7 Subtle Signs Of Overtraining

7  Subtle Signs Of Overtraining

Overtraining is a serious stuff.

Quite often, people get hooked up on exercising way too much, ignoring the body telling them to stop.

It’s great to see results, but more exercise doesn’t necessarily mean better and faster results.

Overtraining is not just an issue among elite athletes, it’s a very common thing in regular sport – enthusiasts, too.

Whether you go to the gym, do gymnastics, play football or run marathons, it doesn’t matter. Anyone, who exercises regularly has probably experienced the effect of overtraining.

Considering you looked up this post, I am assuming that you are worried this might be you.

Let’s see whether you can recognise any of these signs.


When we exercise, we expose our bodies to stress.

Most of the time, this form of stress is good, because it strengthens, challenges and toughens our bodies.

But stress hormones, mainly cortisol and epinephrine, still get released and too much of them is asking for restless sleep.

Stress hormones are essential, we need them to be able to deal with day-to-day situations and they warn us when we are in danger, but we also need periods of rest in order for these hormones to completely disappear from our system. Nobody wants to be stressed all the time.

If we don’t allow our body to rest, stress hormones are constantly floating around, causing a restless mind and inability to relax properly, which makes falling asleep nearly impossible.

Which brings me to a number one sign.


The same hormones responsible for stress management, are the ones responsible for our moods.

Ever had a long term issue? Deal with deadlines often? Tough relationship? Kids? Then you probably are very much aware of what long term exposure to stress can do to your mood.

Irritability, stroppiness and mood swings are all common examples of high stress hormone levels and if you cannot pinpoint a certain issue in your life that’s causing it, it’s possible it might be overtraining.

Irritability, in combination with bad sleep, can cause further problems in daily life, like bad concentration at work or school, lack of enthusiasm, decreased libido and even depression or anxiety.


If you feel like you are working out more and more, harder and harder without any new results, it might be a sign of the fact that you simply need a break.

Decreased performance can show up differently, depending on the sport:

  • Worse times in running, rowing, cycling etc.
  • Decreased agility in sports (football, etc.)
  • Inability to lift weights that you normally have no problem with
  • Slower reaction time

When this happens, the individual usually hits a plateau, which is a term to describe the phase, when an athlete feels demotivated because of the lack of visible results or because the exercise is too boring and repetitive.

You definitely need a change if you are in this stage otherwise there’s a good chance that you will give up the sport altogether and associate it with bad experience.


Overtired body usually pulls energy from their own reserves rather than taking it from food, because stored nutrients are readily available and the body doesn’t need to go through the process of breaking it down properly. This would require even more energy for an already tired body.

This can result in weight loss and digestive tract problems, because food we eat does not get processed properly, which can lead to a sign number five.


Apart from digestive issues, we can also become more susceptible to common illnesses, such as cold and flu.

I know from my very own experience: While trying to juggle night shifts and training, I quite often failed to notice that I get a cold or a flu every other month, or so.

People used to tell me: “How come exercise is so good for you when you are sick all the time?”

I’ve realised I wasn’t representing a healthy lifestyle, but a very destroying one.

Yes, exercise and physical activity are both amazing, but if you do these things to the detriment of sleep and recovery, you will not be healthy, you will become more sick.

Do fewer workouts in a week, but make them count!

You can go to the gym seven times a week and the only result will be fatigue, illness and irritability because you are overtrained. Not to mention the fact that there will be no muscle growth, since your body is trying to survive all this, building muscle is a bit much at this point.

It’s proven that a short, BUT effective workout is a lot more beneficial than a long strenuous one that lacks strategy.

Yes, it’s a great feeling to smash a workout so you can’t move for the rest of the day and feel like you’ve earned it. But this shouldn’t become a habit and it brings me to number six.


As mentioned above, it’s great to smash the hell out of a workout, but if you feel like your muscles are whinging every time you move, or if you are having constant issues with joints or tendons, this might be a sign of a well needed rest.

We might not even be talking about a serious injury, it could just be a persisting unexplained knee pain, frequent muscle cramps or joint discomfort or tension.

Your body is letting you know that it doesn’t feel quite right and you should listen and let it rest.


If you set up your workout and find it harder than usual, it could just mean that it’s not your day today.

