Are you Overtraining? Let’s find out how we know…

Over Training.png

Proper understanding of this probably oversimplified term Overtraining (OT), referred to as Overtraining Syndrome is key in this conversation.

First off, I think we have probably all felt particularly fatigued after a hard training cycle or lost enthusiasm for the sport/fitness passion that normally is our everything, right?  

But is this overtraining?  Then...

What has caused this state of underperformance?

How do we better understand it?

And importantly, How do protect against it or deal with it?



Overtraining is believed occur where an athlete is training with intensity and consistency, yet performance deteriorates or degrades. Being on the edge of this potentially negative state, in theory, is where the balance must be held to see true progress, right?  Many athletes believe this but do we really need to test levels of overtrained state to improve and progress as a “fit athlete”? Or is there more to this conversation?

How many Athletes are affected by OT?

Many studies have looked at the prevalence of OT. For example, a study of elite British athletes reports that 15-35% males and 4-15% females became overtrained during a season. Six out of 15 interviewed US Olympic athletes reported symptoms of overtraining 90 days before the 1996 and 1998 Summer Olympics. Worth noting here, Elite athletes are the focus of the studies, naturally.

Using the correct terminology.

Overtraining (OT), is commonly misdiagnosed amongst us less-than-elite-level and should probably be referred to as Overreach. As true OT syndrome affected elite athletes would explain - OT syndrome can take months or years to recover from!  Therefore including every level of OT in with the same heading would be risky and well, cause the currently apparent misunderstood, miscommunicated mayhem!

What causes Overreach and/or OT?

Now we have attempted to more correctly name the issues at hand and given some level of context, what are we discussing here and what is causing this underperformance of athletes?  Is it as it sounds - over training? High volume, intense exercise routine or is it?

Well the research is not clear, to say the least!  Actually, Overreach is considered a closer to tie to physical training however what is clear is there considerable more to the equation.  Which is very logically.

Additional factors to consider...

  • Mental stress - work life/job, financial, environmental and even calendar issues.

  • Injury - physical injury has an impact on so many levels, but we can certainly see correlation between injury and OT symptoms

  • mood/mindset - the mental game can be a major impact.

  • Social pressures - this is probably best described as 3rd party input.  Meaning any pressures added to your lifestyle from 3rd party input

  • Lifestyle

Common consequences of OT or Overreach

This is a list designed to help recognise the symptoms as well as where pushing this area to hard can lead to.   

  • immunosuppression

  • Mental health issues: depression, anxiety, and lowered libido

  • Decreased performance

  • Weight loss

  • Sleep problems

  • Higher risk of injury which is also linked to improper periodisation and overuse

  • Fatigue

  • Increased risk of illness

  • Slow strength and endurance gains

Overreach focus

Actually, this is where the majority of us find ourselves after a really tough block of training with a lack of good rest and recovery in place.  Add in a stressor that we have otherwise ignored and overreach is probably something most of us have some experience in.

Athletes experiencing minor fatigue with some reductions in performance is commonly a consequence of normal training.

When the balance between training stress and recovery is unbalanced, overreaching and possibly overtraining may develop. However, the research that has been conducted has been more so around overreaching and not overtrained athletes as although OT is fairly common at elite levels, many amateurs and keen pros experience fatigue that reduces and disappears after fairly short periods of time.  Overreach.

Overreaching occurs with intensified training and is often considered a normal outcome for elite athletes at competition due to the relatively short time often programmed for recovery (approximately 1-2 weeks) post-event.

As the time needed to recover from the OT syndrome is considered to be much longer (months to years), it may not be appropriate to compare the two states. It is presently not proven for acute fatigue and decreased performance experienced from training alone. This is partially the result of a lack of diagnostic tools, the variability of results of research studies, a lack of well-controlled studies and individual responses to training.There is currently no evidence aside from anecdotal information to suggest that overreaching precedes overtraining.

Critical analysis of relevant research suggests that overreaching and overtraining investigations should be interpreted with caution before recommendations for markers of overreaching and overtraining can be proposed. The available scientific and anecdotal evidence supports the existence of the overtraining syndrome; however, more research is required to state with certainty that the syndrome exists.

What next?

Many biomarkers can and should be checked.  Where possible, results should be reviewed by an expert periodically.

This report ( is possibly the most comprehensive found freely available and can help guide you with the minefield of potential,  If you read it (and have the time!) you will find no clear reasoning has been appointed yet to OT but some fantastic guidance with proper understanding.

The Mental Side

This area is particularly interesting. With the development of MindFit happening behind the scenes,improving an Athlete between the ears is a Hot Topic!  Without going down this rabbit hole unnecessarily…

Having a “bulletproof” mental game is not just useful, but critical for everyone in development mode (which I’ll presume is everyone!).

With increased understanding across the mainstream media and content sources like podcast having such power and reach, What the mind can do for the body and vice versa is developing fast.  On a higher level to this, building an awareness of this topic is a great starting point for OT concerns and where Overreach has happened, reviewing this side of it.

Some Science behind OT & Immune dysfunction

Recently, it has been conclusively established that T helper lymphocytes (T(H)), a crucial aspect of immune function, represent two distinct functional subsets: T(H)1 and T(H)2 lymphocytes. This paper shows that exercise-related immunosuppression is due to tissue trauma sustained during intense exercise, producing cytokines, which drive the development of a T(H)2 lymphocyte profile.

“T(H)1 lymphocytes are associated with cell-mediated immunity (CMI) and the killing of intracellular pathogens, while T(H)2 lymphocytes are associated with humoral immunity and antibody production. When T(H)-precursor cells are activated, the balance is tipped in favour of one or the other. Furthermore, the most appropriate means of determining the T(H)-subset, is by the prevailing cytokine 'pattern'. A T(H)2 cell response results in simultaneous suppression of CMI, rendering the athlete susceptible to infection.”

It’s also logical, increased levels of circulating stress hormones (cortisol and catecholamines), support up-regulation of T(H)2 lymphocytes. Marathon-related data supports this.

Moving forwards

The one thing this very murky area of research has to lead me to see is a very pleasant surprise and aligns perfectly with the HENCE ethos of self-checking & personal understanding.

Common sense, years of self-monitoring and tracked discovery are the only agreed methods of prevention of overreach or OT.  When your training gets more serious and workload increases to the level of fairly frequent overreach symptoms, good communication between athlete and coach are crucial.  Someone knowing and understanding your common characteristics can make the difference between a long successful season and one cut short with underachievement stamped across it.

Action steps!

Again, for us, mear mortals where is the value here?  

“In studying the best we learn what mistakes are made because the best are only the best for now”.

In all seriousness what can be learnt here is this -

  1. listen to your body, it's shouting loudly when you feel like overreach or OT is coming down the line - you’ll know it.  But to understand it fully is not realistic, instead, stay safe, not sorry and properly balance rest and recovery as a rule.

  2. Dedication and commitment is not endless training sessions, what catches out the best and brightest stars on their way to the top is the lack of patience in recovery.

  3. That said, we can and should push ourselves further and harder when we can and when the body and mind are ready to be pushed.    Track your training to include deloading, focus on the mental side with meditation and reducing stressful situations and eat for fuel.

  4. Overtraining is possible but for the masses, unlikely overreaching, however, is a trap too many falls for and whether it does or doesn’t lead to OT is immaterial. Not performing at peak output is.


Luke BackhouseComment