Understanding Overtraining: Causes, effects and Solutions – how it can be avoided

Understanding Overtraining

A healthy lifestyle relies on moderation, balance and an understanding of self. With that in mind, in the same way it is important that we get enough exercise, it is also crucially important to understand what can happen if we push ourselves too hard.

Overtraining occurs as a consequence of physical exercise that is too frequent or too intense for an individual’s fitness level. While it may appear to be an issue that is unlikely to affect those who aren’t world class athletes or ultra-marathon runners, it has the potential to impact anyone who exercises regularly. Therefore, you should be aware of its causes, effects, and the ways you can avoid it.

You have to remember a part-time fitness enthusiast faces a number of potential stress factors in their everyday life compared to a full-time athlete who can focus solely on their discipline.

As we all are aware, life can get hectic and exercise is an essential tool to cleanse our mind of stress, whether that comes from finances, relationships or otherwise. Stress hormones are produced from overtraining in the same way they are produced from everyday life. If these stress hormones are produced unchecked, the psychological and physical impacts could be serious.

To be clear, there is a fine line between overtraining and overreaching. Overreaching is an important part of a training regime in order for you to progress. By undertaking an intense workout and overreaching, your body is forced to adapt and as a result your fitness improves.

Inevitably we all want to progress to reach our health and fitness goals, but we must ensure that this progression is gradual and controlled in order to avoid putting our bodies under excessive stress and causing the symptoms of overtraining.



The causes of overtraining are a result of two main imbalances in an individual’s lifestyle. The first is a result of an exercise regime that includes too much activity coupled with insufficient recovery time.

By undertaking activities that are too frequent and intense and not allowing the working muscles time to repair, muscle fatigue builds up over time. While it is normal to expect a dip in energy levels after a workout, if these energy levels are consistently not given the required amount of time to replenish then this tiredness accumulates and puts the individual at risk of the symptoms of overtraining.

Equally, overtraining can be a result of consistently under-fuelling the body. When we exercise, we burn the energy that we have consumed through food, however, if you don’t have a sufficient amount of carbohydrates to supply the working muscles and you continue to exercise anyway, then you are at risk of overtraining.

Signs you are overtraining

Physical signs

Decreased Performance

One of the most common signs that you are overtraining is a noticeably decreased performance. Muscle fatigue as a result of overtraining often leads to an inability to perform at a level you were previously able to.

Increased Perceived Effort

This decreased performance is often coupled with increased perceived effort. When you are overtraining, an activity that previously felt comfortable may feel a lot more difficult despite previously being well within your fitness capabilities.

Overwhelming Fatigue

An individual who is overtraining will also often experience overwhelming fatigue above and beyond the tiredness they would normally feel after an activity.

Chronic Injuries

Chronic injuries may also be an indication that you are training too much. If you consistently feel like you are picking up nagging injuries from your workouts, then it could be a sign that you aren’t allowing your body enough time to recover.

How to avoid overtraining

So how can you avoid overtraining? By now we have established the two main causes of overtraining, so let’s talk about some practical solutions you can implement to make sure you maintain balance and continue to progress in your fitness regime.

Keep a training log

By keeping a training log, you can monitor training periods that are more intense. Use a training log to factor in rest days to allow your body to recover and mind to reset. If you notice any of the indicators of overtraining, mental or physical, write them down so you can identify when your training has become too intense.

Attend to the stresses of life

As has been noted, the everyday stresses of life can often bubble up. When they do, make sure you deal with them before you place extra physical stress on your body. Exercise is a great way to clear your mind but be mindful of the dangers of taking it too far. Use moderate exercise to control your stress when life gets hectic and be aware that too much can lead to overproduction of stress hormones. It’s all about finding that balance.

Monitor your sleep and calorie intake

If you find yourself lying awake at night and losing your appetite in the day then add comments about sleep quality and calorie intake to your training log. This will allow you to note trends in your health as a result of the intensity of your training. With this information you can adjust your training to ensure it improves your health rather than damaging it.


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