We’ve all been there, you have been looking forward for a leg day (I know, everyone’s favourite:)), you get in, you have your music, you are pumped and then you drop a plate on your foot, stumble over a step, never mind. You put the regular set of weights on a bar, only to find out that you can’t lift it.

We’ve all had these days and it happens occasionally, but if it’s often and you notice it every week, or every other workout, you should give yourself a break.

If you are a runner and suddenly notice your times and pace going down with no clear explanation (the weather is unusually hot or cold, smog in the air, etc.), give yourself a break.

Now, that doesn’t mean lounging on a sofa all day, but how about going on a walk with a friend or a partner?

How about signing up for a yoga, meditation or stretching class at your gym?

Try something different and make your recovery active.

Pushing through the workout or training session anyway can lead to injuries and, if your hobby is something like rock climbing, it can lead to an injury you would regret forever.


So, as you might have noticed, all these signs tie together very closely.

  • Exercise is stress
  • Too much stress leads to high levels of stress hormones
  • High stress hormones levels cause sleep problems
  • Sleep problems cause mood swings
  • All of the above cause decreased performance, illness and injuries

These signs are important to keep an eye on and if you spot some of them, stop and think about it for a second.

Am I moody because I haven’t slept properly? Why didn’t I sleep well? Did I have one too many drinks or am I loaded at work? Or have I just spent last seven days at the gym?

Sure, you can just be stressed from work, or maybe you are at school and exams are coming up.

But if you are an active person, I’d like you to stop for a while and acknowledge that you might just need some rest.

Go out for a meal, walk, go visit a friend, catch up on your favourite TV show, sign up for a yoga or stretching class, go swimming or invite a friend for a spa day.

Do something that allows your body to recover. I’m sure you can think of something 🙂

And no, going out clubbing and drinking is not what I mean, this will switch your brain off temporarily, only to give you a headache the next day, and your mood will get even worse.

Let me know what are your typical signs of overtraining in the comments, I’d love to read your experience.


10 thoughts on “7 Subtle Signs Of Overtraining”

  • Wow, Very informative article. I Now believe that I could possibly b overtraining.

    Every day I do 60 minutes on the treadmill in the morning. Mon, Wed and Fri I do weight training. Tues and Thurs evenings I do a Pilates class followed by a yoga class. On Mon, Wed and Fri evenings I practice Jui Jitsu with my partner.

    While I don’t find myself to be moody and my partner hasn’t complained about that I do regularly have trouble sleeping at night. I often lay awake for hours and/or wake frequently throughout the night.

    Did I mention that I am 56 years of age and figured my tiredness was just age-related? What are your thoughts on this? I do love all of these activities, what do you recommend as a daily/weekly schedule for me that includes these activities?

    • Hello Deb,

      Firstly, I would like to express an incredible admiration. Not many people over 50 are this active and I’m glad that your body is not causing you any issues, even though you train really hard.

      It’s OK to love all those activities, but I definitely agree that easing up could be a good idea to try and see if it helps with your sleep.

      I’d say that 60 mins on a treadmill every day is a lot and maybe you could start there? Maybe cut that in half?

      The other activities do challenge the whole body and it’s a bunch of compound movements, with pilates and yoga being probably the ones that play the smallest role in your possible overtraining.

      I suppose Jui Jitsu is a way to spend time with your partner, so I guess you’d want to keep that one the way it is.

      I’d recommend doing cardio and resistance training on different days if you insist on spending 1h on a treadmill, so if you do weights on Mon, Wed, Fri, maybe you could run on Tuesday and Thursday.This way you will avoid Jui Jitsu days, too. It also correlates nicely with pilates and yoga, which are excellent after running. I do 30 – 45 mins yoga after every run to keep my flexibility.

      I don’t know which activity you are willing to reduce and which one you want to keep the way it is, but this is the way I would suggest it.

      Do you run on weekends, too?

      • Thanks, Silvie. I will definitely try your suggestions. I will try reducing treadmill time to yoga and Pilates days and keeping the rest the same for now. It is a good start anyway. On weekends I tend to not work out but sometimes may have a fun hike with the grandkids or now that it is winter maybe a snowshoe or ski. In summer, if we are sailing on our sailboat I don’t work out except for swimming and trimming the sails can be a pretty good workout depending on the winds.

