How to avoid overtraining

Have you ever experienced like you stopped getting results and lost progress? You can be the victim of a familiar condition called overtraining. Read the article to find out how to avoid overtraining.

Coaches, parents, and athletes need to understand the physical signs of overtraining so that they can prevent it. If an athlete has reached this state, it will be necessary to take time off training to recover.

Also read: How to overcome running fatigue

What is overtraining?

Overtraining is a collection of physical, behavioral, and emotional signs, also known as exhaustion. This is different from the daily routine work and post-workout fatigue. Overtraining is usually progressive exhaustion that continues even after the recovery time.

Overtraining is a state where your workouts happen too often or last too long. It’s leading you into a tired state that does not let you improve from one activity to another.

This results in chronic fatigue, which leads the athlete to have a decreased performance capacity. There are many signs of overtraining, some physical and some non-physical.

Overtraining happens when the intensity and frequency of working out go beyond the ability of the body to recover and rest. During an over-trained condition, athletes feel a skid of negative symptoms. Those symptoms range from loss of motivation and muscle atrophy to reduced immune system functioning and irritability.

Kinds of overtraining

There are three kinds of overtraining:

  • Overload Training
  • Overreaching
  • Overtraining Syndrome

Overload training

Overload training is the first level of overtraining, which mostly all athletes and bodybuilders experience. It is hard training followed by short-term tiredness with enough time for muscle recovery. 

However, if a person exercises hard and does not give their body enough time to recover, the body enters into the overreaching stage.


Overreaching is the second stage of overtraining. Performance is decreased, and it might not include other characteristic stress symptoms. 

A person can recover from overreaching within two to three weeks duration. But if you don’t decrease the intensity and time of the working out, the body moves down to the last stage of overtraining.

Overtraining syndrome

The overtraining syndrome is the final stage of overtraining. This is what most people refer to when they talk about overtraining. It is characterized as a decrease in performance combined with stress-related mental and physical problems that can range from mild to severe.

This is the stage where excessive amounts of cortisol are released. High cortisol levels are the complete opposite of what bodybuilders want. It tears down muscle in the body, reduces protein synthesis, increases protein breakdown, raises blood sugar levels, reduces growth hormone release, weakens the immune system, disrupts sleep, raises blood pressure, and increases blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

How to identify overtraining?

You may ask yourself if you are overtraining. It is difficult to identify and test overtraining as many believe that current fatigue is a normal part of working out.

There is also no overtraining test, for example, a clinical diagnosis or blood test to identify overtraining. And it is very specific for every person. One person may show different overtraining symptoms than another. One thing anyone can do is recognize the common signs of overtraining, then rest and recover.

What are the signs and symptoms of overtraining?

How to overcome running fatigue

Overtraining is a complicated subject. It is possible to isolate specific muscle groups and work them on a daily basis, training all days without doing any damage. Some bodybuilders carry out effective five day splits with no negative impacts.

The difficulty comes when people start doing high-stress lifts and distance training. They are not allowing themselves adequate rest, so they won’t avoid overtraining for sure. 

Overtraining can lead to different problems and side effects.

Decreased performance

Overtraining leads to a decrease in performance which can be displayed by an athlete becoming fatigued. This may occur when an athlete cannot complete training sessions as they would usually end them.

A decrease in performance can also be seen when an athlete has a poor competition result, performing below their usual standard. This is a reason to suspect overtraining, especially if the performance is well in training sessions.


Fatigue is a feeling of general tiredness which persists, even after adequate sleep. It is present all day in the overtraining state and doesn’t dissipate with more restful sleep.

It is due to an athlete being unable to recuperate from training sessions good enough.

Insomnia (inability to sleep) or hypersomnia (excessive sleeping)

The athlete may experience difficulty getting to sleep or only getting a few hours of sleep at night. This is due to an increase in the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. They affect the levels of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, which control mood and make us feel happier.

Decreased appetite or feelings of nausea after eating

This can be linked to an increase in stress hormones, leading to changes in the athlete’s appetite.

