Fitness Education: How to Avoid Overtraining Syndrome

When we talked about the FITT Principle and the GAS Principle, we mentioned something called Overtraining. We mentioned it has negative effects and should be avoided if/when possible.

But what is Overtraining really? Why is it so detrimental to your physical goals, performance, and mental well-being?

The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) defines overtraining as “excessive frequency, volume, or intensity of training that results in extreme fatigue, illness, or injury.” In this very definition, overtraining is the culmination of all the extremes that define the FITT Principle (Frequency, Intensity, Time, Type) with the addition of lack of recovery and nutrition. When not addressed, it can result in Overtraining Syndrome causing plateaus in gains and decreases in performance.

How to Avoid Overtraining

Recognize Signs and Symptoms – it is important to understand and know the negative signs and symptoms in order to avoid and recover from Overtraining.

Performance Changes

Excessive soreness
Increased muscle and joint tightness/stiffness
Feeling more tired
Plateauing of physical gains lasting longer than 2-3 weeks
Decreased energy pre-, post-, and during exercise
Decreased strength, force, power, speed, and endurance

Physiological Changes

Increased resting heart rate and blood pressure
Decreased motor skills (harder to perform typically simple physical tasks)
Altered immune function (increased frequency of feeling sick or infections)
Increased pain or more frequent musculoskeletal injuries

Psychological Changes

Decreased joy in exercise
Lack of motivation
Mood disturbances
Emotional disturbances
Sleep disturbances

What not to do when training

Doing too much too soon – the rate of progression is too high
Repetitive overuse – similar repetitive movements or minimal rest between training sessions
Skipping rest days
Improper diet/lack of nutrition

Try to program your workouts/training session properly: You can create your own program properly by using the FITT and GAS Principles. However, be sure to observe progressive overload; gradually increase your resistance, weights, speed, etc. to your abilities every 2-4 weeks. Increasing your volume, intensity, or both rapidly will likely lead to overtraining.

Change up your program: Exercise program variety helps train your body to adapt to different stimuli allowing your body to recover from the training you’ve put it through for the last 2 – 4 months. Examples like cross-training (finding a different exercise that trains your goal energy system the same way; i.e. biking or swimming instead of repetitive running) greatly decrease the risk of reaching Overtraining Syndrome

How to Recover from Overtraining

No one is immune to overtraining: Overtraining Syndrome affects people at all levels of activity and can last up to six months, causing a delay in a normal recovery. However, recovery from Overtraining can occur within a few days by simply resting. Active recovery or active rest days are helpful, but complete rest days, along with (consistent) quality sleep and proper nutrition, can help combat the negative effects. If you recognize yourself nearing Overtraining, consider Detraining: acutely stopping or greatly reducing the frequency, volume, and/or intensity in your training. Try this for a week and gradually progress yourself back to where you were when you started Detraining.

Who You Should Contact

It is important to note: Overtraining and Overtraining Syndrome are not medical diagnoses, they are stages in the training process. However, sustained Overtraining can lead to an increased risk of physiological and psychological problems. Luckily, there are professionals that can help you.

If you feel like you are suffering from Overtraining Syndrome, reach out to your primary medical professional – they can help guide you in the right direction for recovery. If you feel your programming needs help, consult a certified fitness professional (personal trainers, exercise physiologists, certified strength and conditioning specialists, etc.).

If you feel your nutrition needs help, be sure to consult a licensed and registered dietitian. If you feel you are experiencing physical or mental problems, consult your doctor who can refer you to the right professional (psychologist, psychiatrist, mental skills coach, physical therapist, athletic trainer, etc.). If you are a veteran/active duty or a family member, be sure to reach out to Home Base to get you in touch with some of these professionals.