T Nation

Signs of Overtraining


Other than general irritability and waking up with an elevated heart rate, I find I get canker sores on my lips when I start to overtrain.

Call me obsessed, but my enthusiasm for the workouts is about the last thing to be effected.

Anyone have any specific symptoms?


I get depressed and have no motivation or desire to train.


Same for me.


My appetite goes away and sleep pattern changes.


significant decrease in strength everythin feels like a ton of bricks



"Misunderstanding 'Overtraining'

If you ask me, "overtraining" is the most abused and misunderstood concept in the entire strength training community! Perform more than twelve sets for a muscle during a workout and you'll undoubtedly be accused of overtraining. Train a muscle group more often than two times per week? Overtraining! Relying on set extending methods such as drop sets, pre or post-fatigue, or rest-pause? What are you doing? Don't you know that's overtraining and you'll shrink faster than your masculine pride on a snowy Canadian winter night?!

Yes, overtraining can eventually become a problem when it comes to your training performance, injury risks, and growth. However, it's far from being as common as most people would have you believe.

The problem stems from the term itself, which is composed of "over" and "training." Because of that term, individuals are quick to equate it to "training too much." So every time someone thinks that a routine has too much volume, frequency, or advanced methods, they're quick to pull the "overtraining" trigger. When someone is tired and has a few bad workouts he'll also automatically assume that he's "overtraining." In both cases this shows a misunderstanding of what overtraining really is.

Overtraining is a physiological state caused by an excess accumulation of physiological, psychological, emotional, environmental, and chemical stress that leads to a sustained decrease in physical and mental performance, and that requires a relatively long recovery period. There are four important elements in that scientific definition:

"Physiological state:" Overtraining isn't an action (i.e. training too much) but a state in which your body can be put through. In that regard, it's similar to a burnout, a medical depression, or an illness.

"Caused by an excess accumulation of physiological, psychological, emotional, environmental, and chemical stress:" Stress has both a localized and a systemic effect. Every type of stress has a systemic impact on the body; this impact isn't limited to the structures involved directly in the "stressful event." This systemic impact is caused by the release of stress hormones (glucocorticoids like cortisol for example) and an overexertion of the adrenal glands.

So every single type of stressor out there can contribute to the onset of an overtraining state. Job troubles, tension in a relationship, death in the family, pollutants and chemicals in the air we breathe, the food we eat or the water we drink, etc. can all contribute to overtraining. Training too much is obviously another stress factor that can facilitate the onset of the overtraining state, but it's far from being the sole murder suspect.

"Leads to a sustained decrease in physical and mental performance:" The key term here is sustained. Some people will have a few sub par workouts and will automatically assume they're overtraining. Not the case. It could simply be acute or accumulated fatigue due to poor recovery management or a deficient dietary approach.

A real overtraining state/syndrome takes months of excessive stress to build up. And when someone reaches that state, it'll take several weeks (even several months) of rest and recovery measures to get back to a "normal" physiological state. If a few days of rest or active rest can get your performance back up to par, you weren't overtraining. You probably suffered from some fatigue accumulation, that's all.

Worst case scenario, you might enter an overreaching state (a transient form of overtraining). Reaching that point will normally take 10-14 days of rest and active rest to get back up to normal. Overreaching can actually be used as a training tool since the body normally surcompensates (with rest) following overreaching. Elite athletes often include periods of drastic training stress increases followed by a 10-14 day taper to reach a peak performance level on a certain date.

"That requires a relatively long recovery period:" As we already mentioned, reaching a true overtraining state takes a long period of excessive stress and requires a long period of recovery. The following graphic illustrates the various steps toward the onset of an overtraining state as well as the recovery period needed to get out of these different levels.

The spectrum goes from acute fatigue, which is the normal fatigue caused by a very intense/demanding workout, right up to a true overtraining state. In all my life, I've seen two cases of real overtraining. In both cases this happened to two high level athletes right after the Olympic Games (accumulation of the super intense training, the stress of qualifying for the Olympics, and the stress of the Olympics themselves).

Understand that most international level athletes will train close to 30-40 hours per week. Obviously not all of that is spent in the gym; they also have their sport practice, speed and agility work, conditioning work, etc., but these still represent a physiological stress. Yet rarely will these athletes reach a true overtraining state.

How could training for a total of five or six hours per week cause overtraining? Fatigue, yes, mostly due to improper recovery management, a very low level of general physical preparation (conditioning level), or a mediocre work capacity.

To paraphrase Louie Simmons, North American athletes are out of shape. Being out of shape (low level of general preparedness or conditioning) means you can't recover well from a high volume of work. But the more work you can perform, without going beyond your capacity to recover, the more you'll progress. So in that regard, poor work capacity can be the real problem behind lack of gains from a program.

By continually avoiding performing a high level of physical work, you'll never increase your work capacity and will suffer from accumulated fatigue as soon as you increase your training stress ever so slightly. Obviously, the solution isn't to jump into mega-volume training, but to gradually include more GPP work as well as periods of increased training stress that will increase in duration and frequency over time.

Ask any of my clients �?? they must all go through four-week phases of very high volume work interlaced between phases of "normal" volume training (or even phases of low volume). And as they progress through the system, the high volume phases will become more frequent (as their work capacity improves) or last longer."



