 551-565, doi: 10.1097/HCO.0000000000000324
  6. Guszkowska, Monika, ‘Effects of Exercise on Anxiety, Depression, and Mood’ in Psychiatria Polska (July-August 2004, Vol. 38, Issue 4) 611-620, PMID: 15518309
  7. Sharma, Ashish et al., ‘Exercise for Mental Health’ in The Primary Care Companion to The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry (2006, Vol. 8, Issue 2) 106, doi: 10.4088/pcc.v08n0208a

Written by James Brady

Fitness Writer & Enthusiast

James graduated with an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Manchester. His desire to find a place where he could combine his passion for writing and love of fitness is what brought him to OriGym. He believes his passion for daily exercise, especially running, is imperative in keeping him motivated and productive. As a result, he has a particular interest in the psychology of health and fitness and the relationship between physical and mental health. Outside of work, James enjoys reading, swimming, writing short stories, watching classic movies and has a keen interest in journalism and filmmaking.

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