Overtraining and Exercise – Learn The Symptoms To Prevent Issues


You’ve been exercising regularly for several weeks or even months now, but seems like nothing is changing. At first, you lost some weight, improved muscle tone, strength and endurance, felt great after every exercise session and had a definite increase in energy levels throughout the day. You followed a strict diet, supplemented with necessary vitamins and minerals and pushed yourself with every workout. Seems like everything was going on very well. But now you feel tired and exhausted all the time, don’t have energy to even get to the gym, your sleep patterns have changed and you feel irritable and tense. If you find yourself dreading your exercise sessions or dragging yourself through the day, you may be pushing yourself too much. Diet and training plateaus are signs of your body’s need for rest. Recharge your body and your mind, get fit and lose weight by exercising less and eating more.

When it comes to getting in shape, most people, not you of course, but the majority expect too much, too soon. Usually they would push themselves too hard at the beginning of the program in order to get faster results. But what happens then? They feel tired, exhausted, moody, easily irritated, have altered sleep patterns, become depressed, and lose the competitive desire and enthusiasm for the activities they used to enjoy. Are you one of the above described restless exercisers?

If you answered ‘yes’, you may be experiencing an overtraining syndrome. Overtraining occurs when the physical stress of training is not balanced by adequate rest and nutrition to allow the body to recuperate and repair the damage. The Unites States Olympic Committee (USOC) and the American College of Sports Medicine defined overtraining syndrome as ‘untreated overreaching that results in chronic decreases in performance and impaired ability to train’. Athletes and coaches also know it as “burnout” or “staleness.” Medically, the overtraining syndrome is classified as a neuro-endocrine disorder where the normal fine balance in the interaction between nervous and hormonal systems is disturbed and the body is so tired that it now has a decreased ability to repair itself during rest.

There is nothing wrong with feeling tired after a good workout. It actually is a very good indication that you have worked out hard enough and now your batteries can be recharged. But if you constantly push your limits without giving your body a chance to recover, your entire engine may just break down. Because most of us think that if a little exercise does your body good, more exercise must be even better, so we tend to put all the energy into every workout and push ourselves expecting to reach the set goals sooner. It is absolutely true that to make any improvements you need to challenge yourself out of the comfort zone. That means that now you may want to do more push-ups, sit-ups and lunges than you did last year, or you may try to run faster now than your normal pace of that a few months ago (if you trained regularly, of course). Progression is the ONLY way you can make improvements towards your set goals. The reason is that your body adapts to the same exercises and stops responding. In other words, it plateaus. But every body has a limit to what it can handle at any given time and there should be a very delicate balance between exercise and rest. Excessive training is not a short-cut to better performance. In fact, it may be just the opposite driving your progress down. Numerous studies have shown that a lot of times exercisers may work out harder and more often than necessary or even recommended.

Exercising is great for your body and mind. But if you start feeling tired, fatigued, irritated, your muscles begin to hold a lot of tension even when you are not working out, then you may be creating a very unfavorable internal environment. Physiologically, repetitive training alters your hormone levels, weakens immunity and triggers emotional instability wreaking havoc on your body and mind. But don’t despair, follow these simple steps and get the energy you have been missing.

By far and away the biggest mistake most people make when training for size and strength is overtraining. You have to understand that the body has very limited recovery ability and can only tolerate a certain amount of training. Once you go beyond what the body is capable of recovering from you will enter a state of overtraining. And the further into an overtrained state you get, the harder is to get out.

How Do You Know if You are Overtrained?

Well, some simple signs to look for are the inability to sleep, elevated resting heart rate, decreased appetite, decreased motivation in the gym, lowered sex drive, and a lack of

None of these are fun symptoms to have. And believe me I would know, I have been there plenty of times myself when I was younger and had no idea how to train properly.

Without knowing exactly what you are doing in your workouts right now, I can almost guarantee that you are overtrained in some capacity or another.

The first thing that I see most people do which leads to overtraining is performing too many sets in their workouts. If I had to take a guess I would say that most people do between 18-30 sets per workout. I know this is a pretty wide gap but it’s tough to narrow it down any more than that.

Let me ask you why you do that many sets? Who told you to do that? Where did you read that and decide that it was the norm to do so? What are you accomplishing by doing so many sets? Are extra sets making you stronger? Are they making you bigger? Are they getting you leaner? Are they helping you to recruit more motor units? Are you stretching the fascia? Inducing hyperplasia? What exactly is all that training volume doing?

