Symptoms of Overtraining Syndrome and How to Avoid It

girl running quickly

I love to exercise. I am passionate about training, racing, and educating others to do the same. For me, there is nothing more alluring than the post-workout burn of quads on fire and chest heaving after pushing my body to VO2 Max, which Wikipedia cites as "the maximum capacity of a person's body to transport and use oxygen during incremental exercise".

However, there is a fine line between exercising enough and too much. How do we know when to say when?

Thirty Minutes Every Day

Currently, The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that individuals get a minimum of 30 minutes of some kind of moderate physical activity daily  Moderate intensity is defined as exercising at a rate that elevates your heart rate and causes you to sweat, but still allows you to talk while exercising. But what else does moderate activity, or moderation, entail?

Obsessive Exercise

For many people I know, reaching a goal of thirty minutes of daily exercise is worth striving toward. They simply do not enjoy it, but are willing to work at tolerating moderate activity for the sake of getting healthy. I happen to know a very large population, however, who fall on the other end of the spectrum and lean more toward obsessive exercising. These are likeminded people, who are training for racing events, or simply cannot break themselves free from spending hours in the gym.

Evolution and Exercise

Our bodies are made for movement. Evolutionarily speaking, we are meant to be in motion as a result of our hunter and gatherer ancestors. The sedentary lifestyle (while often convenient) does not agree with our genetic code. However, to the extreme, exercise can be highly addictive. Some of us are prone to taking it to excess, sometimes to the point of injury or illness.

Overtraining Syndrome

There is a condition that has been recognized among athletes called Overtraining Syndrome. It is prevalent among weight trainers and endurance athletes, but even the general fitness population should take heed. Getting fit and improving athletic performance are great motivating factors to workout. However, it is exercise that actually breaks our bodies down; rest is required to rehabilitate them, allowing for increased strength and aerobic capacity.

Signs That You May Be Overtraining

  • You feel moody or irritable.
  • You feel generally blue or depressed.
  • You are exhausted or continuously fatigued.
  • You have lost the intensity or drive to do a workout you normally enjoy.
  • You are experiencing insomnia.
  • Your immunity has decreased.
  • Your resting heart rate is elevated.
  • Your joints or bones ache.
  • You repeatedly fail to complete a workout.
  • Your fitness routine is taking too much time away from work, family, or other pastimes. 

Tips for Finding Balance in Your Workout Routine

  • Try to participate in a wide variety of exercises. You’ll get more bang for your buck in less time if you continue to challenge yourself with new activities.
  • Consider keeping an exercise log. Seeing it in black and white is great accountability.
  • Enlist friends for support. Keep each other realistic by relying on reasonable blocks of time for exercise.
  • Insist on a day off. Allow for a rest day once a week, or at least map out a schedule of workouts that incorporates days off within your cycle of training.

Try not to neglect your rest days as part of a balanced training cycle. Listen to your body and allow for flexibility. Too much of anything is never a good idea and even exercise should be enjoyed in healthy moderation.