Signs and Symptoms of Overtraining Syndrome in Athletes

Table of Contents
View All

Overtraining syndrome is a condition that occurs when you train too much or too hard without giving the body enough time to rest. It is common with athletes who, in training for competition or a specific event, train beyond their body's ability to recover.

Athletes often exercise longer and harder so they can improve at their sport of choice. But without adequate rest and recovery, these training regimens can backfire and actually decrease performance. They can also reduce quality of life.

Proper athletic conditioning requires a balance between overload and recovery. Too much overload and/or too little recovery can result in both physical and psychological symptoms of overtraining, potentially leading to overtraining syndrome.

Symptoms of Overtraining

Some of the most common symptoms existing with overtraining syndrome include:

  • A compulsive need to exercise
  • Decreased appetite or weight loss
  • Feeling depressed, anxious, moody, or irritable
  • Increased incidence of injuries or headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Irregular heart rate or heart rhythm
  • Lack of energy, feeling washed-out, tired, or drained
  • Loss of enthusiasm for the sport, or reduced competitiveness
  • Lower immunity (increased number of colds, and sore throats)
  • Mild muscle or joint soreness, general aches and pains
  • Reduced training capacity, intensity, or performance
  • Reproductive issues
  • Trouble concentrating

Impact

Overtraining syndrome can impact a person several ways. One is decreased performance. Performance decreases with overtraining syndrome can be long-lasting, sometimes taking several weeks or months to turn around.

There are psychological effects as well. Some studies have found that overtraining can lead to poorer mood. Others have connected overtraining syndrome specifically with greater feelings of anxiety and increased depression.

In these ways, overtraining the body without giving it time to rest can impact athletes both physically and mentally. This means that its effects can be felt both inside and outside the training room.

New exercisers can feel discouraged. Advanced exercisers may want to give up, never fully realizing or achieving their peak performance.

Self-Diagnosis

While there are many proposed ways to objectively test for overtraining, the most accurate and sensitive measurements are psychological signs and symptoms and changes in an athlete's mental state. Decreased positive feelings for sports and increased negative feelings, such as depression, anger, fatigue, and irritability often appear after a few days of intensive overtraining.

A training log that includes a note about how you feel each day can help you notice downward trends and decreased enthusiasm. It's important to listen to your body signals and rest when you feel tired. You can also ask those around you if they think you are exercising too much.

Another option is to document changes in your heart rates over time. Track your aerobic heart rate at specific exercise intensities and speed throughout your training and write it down. If your pace starts to slow, your resting heart rate increases, and you experience other symptoms, you may heading toward overtraining syndrome.

Track your resting heart rate each morning. You can do this manually by taking your pulse for 60 seconds immediately after waking up or you can use a heart rate monitor or fitness band. Any marked increase from the norm may indicate that you aren't fully recovered.

You can also test recovery via the orthostatic heart rate test. This involves resting for 10 minutes, recording your heart rate for minute, standing up, then noting your beats per minute at various intervals (15 seconds, 90 seconds, and 120 seconds.

Well-rested athletes will show a consistent heart rate between measurements, but athletes on the verge of overtraining often have a marked increase (10 beats per minute or more) in the 120 second-post-standing measurements.

Treatment

If you suspect you are overtraining, start with the following:

  • Begin cross-training. This often helps athletes who are overworking certain muscles or suffering from mental fatigue.
  • Get a sports massage. This may help relax you mentally and physically.
  • Engage in stress reduction techniques. Increase your relaxation and reduce your stress with deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation exercises.
  • Hydrate. Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Alter your diet, if necessary. Make sure you are getting enough protein and carbs to support full training recovery. (Carbs are important for endurance athletes and protein is important for athletes relying on muscle strength and power.)
  • Rest and recover. Reduce or stop the exercise and allow yourself a few days of rest.

Research on overtraining syndrome published in 2015 shows getting adequate rest is the primary treatment plan.

Total recovery from overtraining can take several weeks. However, if you don't notice any improvements or start to feel worse, you may want to consult with your doctor. Your doctor can help you find ways to balance training and recovery, improving your performance and health.

Prevention

It's often hard to predict overtraining because every athlete responds differently to certain training routines. It is important, however, to vary training through the year and schedule in significant rest time.

If you recognize warning signs of overtraining, it's important to objectively measure your training routine and make adjustments before you wind up sick or injured.

A Word From Verywell

There are many ways to recognize whether you may be at risk of overtraining syndrome. This is the first step to getting yourself back on track and closer to hitting your fitness goals.

Listen to your body and notice if it feels like it is getting overworked without having adequate rest. Consult with your doctor if your systems persist or if you find it difficult to achieve some type of training-recovery balance.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Kreher J. Diagnosis and prevention of overtraining syndrome: an opinion on education strategies. Open Access J Sports Med. 2016;7:115-122. doi:10.2147/OAJSM.S91657

  2. Carter J, Potter A, Brooks K. Overtraining syndrome: causes, consequences, and methods for prevention. J Sport Human Perf. 2014;2(1):1-14. doi:10.12922/jshp.0031.2014

  3. Kreher J. Diagnosis and prevention of overtraining syndrome: an opinion on education strategies. Open Access J Sports Med. 2016;7:115–122. doi:10.2147/OAJSM.S91657

  4. Cardoos N. Overtraining syndrome. Curr Sports Med Reports. 2015;14(3):157-158. doi:10.1249/JSR.0000000000000145

  5. Cadegiani F, Kater C. Body composition, metabolism, sleep, psychological and eating patterns of overtraining syndrome: results of the EROS study (EROS-PROFILE). J Sports Sci. 2018;36(16):1902-10. doi:10.1080/02640414.2018.1424498

  6. Frank R, Nixdorf I, Beckmann J. Depression in elite athletes: prevalence and psychological factors. German J Sports Medic. 2013;64:320-6. doi:10.5960/dzsm.2013.088

  7. Souter G, Lewis R, Serrant L. Men, Mental Health and Elite Sport: a Narrative ReviewSports Med Open. 2018;4(1):57. Published 2018 Dec 19. doi:10.1186/s40798-018-0175-7

  8. Cardoos N. Overtraining syndrome. Curr Sports Med Rep. 2015;14(3):157-8. doi:10.1249/JSR.0000000000000145

  9. American Council on Exercise. Overtraining | 9 Signs of Overtraining to Look Out For.

  10. Coulson M. The Complete Guide to Personal Training. A&C Black; 2013.

  11. Moore D. Nutrition to support recovery from endurance exercise optimal carbohydrate and protein replacement. Curr Sports Med Reports. 2015;14(4):294-300. doi: 10.1249/JSR.0000000000000180