I wish I had this, thatw ay it wouldnt be so hard to take time off to recover.

As far as I go,

Bad sleep
Dehydration -sometimes
lack of hunger
Deep soreness


That's all very informative, but did you assume none of us knew this? It sounds like an argument over phrases.

Am I to assume that the term "accumulated fatigue" means "overtraining" on a micro scale? In either case it is possible to recover with enough rest.

Forget I used the word "overtraining". Consider this an article of the signs of "accumulated fatigue".


I wasn't trying to play semantics here, it's just that the term is thrown around so loosely many really think that "accumulated fatigue" is true overtraining. My post was for those that don't know the difference.


I stop the progressive training before overtraining, so I guess my answer should have been I lose my appetite and can't sleep right before I think I'm going to slip into full on overtraining soon.


This week my left knee has been aching. Also my back is a little sore. But I'm not sure about my back because I got hit in it during football practice, but not a big hit. I was thinking that I was overtraining my legs because of my knee pain. Maybe it was overtraing on deadlifts. But I really contribute most of it to hard days of practice. Should I lift lighter weights during the season to avoid overtraining?


You should scale back your training somewhat during the season, depending on how much you play. IE starter has to reduce his program a lot, 3rd string not as much.

Lighter maybe, but only if you are weaker because of bodyweight drops or some other factors. Try to keep the same or very close to the same weights but reduce volume. If you were doing squats 4x10 with 185 stick with 185 but maybe only do 2x10 now. or 165-175 if you are forced to. An upper lower split rotated over three days(MWF) I think would be a dandy option for most young athletes. Just remember you aren't going to be making the gains like you can in the off season and work on mantaining all your strength and muscularity throughout the season.

Overtraining is a full body syndrome, you won't overtrain a bodypart of a lift.


The thing is, that I am currently doing a 4 day full body routine alternating upper and lower body days and I only do 2 sets of each exercise. leg extention, squat, deadlift, power cleans, hip sled 2 days a week in weightlifting class for maintanence. Had I not had weightlifting it'd be impossible to get to the gym, so thank god for that class. I'm a starter on both offense AND defense.

I go to a 1A school(not to mention were short on football players good enough to hit the field and rest starters) so I pretty much ALMOST EVER get to even see the sideline for rest, so I'm in pretty good shape. I' trying to go really easy on leg day until my knee gets better. Also we have a game tomorrow, so i pretty much spend my free time resting up for the next practice or game. I play LB and TE, on punt, AND kickoff.

Had my school had a lot more good players I wouldn't be on so many things, but that's the way things go. Not to mention I am in second place in my county with 102 tackles. The guy in first place is also on my team and he only has 105. Well anyway, thanks for the advice and I'll try to take it easy on the knee when I can.


Similar here. In this order:

Susceptible to colds
Apathy regarding training.

I guzzle loads of vitamin C to keep the colds at bay, and try and get 8 or more hours sleep a night to keep the first two at bay. Seems like I do "undersleeping" than overtraining. Not easy to get a full eight hours when working shifts, though.


There are different types and levels of overtraining and different approaches to recover from them. All methods of recovery require dropping the workload somewhat.

My best advice is if you feel off then drop the volume by 10-20% but keep the weights over 90% what you were using. If one workout like that doesn't get you back where you were for energy at your next workout, then turn the whole week into a reduced volume load week. A week of reduced volume will allow you to recover and in fat grow MORE than you otherwise would.

Sometimes 1 week is not enough in which case I'd take 1-2 weeks break entirely.

These are just my ideas. The reason for keeping the weights > 90% of whatyou were using is that you will maintain strength levels even with reduced workload.

In some instances you might reduce worload by 50%

In some case you might be overtrained for months and really suffer, but that is usually from ignoring the first signs and powering on regardless. Or, you are a top level athlete and putting yourself in this state deliberately, but in that case you should know what you are doing in the first place and have a coach taking morning temp etc... and watching you.

One thing for sure, the optimal level of exercise is less than that which causes overtraining. But that should not be an excuse to slack off.


quick and easy signs of overtraining..
-You cant bring yourself to go to the gym, even if you try a new program
-your lifts start to suck
-you start losing sex drive

My advice is listen to your body, take a week to 2 weeks off and jump back on.


I'm going to call overtraining "fatigue" as well because mine usually comes other stress from work or school and not necessarily training itself. But the result is the same, decreased performance.

Training wise:

-Everything feels heavy. Surprising so.
-Even your "favorite" moves don't bring any enthusiasm
-I feel "flat" and disconnected
-irregular sleep...4 hours a couple of nights, then 12 hours one night

Everything else-wise:

-instant ROAD RAGE, even on little Grandmas during Christmas time. F'EM ALL

-everything I read or watch is total entertainment. Nothing challenging or stimulating.

-My girl walks by in a towel and my first thought is "move you are blocking my mindless televised entertainment".


The one time I believe I was actually suffering from the chronic condition of overtraining as opposed to simply doing more work than is optimal, I was sickly, runny nose, caught every bug that floated through the neighborhood and made no progress at all, despite the fact that in my case I still wanted to train.

In short my immune/recovery systems went way south on me.


constant very very low level pain in joints that makes it difficult to sleep, usually in knees and shoulders. That's when i know to back off.