Overtraining syndrome is a condition that occurs when an athlete trains beyond the body’s natural ability to recover. Although athletes may think that training harder or longer will help them improve their performance for an event or competition, when it comes to training, more is not always better.

Symptoms of Overtraining

When you push your body past the point where it can adequately recover, it can have a negative impact on you both physically and psychologically. Overtraining can lead to a wide range of symptoms, including:

  • Fatigue, lack of energy or feeling drained
  • Muscle/joint pain or tenderness
  • General mild aches and pains
  • Moodiness, irritability, agitation, anger, anxiety or depression
  • Insomnia or disturbed sleep patterns
  • Headaches
  • Decreased appetite, weight loss or nausea
  • Reduced immunity (getting sick more often)
  • An increase in resting heart rate or blood pressure

Overtraining syndrome may also result in the loss of enthusiasm for the sport, a sudden drop off in your level of performance or an increase in injuries. Each athlete is unique and may experience different symptoms, but if you notice these signs, give yourself time to rest and recover.

It’s important to pay attention to signs you may be overtraining or you risk burn out or injury. One good way to notice the warning signs is to keep a training log. Note how you feel each day. If you see a change in your enthusiasm level or notice a sudden drop off in performance, these may be signs that you’re overdoing it and need to step things back. If others tell you they think you’re overdoing it, this could also be a sign that you’re training too much.

Causes of Overtraining

The most common causes of overtraining in runners are increasing intensity, duration or frequency of training too quickly. If you increase your mileage too fast, run too many races or don’t give yourself enough time to adequately rest between interval training sessions, you risk overtraining. One of the best ways to avoid overtraining is to listen to your body and to rest when you feel tired.

What To Do If You’ve Been Overtraining

If you notice signs of overtraining, the best thing you can do is to give yourself time to rest, either reducing the amount you train or stopping altogether. Evidence shows that low levels of exercise during this rest period may help speed recovery. Cross-training can keep you active while working different muscles in your body.

During your recovery period, makes sure you drink plenty of fluids, eat healthy and get adequate sleep. It’s also important to focus on stress reduction. Get a massage, meditate or find other ways to help you relax physically and mentally. External stressors tend to exacerbate symptoms of overtraining.

Depending on how long you have been overtraining, total recovery may take up to several weeks or even a couple of months. If you notice signs of overtraining syndrome early and take steps to give your body and your psyche the break it needs, your recovery period may be as short as a few days.

As a runner, you may be tempted to train harder so you’ll run faster. But if you do more training than your body can physically tolerate and don’t allow your body to fully recover, you may find yourself suffering from overtraining syndrome. So to avoid having your forward momentum grind to a halt, listen to your body and heed the warning signs of overtraining.