Overtraining may also cause nausea after eating due to high levels of acidity. It occurs because of increased lactic acids from exercising for long periods.


Overtraining can cause symptoms of dizziness and headaches. This is because stress hormones increase blood pressure which can cause pain behind the eyes.

Muscle soreness/pain

This is due to an increased breakdown of muscles during training sessions. It is caused by high intensity or long duration, so they cannot repair themselves adequately.

Decreased motivation/interest in sport

Overtraining can cause a lack of interest or motivation in training activities due to an athlete getting tired quickly and not feeling like exercising.

This should lead you to suspect overtraining as an increase in training should improve performance and thus greater interest and motivation from the athlete.

High resting heart rate

An increase in resting heart rate is a sign of overtraining due to the body’s high levels of stress hormones.

Weight changes/fluctuating weight

In long-term cases of overtraining, an athlete may experience weight loss or gain, even though they are eating and drinking enough for their activity level.

When the body isn’t recovering correctly, it holds onto fat stores as a fuel source when there isn’t enough available via food intake.

Irritability or anger

Overtraining can lead to irritability or anger because it affects sleep. This, in turn, influences mood and energy levels which can cause irritable behavior.

Loss of libido

This is due to an imbalance in stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. They interfere with the neurotransmitters that control mood and energy levels.

Symptoms of depression

Overtraining can cause symptoms of depression due to low levels of serotonin in the body or an imbalance in neurotransmitters. This means that the athlete may gradually feel down and have no interest in training.

Increased risk of injury or illness

Overtraining can cause the athlete to be more susceptible to illness or damage because increased levels of stress hormones weaken their immune system.

How much working out is too much?

Strong man lifting dumbbell

With all of this in mind, how much should you be working out to avoid overtraining? Depending on your goals and routine, we would advise working out 4 days per week on average. This gives you three rest days to enjoy, which you’ll need if you’re performing heavy compound lifts on your workout days.

You can train more often if you are more of a fixed condition cardio and isolation lift trainer. This is because your body will need less time to get well. 

5 day split routines are frequent, which gives you 2 days off.

You can also try 3 day split workouts if you exercise intensely.

Eventually, how often you workout depends on your aims. If you lift hard and heavy to build mass and strength, your body will require time to recover. Both your muscles and the central nervous system need time. 

Reduce the number of sessions, train hard when in the gym, and let your body recover. It is recommended that an athlete takes a week off at least every three months. This should be adequate rest to allow them to recover and avoid overtraining.

How to avoid overtraining?

To prevent overtraining, you should do the following;

  • Get eight hours of sleep a night.
  • Ensure you are eating enough food and that your macronutrient ratios are appropriate for your weight and activity level
  • Take breaks from training every three months to give yourself sufficient time for recovery.
  • If you feel unwell or run down, it’s best to take a break from training so your body can rest.
  • Try to remain cheerful and relaxed. This will lower your stress levels.
  • Listen to your body, so you don’t overtrain in the first place.
  • If you are on an intense training schedule, it may be wise to get involved in other, less demanding exercises or activities. This will allow you to rest and recover while still staying active.

Balanced diet

balanced diet is the most significant to prevent overtraining. This includes the correct amount of calories and lots of water to maintain hydration.

Supplements and other nutritional alterations have not been confirmed to aid in the prevention of overtraining any more than a balanced diet. Iron is the most frequent deficiency, particularly in females. Other nutrients that are commonly lacking are calcium, magnesium, and zinc.

Consume adequate carbohydrates

Enough carbohydrate intakes are necessary to prevent overtraining. Carbohydrates are obligatory for muscle recovery and energy.

When absent from a diet, it can root your body to enter a condition of muscle catabolism in which your body utilizes muscle mass for energy.

Post-workout diet

Your body is in the greatest need of nutrition just after a workout to be able to begin its recovery procedure. The best post-workout diet is to drink a shake that consists of high whey protein and carbohydrates. A small meal should follow one hour later.

With the proper post-workout diet, not only will work out progress, but you will also avoid overtraining. And in case you are already overtrained, it will set in much faster.

