When it comes to exercise, more is not always better. There is definitely an extent to which more exercise equals more of the benefits and rewards, but there is also a “tipping point” at which more exercise can actually be more harmful than beneficial. Whether you’re running, cycling, weight training, or performing any other type of rigorous physical activity, your body needs to recover and refuel. If either of these two needs are not adequately met, you could find yourself dealing with what it known as overtraining syndrome, or OTS.  

How do you know if you’re overtraining?

Sore muscles and feeling tired are common when training or exercising and can be perfectly normal. So how do you know when you’ve crossed the tipping point? Below are 12 factors that may signal OTS.

1. Pain, muscle strain, and soreness

More than the normal amount of soreness as well as pain or muscle strain can be signs that your body is overly stressed.

2. Decreased performance

Overtraining can cause your reaction time to slow, and agility, endurance, and speed to decrease. Your performance may decrease or plateau in spite of training harder, longer, or more frequently.

3. Workouts feel more difficult

You may find your usual workouts to feel much more difficult than normal and take a lot more effort to complete. 

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4. Fatigue

Fatigue can result from not receiving adequate recovery time as well as from low energy availability from not properly refueling carbs, fats, or protein.

5. Mood changes

Overtraining can cause hormone imbalances that lead to irritability, mood swings, or poor concentration. You may even experience anxiety or depression.

6. Insomnia or poor sleep quality

The same overproduction of stress hormones that can cause anxiety, irritability, or mood changes can also effect the quality of your sleep. This can be particularly problematic when dealing with OTS, as your body needs sleep in order to rest and repair itself.

7. Decreased immunity

You may find yourself getting sick more often and more prone to infections.

8. Appetite loss

Typically, working out helps regulate a healthy appetite. But if you are overtraining, stress hormones can cause appetite suppression. Additionally, weightlifters or other athletes who might cut calories as part of their training may develop certain nutrient deficiencies or experience signs of overtraining from not refueling properly.

9. Weight gain

Hormone imbalances from overtraining can cause you to lose muscle mass and gain weight.

10. Overuse injuries

Different types of activity can lead to different overuse injuries including shin splints, stress fractures, or joint strains. A pain that doesn’t subside for more than 2 weeks can be considered an injury.

11. Metabolic problems

Your body drawing on nutrient stores that aren’t adequately replenished can cause imbalances, such as anemia, and can lead to other illnesses or complications.

12. Lack of motivation

Whether from hormonal changes, exhaustion, or not meeting your performance goals, overtraining can leave you feeling unmotivated and uninspired. Taking a break can not only improve your overall health, but give you back your drive. 

When should you take a break?

If you’re experiencing symptoms of overtraining, you may need to take an extended break or alter your routine until your body has adequately recovered. An injury may need to be allowed to heal completely before resuming your normal training routine. Often, a periodized training program that combines rest with active recovery can allow you to overcome OTS while still maintaining physical fitness. 

For athletes who compete and take pride in pushing the limits of what they can do, it’s important to keep in mind that pushing themselves to the point of burnout is not a productive goal. Rest and recovery are important components of achieving your maximum physical potential. If you do find yourself experiencing signs of overtraining, consult a physician or medical professional.