And why does everyone seem to think that it’s necessary and just blindly follow what everyone else is doing? If you are really training hard and are serious about your workouts, it’s very difficult for most people to perform a ton of sets and still be able to recover.

After thousands of hours working with an extremely wide variety of clients, I have come to the conclusion that most people can’t do more than 12-18 sets per workout. Let me rephrase that, because plenty of people CAN do more sets than that, but most people can’t RECOVER from more sets than that. In certain cases, depending on the trainee, the situation and the type of workout, we can push this as high as 20-22 sets but that is usually the ceiling for most people.

Does That Make Sense?

The next mistake is that people train too long. Workouts, not including warm up time, should never exceed an hour. When you begin training, your anabolic hormones are immediately elevated. After awhile they reach a peak and then start to decline. They eventually return to baseline and if you keep training beyond that point, they will dip down to below normal levels. What happens at this point is that cortisol, which is the stress hormone that eats muscle and causes increases in body fat, becomes severely elevated.

The next mistake I would like to discuss today when it comes to overtraining is training too often. You need to remember that training does not stress just the muscles but the entire body including the nervous system. The nervous system controls everything and if the nervous system is not recovered, it doesn’t matter how good your muscles feel, you can’t train again. You can try, but you won’t make progress and will just dig yourself into a deep hole of overtraining.

If you are training five or six days per week, you are probably overtraining. This is another mistake I made several times when I was younger. I was eager to get big as fast as humanly possible and thought that the more I trained, the bigger I would get. I was sadly mistaken. I actually ended up getting smaller and weaker from this schedule.

Most drug free trainees can’t recover properly from more than three to four hard workouts per week. Even drug assisted athletes seem to do better on three or four days per week because the drugs only help the muscles recover faster, not the nervous system.

The final mistake we are going to cover today, which leads to overtraining, is training too hard. What I mean by this is continually going all out and training to failure and beyond on every set you do. There is a time to train to failure and there is a time to hold back a bit. Unless you know how to walk this fine line, you will definitely fry your nervous system and be overtrained in no time.

Step #1: Evaluate How You Feel and Check for These Overtraining Symptoms:

  • Decreased performance and training tolerance.
  • Fatigue and tiredness.
  • Muscle soreness and tenderness.
  • Depression and apathy.
  • Irritability and stress.
  • Sleep and eating disturbances.
  • Increased frequency of colds, flu, sickness.
  • Elevated resting heart rate and blood pressure.

Everybody differs in their responses to stress and exercise, but only you know if your system is being pushed too far. So, ask yourself if any of the above symptoms describe how you feel now and make a conscious decision to treat your body well by giving it the needed rest.

Step #2: Stop Exercising for a Week and Reduce Your Training Afterwards

The week of recovery will give your body a wonderful chance to recover and recuperate after a long period of overexertion. Your muscles will have an opportunity to rebuild themselves during this essential time of relaxation.

What you may forget is that training itself doesn’t make you stronger. It actually breaks down your muscle cells making you weaker. Think about it, when are you stronger – before or after the workout? Can you perform another dozen sets of exercises AFTER you have already worked out? Obviously not. That muscle tissue breakdown stimulates them to grow stronger and firmer. But that happens only during the times of rest. Exactly when you are not exercising, your body is constructing the lean tissue you broke down, plus some more in order to protect itself against expected future damage in the gym. It is sufficient rest and good nutrition that makes you stronger.

Losing weight and burning some calories during exercise follows the same principle, but the picture is even more complex. In order to burn most fat, you need to exercise at high enough intensity and to generate enough muscle force. When you train too often or too hard, your energy levels may go down since the muscle tissue gets broken down every time you train. Giving your body the energy it needs through relaxation and enough food will boost your muscle power and energy to have the best workouts every time you train.

Step #3: Start Eating More Healthy and Nutritious Foods More Often

The best way to rev up your metabolism is to eat at least five times during the day. Every time you eat, you burn additional calories as digesting food needs energy. Small frequent meals will also help you maintain blood sugar levels and even reduce your appetite so you end up eating less in one meal. This will prevent unnecessary spikes in insulin levels and give your body the energy it craves for recovery. At times of overtraining, one important nutrient that your body may be lacking is carbohydrates which restore the glycogen or ‘muscle sugar’. Because your glycogen gets depleted very fast during each exercise session, the stores must be constantly replenished. And carbohydrates from breads, pasta and fruit are the best sources of muscle fuel. Research has shown that one common supplement, the carbohydrate drink, can lessen the harmful effects of exhaustive exercise on your immune system.

