What’s Overtraining?

How often should you work out, and at what intensity?  The answer is different for all of us.  Most don’t have this problem – we’re too busy to worry about exercising too much.  But then the pendulum swings the other way and we have more time, some of us in our quest to attain perfect body, will train too much and will emither “overreach” or “overtrain”.  Overreaching is excessive training on a short term basis, when we have progressed our training regimen too quickly, and have simply done too much, too soon (lack of a periodized training program.) It is the feeling of burnout, over-fatigue, or that of feeling chronically overworked.  Usually, one can recover from overreaching in a matter of days, simply by refraining from exercise and resting.  Overreaching can become problematic if we don’t listen to our bodies, and the condition advances to the next stage, which is overtraining, which is more serious.  Overtraining carries similar symptoms to overreaching, and it’s often difficult to know the difference.  It occurs frequently with athletes, and by regular folks who are preparing for an event, or trying to achieve their peak physical condition.  It is much more severe than overreaching, in that it can last for up to six months, and the individual can experience an a long-term decrease in performance.  This condition has been associated with great decreases in strength (up to 25%) and endurance, as structural damage has been done to the neuromuscular system.  Heavy resistance training is accompanied by decreased vigor, motivation and confidence; raised levels of tension, depression, anger, fatigue, confusion, anxiety, and irritability; and impaired concentration.


How to Prevent Overtraining

Are you guilty of overtraining or overreaching? Start incorporating some of these ideas into your training.

  • Design a good training program that incorporates sound exercise principles, including rest days
  • Design a program that is appropriate for your level of conditioning
  • Use the principles of cross training (variety of activity)
  • Use the principles of interval training (variety of intensities)
  • Learn to control your stress in daily life so your body can recover from exercise sessions
  • Get enough sleep to allow your mind and body to recover from workouts
  • Get a massage periodically
  • Use self-massage tools after a workout or on rest days—e.g., massage stick, foam roll, or small massage balls
  • Use a steam bath, sauna, or whirlpool, as needed
  • Eat a balanced healthy diet so that you replenish fluids and nutrients needed for recovery
  • Take a vacation several times a year to allow your mind and body to recharge; an often overlooked area in training is how your daily life impacts recovery from exercise, workouts, and sports competition

You can also prevent overtraining and overreaching by tweaking aspects of your personal life, such as:

  • Cutting back on smart phone time, including texting, web surfing, checking emails, and talking, to give your brain a break
  • Driving slower in your community so that your body is not on overdrive (not to mention that it’s safer for you and other people on the road)
  • Keeping your personal finances simple and in order
  • Enjoying time with family and friends
  • Avoiding being a constant weight watcher. Don’t micromanage every second of your life
  • Learn to complain less throughout your day


American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). ACSM’s Resource Manual for Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription, 6th ed. Philadelphia; Wolters Kluwer Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2010.
Baechle TR, Earle RW, eds. Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, 3rd ed. Champaign, Ill.: Human Kinetics, 2008.
Kreider RB, Fry AC, O’Toole ML, eds. Overtraining in Sport. Champaign, Ill.: Human Kinetics, 1998.
Richardson SO, Andersen MB, Morris T. Overtraining Athletes: Personal Journeys in Sport. Champaign, Ill.: Human Kinetics, 2008.
Verkhoshansky Y, Siff M. Supertraining, 6th ed. Rome, Italy: Verkhoshansky, 2009. www.verkhoshansky.com and www.melsiff.com.



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