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Everything You Need To Know About Overtraining Syndrome

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There are lots of potential challenges that runners – and other athletes – routinely face. Unfortunately, these often come from internal forces, taking the form of various aches, pains and other issues. Compared with apparent outward obstacles, these problems can be especially frustrating.

And, in keeping with the general mental toughness of athletes, the tendency is typically just to power through these problems. In some cases, though, this could actually lead to a much more serious condition than many people realize: Overtraining Syndrome. What, exactly is Overtraining Syndrome? How can it impact your performance? What can be done about it?

All In The Name

Overtraining Syndrome (OTS) is precisely what it sounds like – a condition that results when your training exceeds your capabilities. This can happen in a number of ways, though. Your workouts could simply be too intense, of course.

A much more common cause of OTS, however, has to do with a lack of proper recovery time. Each time that you run, lift, swim or otherwise challenge your body, your muscles are damaged. Fortunately, this damage is microscopic and is exactly what you want to happen. Why? Because that wear and tear tells your brain that the affected muscles now need to get bigger, stronger and generally more efficient so that they can avoid this type of injury in the future.

But, just like any other rebuilding work, this project takes time. The right raw materials also have to be present. So, proper and thorough recovery requires both adequate rest and nutrition. If either of these factors are missing, your muscles cannot keep up with the demands of your routine. Which means you are now officially overtraining.

What To Look For

But how do you know if you’ve actually developed OTS or if your just tired? It’s important to realize that many, many biological systems are all impacted your workout and recovery routine. If that recovery is stunted or restricted in anyway, then, these other aspects of your health can also suffer.

Overtraining Syndrome, then, is much more than simply being tired or bored with your workouts. The wide range of symptoms can include:

  • Changes in resting heart rate
  • Altered blood pressure
  • Fatigue
  • Decreased performance
  • Weakness
  • Digestive upset
  • Headaches
  • Increased breathing rate
  • Insatiable thirst
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Loss of appetite
  • Joint pains
  • Menstrual disruptions in women
  • Muscle pain
  • Depression
  • Reduced immune response
  • Difficulty concentrating or focusing

How could inadequate recovery possibly cause all of these problems, though? Think about it this way: As mentioned, your training places your body under stress and even causes damage to your tissues. The recovery response, then, is actually part of your body’s natural survival mechanism. When properly managed, this causes the adaptations that you’re looking for. But as the frequency and severity of those stress signals increase, your survival response is going to rise right along with it.

And survival is all about priorities. So, your brain is going to start making changes to the way to you use fuel and even to your hormonal levels in an effort to keep you alive.


If you do find that you’re facing OTS, then, what can you do? Put simply, you need to allow your body time to recover. This requires a two-step approach.

First, reexamine your diet. Depending on your sport or training style, you may have been following a highly restrictive diet to prepare for competition or to reach a certain goal. Very often, it can be difficult to ensure that these diets are meeting all of the nutritional needs presented by your workouts. Make sure that all of your basic dietary requirements are being taken care of so that your body has the materials necessary to recover.

Then, look at your training and recovery routine. While runners often spend a lot of time thinking about their workouts, then tend to ignore what happens after. Which is a big problem. Rest and recovery as a vital part of your overall progress. Make sure that you’re getting at least eight hours of sleep each night – more, if your body says you need it.

To fully recover, though, it is often necessary to take some time off from your regular workout routine. Now, this does not mean that you should descend into complete inactivity. Don’t panic. Instead, dial back on the frequency and intensity of your workouts to provide your body amply time to recover. This may also be a perfect chance for you to do some crosstraining and improve other aspects of your fitness.


Avoiding OTS altogether, though, is a much more effective strategy. And, for the most part, the tools for prevention and treatment are roughly the same. Make sure that your diet meets all of your basic nutrition needs and adequately fuels both your workouts and your recovery.

Finally, build rest and recovery directly into your training schedule. Use a different but complementary workout style as crosstraining to give your typically working muscles some time off and improve other aspects of your performance.


  1. Paige Kinucan and Kravitz, Ph.D., Overtraining: Undermining Success?, Article

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