Eat more wholesome foods such as fresh vegetables, fruit, whole grains, dairy, lean meats and fish. Experiment with various combinations of these delicious ingredients and take them with every meal. Try eating oatmeal with fruit and yogurt for breakfast, snack on buckwheat crackers with low-fat cheese, have a seafood and vegetable stir-fry with brown rice for lunch, crunch some juicy celery and red capsicum dipped in hummus before dinner, and indulge in a tender grilled chicken breast with mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli and carrots decorated with salsa and fresh cilantro. Or create your own combinations adding extra herbs and spices for more flavor. Remember, these nutrition ideas together with proper rest and sleep is the only way you can recharge your system.

Whatever your goals are – to increase fitness, get stronger, lose weight, or simply to feel better – the best way to achieve them is to approach them slowly and surely. Well-balanced gradual increases in training are best, but only when your body is given a chance to recover. A training log is the best method to monitor progress. In addition to keeping track of volume and intensity, you can record the resting morning heart rate, weight, general health, how the workout felt, and levels of muscular soreness and fatigue. Concentrate on working out on a regular basis, making gradual but moderate measurable progress. Anybody can work hard, but working smart is the real key to success.

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About Author

Elena Voropay

Elena Voropay is a Certified Personal Trainer, Fitness Instructor and Certified Nutritionist. She also holds accreditations for her knowledge in Iridology and Herbal Medicine. Elena has conducted presentations and lectured on various health, fitness and science-related topics. See my profile page for more information!


  1. Avatar

    This really gave me great insight. I’m a 29 year old woman and I workout 5 times a week for at least 1.5 hours with cardio and strength training every time I go. I have been feeling so moody and irritated lately outside of my PMS and I couldn’t figure it out. I was freaking out and this definitely put me at ease.

  2. Avatar

    I am 46. I workout 7 days a week most of the time. I have been feeling most of the symptoms described, not all of them though. I combined weight lifting days (30 mins), with a one hour aerobic interval workout (3x weekly). I try to eat clean most days. I used to do only yoga, but I wasn’t seeing any results. Then, I started to do moderate aerobics and watched what I ate. Then, I saw results. I am at my goal weight now. So recently, I began weight lifting because now, I would like to see more muscle and definition in my body. But, lately I feel exhausted and have insomnia. I definitely do not have the energy that I had when I first started. Am I overdoing it?

    • shapefit

      Aura – Yes, you might be working out too much and it’s probably best to cut back a little and see how you feel. Also, make sure to monitor your caffeine intake closely and don’t go too overboard with your intake (coffee, diet sodas) since this can stress your adrenals and also cause issues with getting a good night’s sleep.

    • Avatar

      I do weights and cardio 5 days a week with cardio, spending 1.5 hours in the gym and I’m exhausted. All I want to do is sleep and I feel achy all over. I hate not going to the gym but I agree with the article and I’m going to let my body rest and start eating better.

  3. Avatar
    Lorraine Luce on

    Wow! What a lot of helpful information that I just read. Now I know what is happening to my body and why I am so irritated with myself and my life. To much exercise and cardio. I have been pushing myself by obsessing over how many miles I do on those cardio machines at the gym. I think now I will stop that. I am going to take a week of rest next week. No workouts for me. Hopefully I will get back into the routine at a slower pace. I am trying to keep my blood sugar down and stay active. All in all, I look good but don’t want to lose my energy level. How do I keep it if I slow down?

    • shapefit

      Hi Lorraine – By cutting back on your intensive exercise routine, you will be less worn out and tired so your energy levels should actually increase. Overtraining causes fatigue, so by cutting back on your training regimen you should feel much better 🙂

  4. Avatar

    Thank you for this post! I do interval training for 30 minutes 4 times a week for 6 weeks now and I get exhausted after every session. On Saturdays I spring clean the whole house which takes me about 2 hours to finish and I often feel very tired to workout afterwards. I’m also on a low-carb diet and noticed some results. However, I’m not sure if I’m overtraining or just need to push myself even harder since 30 minutes 4 times a week seems to be normal and healthy.

