Understanding Overtraining: Recognizing Signs, Risks, and Recovery Strategies

One of the potential risks with exercising, whether intentional or not, is overtraining. Anyone can fall victim to overtraining. Overtraining is when an individual works their muscles outside of their muscles’ capacity without proper muscle recovery. In the beginning stage, defined as “overreaching,” muscles are sore and inflamed and can feel heavy. Recovering from overtraining can take weeks or months depending on the severity. Chronic overtraining can lead to relative energy deficiency in sport and exercise (RED-S), which can have a detrimental impact on physical and mental health.  

Signs and symptoms of overtraining include: 

  • Chronic muscle soreness 
  • Lack of exercise progression 
  • Inability to maintain exercise capacity 
  • Chronic fatigue, mentally and physically  
  • Increase in injury 
  • Lowered immune function 
  • Feeling “burned out”  
  • Increase in anxiety and/or depression 
  • Increase in heart rate and/or blood pressure 
  • Irregular menstrual cycles in individuals with uteruses  
  • Difficulty concentrating 
  • Stunted hunger cues and increased fullness cues/loss of appetite  

Overtraining can be common in the eating disorder space when individuals engage in excessive exercising. Excessive exercising is exercising outside of what the body is fueled for and/or outside of an individual’s exercise capacity. It is important to recognize that excessive exercise and overtraining are similar in definition, with excessive exercise differing in the inclusion of necessary fuel consumption. An individual can be fueling properly and still overtrain when not letting their body rest and recover sufficiently in between workouts.  

Avoiding excessive exercise and overtraining:  

  • Rest sore muscles and be conscious of muscle soreness lasting longer than 72 hours. 
  • Check in with self to differentiate between being tired and feeling fatigued. A workout that doesn’t increase energy levels might be a sign that there is more going on. 
  • Properly fuel for the workout before and after, and take notice if hunger cues become diminished with increased exercise. 
  • Mix up the workouts to add variety, and exercise different muscle groups and give rest to others.  
  • Avoid forcing workouts, and listen when the body is asking for rest.  
  • Rest and recover if injured. When getting back into exercise after an injury, remember to go slow and let the injured muscle get used to the activity again. 
  • Pay attention to the enjoyment of the activity. Feeling tired or too busy is different from dreading an activity.  


Emily Foote 

Exercise Physiologist