The Word On Fitness

Overtraining Syndrome

By Ry Ryan-Lim

The holidays are over, and if you’re like many of our members, you’re excited to get back to your workout routine so you can burn off those extra few pounds you gained while you ate and drank yourself into oblivion. 

Overtraining is common among elite athletes who train beyond their body’s ability to recover (particularly when preparing for a competition, race, or team sport event). However, whether you’re a workout veteran or a newbie, it’s easy to become too hyper focused on your goals. Overtraining syndrome is very real, and it can lead to some not-so-nice things.

What is Overtraining Syndrome? Overtraining Syndrome (OTS) is a condition where you experience extreme fatigue, reduced performance, mood changes, sleep disturbances, and other issues as a result of working out or training too much or too hard without giving the body enough time to rest.

This is not only frustrating for higher-level athletes, but very discouraging for someone just starting their fitness journey.

There are several signs to look out for that may suggest you could be overtraining:

  • Loss of motivation/burnout
  • Mood changes
  • Decreased appetite or weight loss
  • Irregular heart rate or rhythm
  • Fatigue
  • Increase in frequency of colds or illness
  • Increased muscle or joint soreness
  • Reduced training intensity or performance
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Reproductive issues/decreased libido

To avoid this, here are a few things you should always consider before beginning any workout:

  • Did you sleep well last night?
  • Is your heart rate normal or typical for you?
  • When was the last time you ate? (Coffee is not a meal!)
  • Have you drunk enough water today? (Coffee also does not count as a replacement for water!)
  • Are you dealing with any major life stressors?
  • Are you dreading the workout or thinking about skipping it?
  • Do you feel more sore or achy than usual?
  • Do you have an illness or injury?

What if you’re feeling one (or more) of these things now? REST, DAMMIT. Or, at the very least, dial back your workout or training a little. 

However, while these things can be a wake-up call, many athletes ignore or deny specific symptoms. They may believe their health issues are less persistent, frequent, or severe than they actually are. This can be especially true for those prone to exercise addiction or whose career or identity are connected closely to their workouts.

Ugh, I feel attacked.

It’s not as simple as just listening to your body. Here are a few ways to help you measure your pre-workout condition:

  • Recording or using an app to track your progress, mood, nutrition, etc.
  • Testing and measuring performance parameters, such as a one-rep max deadlift, how long it takes you to run one mile, or how long you can hold a plank. 
  • Track your resting heart rate.

If anything has drastically changed in comparison to your typical self, it’s time to rest for a few days.

Just like with most things, moderation and consistency are key, and any exercise program demands periods of rest and recovery. Learning to listen to your body and give yourself permission to rest takes persistence and patience, but with a little practice, you’ll be slaying your workouts and back on track to your goals in no time.