How Much Training is Overtraining?


Overtraining is common in all sports and fitness pursuits. It happens when an athlete trains more, or at a higher intensity, than his or her body is conditioned to handle and recover from. When overtraining happens, performance suffers and the risk of injury increases dramatically.

Fortunately, overtraining is also relatively easy to predict, and avoiding it is as simple as understanding your body, your sport, and your current level of capability. 

Here’s what you need to know. 

An Example of Overtraining

Some highly motivated athletes, like runners, believe that training harder means performing at a higher level. And to some extent, that’s true. The issue arises, however, when an athlete starts to train intensely without any rest days.

Here’s an example:

A runner is training for a marathon, and she hopes to run a time that will qualify her for the Boston Marathon. She’s so driven to meet her goal and to run at a fast, competitive pace, though, that she decides to forego her weekly rest day and add an additional long run, instead. 

What happens next is that her body can’t physically tolerate the level of work she’s requiring from it. Even though she’s fit and in excellent shape, she can’t recover without rest. Ultimately, she gets injured or starts to suffer chronic pain, and requires several weeks of rest to recover. 

That’s overtraining, in a nutshell. 

What Causes Overtraining?

Regardless of the sport, the following things can cause overtraining:

  • Rapid increases in the intensity, frequency, or duration of training sessions
  • Using different intense training methods without rest days 
  • Running too many races or competing in too many competitions back-to-back
  • Suddenly increasing mileage too quickly

It’s important to note that even very fit, very well-conditioned athletes can overtrain. 

It’s not exclusive to novice or beginning athletes. 

How to Diagnose Overtraining

While the causes of overtraining vary, the symptoms are relatively consistent. Here are a few ways to diagnose and identify overtraining:

  • Intense muscle soreness after a workout, which persists or gets worse after a workout
  • Declining performance 
  • Leg muscles that feel “heavy,” even at light training intervals
  • Slower-than-normal recovery after training 
  • Less commitment to training, and thoughts of quitting or decreasing training
  • Increased blood pressure or frequent illness
  • Loss of menstrual cycle or irregular periods
  • Appetite and weight loss
  • Constipation or diarrhea

How Much is Too Much? Avoiding Overtraining

Athletes are at increased risk of overtraining when they’re trying to meet an ambitious goal, like a PR or getting recruited onto a college athletic team
While there are no one-size-fits-all rules for how much training is too much, there are some guidelines to abide by if you want to prevent overtraining.

  • Develop a training program that works for you and your goals 
  • Follow your plan rather than trying to adhere to someone else’s
  • Set reasonable goals
  • Maintain a training log to track your training efforts
  • Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet
  • Prioritize sleep
  • Take steps to limit non-training stress, including stress with families, relationships, and work
  • Focus on good recovery, including stretching, icing sore muscles, and massage

As an athlete, you expect a lot from your body. And, as long as you avoid overtraining, it should be able to give you a lot in return. While overtraining can happen suddenly, seeking a balanced athletic training program with at least one rest day and one recovery day a week is an excellent way to avoid overtraining and ensure your performance doesn’t decline when you need it most.

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