• Coach Paul Kuck

Overtraining - The Symptoms, Causes, and Solutions.

We all know that some exercise is good, more is better right? Indeed it is. There is a dose-response relationship when it comes to exercise programming. Meaning, the more you exercise, the more benefits you will reap. However, as in everything else in life, there is also a thing called 'too much of a good thing'.


When you exercise more than you should, you will inevitably reach a point where you get no further benefits or worst, getting harmed. This tipping point is called 'overtraining syndrome' and follows the a theory called 'Law of diminishing return. Overtraining syndrome is a condition that occurs when the volume and intensity of the exercise exceeds an individual's recovery capacity. The exerciser ceases making progress, and can even begin to lose strength and fitness."


Man taking a break from exercise

Overtraining is a common problem in many forms of exercise. It is most common in weight training as well as endurance athletes. There are many exercisers who take pride in exercising on a daily basis for 2-3 hours each, not knowing that doing so is doing more harm than good. Overtraining isn't just a physical phenomenon; it also has mental effects on the exercisers as well. The systems affected include the musculoskeletal, immune, endocrine, cardiovascular, nervous, and hormonal systems


Other physical and psychological stressors can compound the rate at which a person may experience overtraining, such as:

  • Jet lag

  • Overwork

  • Menstruation

  • Poor nutrition

Overtraining causes damage in our body via one of these pathways:

  • Damages to the muscles tissues are created faster than the body can heal them.

  • Proteins are used up faster than they are supplied in the diet.

  • Systemic inflammation

How do you know if you are overtraining?


Here’s a list of 19 common symptoms you should look out for:

  1. Persistent muscle soreness

  2. Increased resting heart rate

  3. Decreased maximal heart rate

  4. Increased blood pressure

  5. Changes in menstrual patterns

  6. Frequent sickness

  7. Increased incidence of injuries

  8. Depression

  9. Decreased motivation

  10. Irritability/moodiness

  11. Fear of training

  12. Insomnia

  13. Decreased appetite

  14. Nausea

  15. Weight loss

  16. Personality changes

  17. Loss of concentration

  18. Lowered self-esteem

  19. No progress in fitness

The solutions?


1) Rest

Rest is often not taken seriously in a fitness regime. To see continuous improvement in one's fitness they must rest. The rest period following workout is a process which takes about 1-2 days hours to complete, depending on the intensity and volume of the exercise routine. The harder and/or more you train, the more rest you need. By not resting adequately, complete regeneration cannot occur.


If the amount of exercise training continues to exceed the rest period, however, the individual's performance will plateau and decline. If an exerciser chronically neglects the rest time the body needs, he or she will become weaker and may experience injuries.


2) Smart Exercise Programming


Here are some guidelines for exercising:

  • Do not exercise more than an hour each, be it cardio or weights. The harder you train, the shorter your workout should be.

  • For weight training, do no more than 3 times a week and have at least 2 days of break between training session. Keep changing routine instead of doing same exercises every time.

  • For cardio, do no more than 6 days a week. Try to do different exercises (e.g. running one day , cycling the next) or different intensities (eg one day do HIIT for short period and another day do low-intensity longer duration).

3) Other strategies

  1. Increase sleep time and/or improve quality of sleep.

  2. Try deep-tissue or sports massage

  3. Ensuring that sufficient calorie intake

  4. Ensuring total calories are from a suitable macronutrient ratio. That is, eat carb, protein and fat.

  5. Consider supplements to fix vitamin or mineral deficiencies

It’s suggested to double-check with a knowledgeable and experienced personal trainer who can quickly help you get your training back on track. In my line of work I have often encountered cases of overtraining, which is not difficult to help if it's due to lack of know-how or negligence, which is well within my area of expertise. But other times it could be due to mental issues, which I have to refer to other specialists for therapy.


P/s: This article was adapted, translated to Mandarin and publish in Singapore's Chinese Newspaper (联合晚报) on 24th Feb 2019.


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