Overtraining – The Warning Signs

Jun 26, 2014 | by AIF

Overtraining occurs when the intensity and volume of an individual’s exercise exceeds their recovery capacity. Ian Clayton, Australian Institute of Fitness NSW Coach, explains how to work out if you’re at risk.

One of the fastest growing modes of training across all ages and genders in recent years is resistance exercise. For the time poor and high pressured society we live in today, the demand for an ever increasing intensity and volume of training with superior results places an even greater pressure on program design, skills and input from the Personal Trainer. Crossfit training is a prime example of this concept.

So what is overtraining?

Overtraining implies that, with an enhanced training stimulus (excessively near or at maximal), the body and mind is unable to meet demands. People may experience reduced performance for a period of time – from a few days to several months and even years in some cases, even with complete rest.

It’s a simple case of damage versus repair. For example, damaging your vehicle too much or for too long will take a greater time and expense to repair.

Inadequate planning of the training intensity, volume, frequency, sets, rest, and exercise choice may lead to three distinct phases of decreased performance:

  1. Overtraining.
  2. Staleness a reduction in performance of more than 5% over a prolonged period of more than 2 weeks. This includes failed responsiveness to acute reductions in training.
  3. Burnout an exhaustive psychophysiological response and withdrawal from adherence to exercise demands, with an associated increase in depression symptoms.

The warning signs of overtraining

  • Persistent fatigue and lethargy.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Extreme muscle soreness (inflammation).
  • Sleep disturbances.
  • Weight loss in cases where the aim is to avoid weight loss.
  • Irritability.
  • Dramatic drop in performance.
  • Swollen lymph nodes.
  • Increase in resting heart rate (8-10 bpm).
  • Constipation or diarrhoea.
  • Increase in minor illness such as colds and headaches.
  • Amenorrhea (menstruation stops).

How to avoid overtraining

  1. Listen to your body. Heed the warning signs and signals, especially when you are pushing your body hard. Back off when you need to. For example, you could take one week off for every six weeks of training, or perhaps take a week off before an intense phase.
  2. Avoid exercising when you’re sick or weakened. Try low to moderate intensity workouts during this time as research has shown it benefits immune strength and will reduce the length of illness.
  3. Modify your activities. Use overtraining syndrome as an opportunity to improve other areas of fitness. You could use yoga or Pilates to reduce the impact and enhance flexibility and core control.
  4. Proper nutrition. Carbohydrate depletion has been linked with overtraining. Ensure you have a balanced approach to nutrition, targeting your daily needs and goals.

Overtraining is a serious condition, debilitating both general populations and elite athletes. If we wish to perform at a high standard while maintaining a positive mental attitude everyday then we need to cultivate a positive balance of rest and recuperation from lifestyle and exercise stressors.



The Australian Institute of Fitness
The Australian Institute of Fitness (AIF) is the largest and longest established fitness training organisation in Australia, with dynamic training methods and expert course coaches nationwide - spanning fitness, massage and nutrition. The AIF qualifies more fitness professionals than any other provider in Australia, as well as offering a broad range of continuing education courses (CEC), upskilling resources and partnership programs for existing industry.

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