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Avoiding Overtraining

Training is a fine balance between pushing the body hard enough so that it will adapt without going to the point of “burned out” which is a sign of overtraining.

Overtraining results in poor performance and injury risk.

Athletes often find themselves treading a fine line between intensive training and inadequate recovery which could, if left unchecked, result in overtraining.

Signs of overtraining

As individuals, athletes tolerate different levels of training, competition and stress at different times.

Some of the signs include:

  • unexplained decrease in performance
  • changes in mood state
  • excessive fatigue
  • the need for additional sleep
  • frequent infections
  • continued muscle soreness
  • loss of training/competitive drive.

Ways to avoid overtraining

Training load

All athletes must train hard in order to improve. Recreational athletes will tend to have smaller training loads but will benefit from large improvements in performance. Conversely, more experienced athletes will require higher training loads in order to cause small increases in performance.

If adequate recovery is allowed, fatigue will disappear and hard training results in improvement in performance.


Recovery should be the ‘bedrock’ of any training programme.

Some athletes may decide to skip a rest day as the result of missed training, stressful competition or excessively prolonged and/or intense exercise which risks overtraining.

Athletes then tend to find themselves in a vicious circle where they increase training in reaction to their underperformance rather than increase the recovery period.

It is important to structure your training to ensure that you factor in sufficient recovery periods in order to allow your body to adapt.

Recovery should be sufficient to dissipate fatigue and promote repair of the body after training.

Additional recovery strategies which can be combined with rest periods include:

  • cold water immersion
  • massage
  • stretching
  • compression garments
  • music

Ideas for planning the recovery

  1. Include active recovery
    • Light aerobic activity
    • Include non-competitive activities that are different to normal training to provide within your recovery days.
      Swimming is an ideal recovery session which allows movement with lower forces through the joints.
  2. Nutrition and hydration
    • Focus on re-fuelling after training and competition.
  3. Sleep

Managing overtraining if it happens.

Athletes who suffer from overtraining can recover quickly.

Athletes often get itchy feet and may not want to completely rest.

It may be easier to do light active recovery sessions a couple of times a week with slow increases in intensity/volume over a 6-12 week period.

How does this work in real life?

Kenyan endurance runner’s success is built on the fact that they are able to sleep after each training session and completely recover.

It can be difficult to fit in recovery with commitments including full time employment. One strategy is to take a cyclical approach to training.

This means that training volumes/intensity gradually increase for the first three weeks before a recovery phase in the fourth week.

This recovery phase reduces fatigue and allows adaptations to take place.

Written by physiotherapist Sean Webb. To book an appointment with Sean or any of the other physiotherapists, click below.