Overtraining…..the silent killer of performance

Overtraining is something that many people and athletes hear about but rarely really understand what it is and what to look for. Overtraining is based on an equation of;




This is a complicated equation and really isn’t an exact science but what we do know about it can change the way you train and perform.

Overtraining is a syndrome that can cause imbalances in your hormonal, nutritional, mental, emotional, muscular, and neurological systems. You may notice symptoms such as depression and most importantly you will notice a reduction in performance.

Preventing overstraining is our number one goal but we also need to understand how it works and how we can correct it. It can be as simple as tracking morning resting heart rate or as complex as using blood testing from companies like Insidetracker to see how your training is effecting your body.

If prevention is the number one goal, then we need to look out for the subtle clues of the early stages of overtraining that will allow us to halt its progression while not losing extended training time or extreme performance regression.

There is also a second label that gets thrown around and that is “overreaching”. This is just the acute (or short term) increase in intensity and volume, for say a week, that can cause physical and mental stress that with proper monitoring will progress and develop your body. However, if this increase is done week after week it can lead to a more chronic condition which is overtraining.

There is a wide array of symptoms that can be present based on the level of overtraining that you or your athlete is at. First we will look as some small indicators that show how overreaching may be starting to convert into overtraining. 

Phase one

A few different symptoms start to present when overreaching is turning to overtraining. Little things like general colds, sleep disturbances, increases in resting heart rate, and decreases in appetite or increases in consumption of refined carbs. Some may think that these things are just regular occurrences for an array of reasons. However, these are the result of extended overreaching. As a result of these symptoms we may start to see performance problems/issues begin to present themselves. Some examples are back: knee, and ankle injuries, reduced sexual desire, mental and emotional stress causing a short temper and depression/anxiety.

While these symptoms may not be extreme in the beginning, they will begin to intensify and when not addressed will bleed into the second stage of the syndrome. 

Phase two

If the symptoms of early stage overtraining are not recognized or addressed more serious and long-lasting effects will start to occur. While in phase one we addressed that there are some reductions in hormones like testosterone and increases in hormones like cortisol. This is called adrenal dysfunction. The hormone cortisol if left elevated for extended periods of time like during overtraining can cause performance issues comparable to that of extreme and exhausting training. If we look further at the chronic increase of cortisol during overtraining, we also will see it leads to an increase in insulin levels. The increase in insulin level can cause many issues but the one that relates to athletes is an increase in fat storage. So the training that is being done to lose weight has to be regulated and progressed properly or it may have the opposite effect.

One positive aspect of this part of overtraining is that with proper recovery techniques, lifestyle changes, and nutrition interventions, hormonal imbalances can be corrected. However, I would recommend not just reading online sources and contact a professional Human Performance Coach or your personal Health Professional for more information and guidance. Feel free to reach out to use at WE Perform as this is something we manage for many athletes.

Phase three

Lastly, when we look at the end stages of overtraining there are serious hormonal and mechanical issues. There are also neurological imbalances and athletic performance issues with other overall health issues that will drastically be impacted. The most common feeling is the lack of desire to compete or even go out and train. Depression is common and also the feeling of always being exhausted. While in early stages of overtraining we see an increase in resting heart rate in late stage overtraining you may see an abnormally low resting heart rate. Some may view this as a good thing but it is actually caused by a depressed nervous system. Athletes or individuals that are over trained are in reality not well and there is no doubt something is wrong.

How to fix it

The first thing that needs to be done is a proper screening for symptoms like resting heart rate and recovery heart rate as well as possible blood testing or salivary testing for cortisol and testosterone reasons.

Another important piece is to properly record your training and any physiological issues as they arise. If you have a working history of training and ‘symptoms” a coach or health professional will be able to better guide you on how to avoid overtraining. If avoidance doesn’t happen then reversing the issue is still an option.

You will need to restructure our training as a whole. There needs to be extreme reductions in training from 75% to 50%. You will need to stop all competition and anything anaerobic. Also I would recommend making exercise strictly an enjoyable process. Things like walking with the dog or kayaking in the lake, try to avoid strict structured exercise. This will also aide in the recovery of your mental state.

The final consideration would be nutritional. You will need to increase foods high in antioxidants and low glycemic. Sugar and other processed foods need to be removed from you or your clients diet as they promote inflammation which need to be avoid at this time. Another thing that tends to help is the overall reduction of carbs. Caffeine and other stimulants like coffee and soda need to be avoided as well. Some final tips that may also help reduce the levels of cortisol would be things like massages, slow breath oriented yoga, relaxing with family and friends, and making sure you’re getting at least 8 hours of sleep a night.

Athletes or individuals that are over trained need to be aware of early signs and realize the problem should be addressed quickly. Early stage overtraining can be handled with small daily adjustments by your coach or trainer but only if you are hyper aware of your body and the signs its giving you. Overtraining if it goes untreated can take much longer to resolve. I have seen some athlete take anywhere from 6 months up to a few years to truly recover from overtraining. It’s a serious issue for competitive athletes and hardworking weekend warriors. 

Overtraining is serious but treatable if acknowledged, even more importantly it can be prevented.
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