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Facts About Overtraining Syndrome

5 min read

By Jeff Hayward

Medically Reviewed by Eric Leckie, PT

When it comes to hitting the gym, we’re told it’s a good idea – but how often? There’s a healthy level, and then there’s the point where it can actually start doing yourself more harm than good.

Both the average person looking to stay fit and athletes can fall into the overtraining trap. The end result is that the body won’t perform as well, which is pretty much the exact opposite of what you’re trying to achieve in the first place. Let’s look at 12 facts about overtraining syndrome…

It’s About Recovery Time

It’s not about pushing yourself too hard per se, but it’s more about not giving yourself enough time to recover between workouts.

VeryWell Fit explains this syndrome often occurs in athletes who are training for a competition, and train “beyond the body’s ability to recover.” Without adequate rest and recovery times, “these training regimens can backfire, and actually decrease performance,” adds the source.

Physical Symptoms Can Vary

VeryWell Fit also lists some of the associated symptoms of overtraining, including a “washed-out feeling” and being drained. It can also manifest as soreness and aches, headaches, and a “sudden drop in performance.”

The syndrome can also raise the risk of getting injured, which is not what you want leading up to the big marathon. You may also experience insomnia from overtraining, and sleep is important to help the body recover and prepare.

There are Sometimes Other Symptoms

While exercise generally makes us feel better both physically and mentally, too much of it can have the opposite effect. For example, says overtraining in general can result in “elevated depression and tension.”

It can also lead to anxiety, anger, lack of self-confidence, and even decreased libido and a suppressed appetite, according to the source. Agitation and mood swings are also attached to overtraining syndrome.

It Can Impact Immunity

An article posted on says that overtraining can literally make you sick. “Athletes and coaches associate overtraining with frequent illness,” it explains, noting the most common associated illness is an upper respiratory tract infection (URTI).

In particular, endurance athletes can experience a high level of URTI both during intense training and following the competition, it adds. But a single bout of “acute intense exercise” may suppress immunity for several hours, it warns.

It Can Actually Make Routine Workouts Harder

It seems counterintuitive that working out will make the next similar workout routine more difficult, but that can be the case, according to the American Council of Exercise –

“Not only can overtraining decrease performance, it can also make seemingly effortless workouts feel unusually difficult,” explains the source. It may also mean it takes longer for your heart rate to return to normal after a standard workout, it adds.

Metabolic Impacts Can Result

The long-term energy depletion from overtraining syndrome “may lead to nutrient deficiencies,” according to the American Council on Exercise. This can manifest of iron deficiency anemia, which can impact both overall health and performance, it adds.

The syndrome may also have other nervous system and reproductive system impacts, such as disturbing the menstrual cycles in women, adds the source.

There are Three Stages

Dr. Phil Maffetone explains that overtraining syndrome has three stages on its spectrum. Stage 1 is called “functional overtraining,” which are the earliest indicators you may be training too much.

Stage 2 is called sympathetic overtraining, which the source describes as a “more obvious stage associated with specific nervous, hormonal and mechanical imbalances causing a variety of signs and symptoms.” Finally, Stage 3 is parasympathetic overtraining, which is linked to “serious physical, chemical or mental injuries.”

Limit Workout Times and Increase Rest

Men’s Fitness Magazine lists seven ways you can get an effective workout without the woes of overdoing it. It says when you notice your performance dropping, you should follow the “take two” rule – and take two full days off from hitting the gym.

Other tips include getting the proper amount of sleep each night (7 to 9-hours), consuming adequate amounts of carbohydrates, and keeping intense workouts to under 1-hour – generally at the point where testosterone levels in the body start to drop, and cortisol (stress hormones) rise, it adds.

Get a Deep-Tissue Massage

Getting a massage from an experienced practitioner can help undo some of the effects of overtraining, according to “A skillfully applied massage is the most effective therapy for releasing muscle tension and restoring balance to the musculoskeletal system,” it notes.

The source also details self-massage, which can be assisted with a body-rolling (BR) system (featuring a ball) to help target painful areas. “People who are stiff and inflexible and have, or are prone to, injury will benefit from BR as it elongates and massages muscles and opens and flexes the joints,” it adds.

It’s Associated With Eating Disorders explains, “Overtraining and eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa (AN) and bulimia nervosa (BN) often go hand in hand.” It adds that when a person’s body mass index (BMI) drops below 15, it can seriously compromise a person’s health.

Starving your body of food will start to target muscles for energy, then stored fat and then organs including the heart, the source adds. This can cause heart failure in anorexia patients in severe cases, it adds.

It May Take a While to Fully Recover explains that it takes most athletes about 4 to 6-weeks to recover from overtraining syndrome, and in some cases it can take up to 2 to 3-months. “This will all depend on a few factors such as how overtrained you really are, genetics, and age,” it explains.

It’s important to know all the symptoms related to overtraining so you know when you’re ready to get back to your regular workout routine, it adds. It may even just be when your motivation and excitement to exercise returns, which can be diminished by overtraining.

Try Variation Training in Future

One cause of overtraining can be reaching past a “plateau,” which is when you can’t seem to push beyond the level you’re at – whether it’s weight training or endurance. It’s actually your body adjusting to your regular workout. says you can avoid overtraining by employing variation training, which will result in “shocking the body into further development” while preventing boredom from doing the same old routines. “You can vary the exercises themselves, the order in which you do them, rest periods, rep ranges and rep tempo,” it explains.

DPT, Doctor of Physiotherapy

Eric Leckie is a men's health Physiotherapist specializing in prostate cancer treatment. He completed his studies in Australia earning his Doctor of Physiotherapy from the University of Melbourne. He currently works in a private practice, in addition to owning his own Telehealth Physiotherapy clinic which focuses on treating men with prostate cancer.

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