In Fitness, what is Overtraining?

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  • Written By: J.M. Willhite
  • Edited By: Lucy Oppenheimer
  • Last Modified Date: 10 October 2019
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In fitness, overtraining is a condition that results when an individual overexerts him or herself during training. Affecting the individual's behavior, emotions, and physical well-being, excessive training can result in a plateau effect as it relates to performance. Overtraining syndrome occurs when excessive training becomes commonplace and the body is given insufficient time to recover between training sessions. There are damaging effects associated with overtraining syndrome, but the condition and its symptoms are reversible.

As one trains, progress is made not only through the physical exercise, but also by way of the physical respite that follows the training sessions. The body regenerates and recuperates during breaks in physical activity and it is during this time that many of the benefits of training take effect. In order to continue increasing strength, endurance, and flexibility the body must have sufficient time to recover. When the regenerative process is insufficient, a plateau effect may result which can, in turn, lead to a decline in overall performance and loss of strength.

The plateau effect is a glaring indication that the athlete is experiencing overtraining syndrome. There are two types of the syndrome in the sports arena. Sympathetic overtraining syndrome is associated with the individual exhibiting hyperexcitability, a failure to perform or incompetence, and a general restlessness. Parasympathetic overtraining syndrome is more common. It's characterized by a general lack of interest, or indifference, and is frequently found among endurance athletes.


An athlete who is experiencing the plateau effect associated with overtraining syndrome will demonstrate a number of physical, emotional, and behavioral symptoms. The individual's physical stamina will suffer, resulting in a persistent feeling of fatigue that manifests especially during physical activity. While resting the individual may also experience an elevated heart rate and persistent muscle soreness. The athlete will exhibit an increased susceptibility to infection and injury. Damaging physical effects of overtraining syndrome can include excessive weight loss, the absence of menstruation in females, and insomnia.

Psychologically, the individual may experience an overall loss of interest and lack of competitive motivation. Compounding the athlete's compromised competitive nature, symptoms such as irritability, loss of appetite, and depressive feelings may also be present. Overall physical performance may be adversely affected by the manifestation of psychological symptoms in that the athlete will experience delayed recovery in the event of injury.

Prevention, by means of diversifying training routine content, duration, and frequency, is the best tool to stave off the effects of excessive training. In the instance of overtraining syndrome, treatment should be approached in a holistic manner since the symptoms are not entirely physical in nature. Dietary changes and allowing the body sufficient recovery time are essential to reversing the effects of overtraining.


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Post 2

I had a friend who displayed all of the symptoms of overtraining. He started doing Cross-Fit, along with jiu jitsu and body building. He seemed all right for a while, but then he just couldn't stop moving. I could just tell he wanted to leave whatever he was doing and start running around the block or something. He was constantly complaining about a torn muscle or back problems or something.

I think his doctor was the one who warned him about overtraining. He had twisted an ankle while running, and his doctor noticed other overtraining symptoms, like a loss of appetite and general fatigue. He's doing better now, but he had to make some serious adjustments to his lifestyle. He now has a fitness trainer who makes out a training schedule every week.

Post 1

It's easy to become a victim of overtraining. I know, because that's what happened to me a few years ago. I wanted to run in my first 5k race, mostly to prove to my friends and family that I was still in good condition at my age. I hired a fitness trainer to show me the proper exercises for running a race, and I joined a gym to do some weight training.

Things were going pretty well, until I started doing some extreme "cross-fit" type exercises to push myself. I pulled a few muscles in my legs and lower back, but I kept running anyway. My fitness trainer noticed the symptoms of overtraining and advised me to stop

doing anything for a few days. The next morning, I woke up and every muscle I own was stiff and sore.

By that point, I didn't even care about the 5k race any more. I just wanted to be able to move. Overtraining is a real problem, and it's not just gym rats who are prone to it.

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