Overtraining syndrome: 5 signs you need to take it easy

November 2, 2020

Overtraining syndrome is when you have pushed your body too far with exercise and have failed to recover adequately. Not to be confused with general tiredness as this is a natural response from your body to your workout regime. Afterall, sleep is an important part of your recovery process.

So how do you know you have it?

The early symptoms of over training are similar to that of flu and can quite often be mistaken for it. Your body can feel run down and simple tasks such as getting out of bed can become difficult.

If the symptoms of over training are ignored and your body is not given the rest it needs, you run the risk of long term neurological, hormonal and muscular damage. Quite simply, you run the risk of a burnout which is a result of the physical and emotional stress of training.

The balance of training hard and rest can be difficult, especially with the pressures of impending goals and target deadlines. Understanding your training limits and capabilities takes time and perseverance.

However, once these are known and you understand the signs to look for, it will be easier to strategically alter your training to reduce the possibility of this happening. Adequate rest will allow you to train harder, avoid a burnout and successfully reach your goals.

What are the 5 top signs to look out for?

Elevated Resting Heart Rate

It is handy to know your resting heart rate when walking, and you will find most people who are into health and fitness will record this from time to time.

Generally speaking, a healthy resting heart rate upon walking is between 60 and 100 beats per minute (bpm). The fitter you are the lower it can become. Some elite athletes have recorded a resting heart rate as low as 40 bpm at peak fitness.

When your body is fighting the symptoms of overtraining you may find your resting heart rate upon walking has raised by 10 – 15 bpm. What’s interesting is the correlation between your recorded bpm during periods of overtraining and when your body is fighting illness – it is about the same!

NOTE: It’s important to remember your resting heart rate can be affected by medication.


One may assume that going too hard at the gym and returning home with an absolutely shattered body means you will automatically sleep like a baby. However, this could not be further from the truth.

If you begin to experience symptoms of insomnia such as difficulty falling asleep or broken sleep and you have recently increased the intensity and/or frequency of your training, this could be a sign of over training.

If you notice this correlation between your training and quality of sleep, then you should take a few days of rest from training. You need to allow your body to regulate itself and get your hormone levels balanced again.

ZMA is a popular supplement on the market that will help your quality of sleep. However, my recommendation will always be to evaluate your training program first. If your body is crying for a break – listen to it! Ignoring and masking the effects of over training will only magnify one of the other symptoms, which could be detrimental to your training and overall goals.

Emotional Changes

Believe it or not, the effects of overtraining syndrome are not limited to your physical body but can include your mental state too.

The imbalances and high demand on your hormonal system may result in negative emotional changes such as lack of motivation and self-esteem.

You should not overlook these warning signs, as these symptoms can escalate into more serious issues such as depression

Muscular Soreness

Post workout soreness ‘doms’ is a natural response when training your muscles and can be tricky to analyse as it can mask symptoms of overtraining.

However, if you find your muscles are still sore 3 – 4 days after your session, it means your body is struggling to recover adequately. At this point, you should consider a rest from training.

You should also look out for soreness in muscles you have not necessarily worked during that training session. For example, a sufferer of overtraining syndrome may experience post workout aches in their legs on arm on chest day.

Poor Performance

Probably one of the easiest signs to spot (for obvious reasons) is poor performance.

The odd poor performance here and there, whether in competition or training can be quite normal. However, if you notice a string of bad performances, say 2 or 3 back-to-back, you should review your program as its probably time for a new training goal, rest week, or both.

This is a perfect example where keeping a fitness journal and recording your results comes in handy. When training is not going so well or you continue to experience poor performances, your fitness journal will help paint a bigger picture and reveal any tweaks needed to your program.

Similarly, when training is going well and you are getting the results you want, reviewing your journal and identifying how you got there can help successfully plan your future sessions and programs.