        • Considering the fact that you are very active on your weekends too, you should not feel like you are not doing enough, even if you reduce the treadmill time.

          Let me know how you get on and thank you for trusting my opinion.

          Good luck and keep it up, you set an example for many people!

  • Silvie,

    It’s so true that we can workout too much. I’ve been known to do this over a course of several months. The problem with me is that I go too hard, then I stop altogether. In fact, I tend to do this all the time. My main problem is with maintenance, I don’t know how to maintain weight loss. I go to the gym, hardcore for long periods of time. Then, when I get burnt out, I stop going, rest, gain the weight back, and then later on go again. It’s terrible. At least I recognize that I do this though.

    Anyway, thanks for the great information! It helps to know when you’re going too hard, that’s for sure!


    • Hi Katrina,

      I do believe that your situation is a typical plateau, you go for it, squeeze everything out, and get bored and tired.

      I can see it on myself, too. If I workout every single day, I am bored in two weeks. It’s incredibly difficult to keep your sessions interesting, unless you have a PT, who has a great strategy for that. Or unless you are one.

      It’s a lot more beneficial to go to the gym on a regular basis, but less often. 45 mins workout, 3x week can be a lot better for you that hitting it hard.

      That said, the session needs to have a structure and needs to target all the muscles in that muscle group. For example, if you do legs, you have to make sure that you sufficiently target all the muscles,not just your quad.

      This way, you can change your workout around and keep it interesting for longer.

      There are also other ways, signing up for classes, for example, or simply do something you normally don’t.

      Rest between sessions is crucial so I would suggest creating yourself a plan for next time. Write down what you like and mix it up so you don’t do too much of one type of exercise.

      For example, if you like gym, swimming, yoga and running, and if losing weight is your priority right now, organise those activities accordingly.

      Run 2x a week.
      Swim 1x week
      Gym 2x a week
      Yoga 1x a week

      You can have a swim after gym or a treadmill run, or you can chose separate days just for swimming. Use yoga as an active recovery on a rest day or use it as a stretch after resistance training or running.

      I use 30 mins yoga session after every run to avoid DOMS and shortening in hamstrings.

      When you lose desired amount of weight, maybe focus on gym more and get rid of the running altogether.

      You could also do:

      1 week of gym and swimming
      1 week of running and yoga

      There are so many ways to keep it interesting, so you don’t get burned out and hit a plateau.

      Hope this helps, let me know how you getting on.

  • Hi Silvie,

    This article reminded me of the time I played soccer and kayaking competitively years back. I think it’s just the nature of athletes (or any competitively active persons) to somehow be aware yet stubborn about pushing their limits. I had definitely overworked plenty of times from all the running and gym sessions but as times go by, I learnt to pace myself because I was experiencing the exact same cycle you mentioned. It’s a bad cycle to get away from and the frustrations increased, for mine is mostly lack of good sleep (work didn’t help either).

    Moving forward, I have expanded my exercising options to yoga and going for nature trails. And although I don’t play competitively anymore, I feel that there is a better balance now. In fact, I’m happy with my consistency.

    This article will be most useful to my juniors and fellow (stubborn) fitness friends, I will share this instead of nagging at them. Hahaha


    • Hi Sam,

      I know haha. It’s weird how people are more likely to follow internet advice instead of a friend’s one 😀

      You’re right, it’s extremely difficult to get out of this cycle, especially when you have a busy working schedule. I understand, we don’t want to just go to work, go home and sleep. Sometimes, however, our own motivation can be hurtful, blinding the fact that we need a break.

      Balance is everything 🙂

      Thank you for your kind post and I wish you a lovely weekend and Merry Christmas.

  • OMGosh Sylvie! Apart from illness, I periodically exhibit all the other signs! Decreased performance and unusual fatigue were symptoms that I attributed to aging. Thanks for helping me realize that they have been brought about by my over-exercising. Hard to believe that one can actually over-excercise! I guess working out in the morning and evening may not be such a good idea after all. I will be changing my routine to early morning only. Or, could I retain both slots but reduce the duration and intensity of the workout? Thanks.

    • Hi Ceci,

      I am sure you can train twice a day if you really want, as long as you reduce intensity, but wouldn’t just be easier to do one hard session and get it over with? It also depends on your goal, for weight loss, I’d suggest one intensive one, for toning, two easier session are fine.

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