Proper rest

Without proper rest, people can go into a condition of overtraining. Time outside of the gym is as significant, if not more significant than time in the gym.

People who experience overtraining sometimes make a general blunder. They work out even more hard, pushing themselves deeper towards overtraining. When performance decreases, it is best to take some time out of the gym and reconsider your plan. Begin by taking 2 days off completely.

Set your restrictions

After an hour, the level of testosterone in your body starts to immerse, and levels of the stress hormone cortisol start to increase. A marathon of three hours exercises is a sure way to boost your likelihood of overtraining.

Testosterone is responsible for maintenance and muscle growth, and cortisol can be the reason to put on weight. Therefore, this is the complete reverse of what you want to take place.

Sleep more

Getting an appropriate amount of sleep each night can aid you in recovering fast and in repairing muscle tissue. The amount of rest differs for each person and depends on training. However, plan for seven to nine hours of sleep per night.


Getting a deep tissue massage can undo up tight muscles, augment blood flow, and liberate the body of built-up lactic acid and other poisons. Regular massages will maintain your body’s function optimally.

Set priorities straight

Changing the intensity of your workout in preplanned stages known as periodization can assist avert overtraining. Allowing your body to recover as your muscles cure during a less intense time.

Reduce the load

There is a factor called “the law of diminishing returns,” which is relevant for many everyday things. It also applies to weightlifting and cardio. In terms of bodybuilding, the law states that for every unit of work you do (sets, reps), the less benefit you will receive for each additional set.

This will differ from person to person. It is up to you to decide when you can’t benefit from doing additional sets, reps, or exercises anymore.

Run your splits in a sensible way

Functional movement training

It is very possible to weight lift for 4 to 5 days a week and not overtrain. The important is sensibly managing your splits. You would not get far without overtraining if you work your whole body every day, four times a week. 

Though if you dedicate one day to arms and abs, one to back and chest, one to legs, etc., then you will avoid overtraining.

Some can even do a two-day split with no overtraining, which would be incredible. For example, upper body one day, lower body another day. Doing that two times a week permits your upper body to get better while working your lower body.

How to recover from overtraining?

Luckily, recovering from overtraining is simple. Take a full week off training to let your body a lot of time to rest. Spend a week working on good nutritional principles, ensuring you get sufficient sleep, and trying to lower your stress levels. Gentle work out like flexibility work and Yoga can assist encourage rest.

It may be the case that an athlete needs more than one week of rest to recover, so they need to listen to their body. If they don’t feel better after a couple of weeks, they should seek further medical advice from their doctor or nutritionist.

Coaches/parents need to ensure that their athletes get good quality sleep to recover. It is also essential to eat enough food with suitable macronutrient ratios to avoid losing too much weight while recovering. A dietician can help with this aspect of recovery.

When to see a doctor

Sometimes, overtraining can lead to extreme conditions such as depression. This means that you should seek medical advice if your overtraining is causing severe depression or any other health issues.

Athletes should see a doctor immediately if they show any of the following:

  • Changes in mood such as depression and anxiety
  • Low energy and chronic fatigue
  • Tiredness lasting more than two weeks
  • Increased pain in muscles and joints
  • Decreased appetite that lasts for more than two weeks
  • Weight loss that is not intentional 
  • Stomach problems such as indigestion and constipation
  • Reduced sex drive and erectile dysfunction


Prevention of overtraining is essential in your progress. Overtrain might stop you or slow you down from reaching your fitness goals. That is why you should pay attention to how to avoid overtraining so you can get the top results.

If you are dedicated to your training and want to get the most out of it, you must ensure enough time for recovery. This means taking a break from training every three months, which should be adequate. However, if you need more rest, take more breaks.

You should also get plenty of sleep and eat a diet full of macronutrient ratios that suit your activity level.

If you feel run down or unwell, take a break from training immediately and avoid pushing yourself to your limits. You should never train when you feel sick, as this could lead to further health complications.

Also read: What causes nausea after working out and how to stop it?


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