    • shapefit

      Hi Lora – Your low-carb diet might be the culprit that’s hindering your overall performance and energy levels. You might try adding some additional clean carbs into your diet, especially before your workouts and see how you feel. Eating 1/2 cup of oatmeal with some protein powder for your pre-workout meals works great and you should also include some carbs and protein post-workout as well. See how you feel after 2-3 weeks of adding in more carbs to your diet. If you’re still very tired and out of energy after that then you might be overtraining and you will probably need additional rest in between your workouts to fully recover.

  5. Avatar

    This is an excellent article and I enjoyed reading it. Water is a vital element to health and well-being and keeping well hydrated can increase energy and performance. Make sure the body is not depleted or you will suffer loss of physical ability.

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    Thank you for all of these valuable tips! As I lay here at almost 2:00 a.m. I am sipping an electrolyte drink. I am 56 years old and I go to the gym 3 times per week. I usually do about 60 minutes of cardio and 30 minutes of weight training on the machines. I’ve always been a runner so when I workout I have a competitive attitude. Today was not a gym day but I was very active in the yard with grass cutting and weeding. Once again, I was left with zero energy. This has been an ongoing problem for me the past few years since I started back at the gym. Last year, I had all sorts of tests by my doctor but he found nothing wrong with me. I have always perspired a lot when I workout so I think I lose a lot of fluid and get dehydrated. Lately, it seems to be worse. I am going to start by adding more carbs into my diet because I don’t think I eat enough of them to fuel my body. I don’t seem to have any reserved energy at all. I use a few supplements before and after my workouts. I found all of these posts very helpful. Thank you!

  7. Avatar

    I weigh 49kg and I’m 5’9″. I lift weights 5-6 days a week and I have been doing it now for 4 months. And all of a sudden, over the past 2 days I feel like I’ve hit a wall. What can I do?

    • ShapeFit

      Hi Roisin – Try taking a week off to rest and relax. You might be overtraining and your body just needs time to rest. Take a little break and then head back into the gym and see how you feel.

  8. Avatar

    I’m a 55 year old man. I’ve been doing high intensity weights and calisthenics. “Blasting” is what I call it which includes multiple sets of different weights with no rest. Then, I alternate days with HIIT training for cardio. I look great except my abs aren’t what I want them to be. The last few weeks I’ve been exhausted with little desire to do anything other than workout and perform my job. I have persistent belly fat so I’m on low carbs too. There’s no way I can not workout for a whole week as I’m afraid I’ll lose aesthetics and lose all the work I’ve put in. The fatigue lately and the depression is impacting my life. Could I just slow down a little? Maybe do some maintenance type workout a couple days a week?

    • ShapeFit

      Hi Patrick – Yes, you should try to cut back on your workouts a little. Perform 1-2 less workouts per week and see how you feel. You might just be overtraining and not letting your body fully recover. You will not lose all of your gains if you rest and perform a few less workouts per week. If you still don’t feel better, then take a full week off without any exercise and just try to relax and you can even get a deep tissue massage during this time off. A week off is needed from time-to-time from high intensity workouts.

  9. Avatar

    This is great advice for someone first starting out who is still in the process of building up muscle, but even for beginners a week seems far too long to stop exercising. It’s natural for humans (and most other animals) to run daily, otherwise we wouldn’t have survived, and in past times people would not have had the luxury to NOT be on their feet working their bodies hard all day long. Surely, if people didn’t have the energy to work the fields 12 hours a day every day, they also wouldn’t have had the energy to procreate, and humanity would have died out long ago.

    In my experience, if a person is having trouble long-term with their bodies not recovering adequately during sleep (which is the time we are meant to rest and recover), then they’re much better off either sleeping more or changing their diet. Being low on carbohydrates that are needed for energy, or not getting enough nutrients from green and yellow vegetables to properly rebuild cells are huge problems that can lead to painfully slow recovery.

    Furthermore, injuries are almost always the result of incorrect form, not overtraining. A runner who keeps his back straight and steps down on the top of his foot uses far less force and exertion than a runner who is bent and steps down on his heel. Certainly a person should stop when they find they are too tired to hold correct form, but otherwise most are fine with continuing their exercise for as long as they feel comfortable doing so.

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