Research has shown that physical activity has excellent health benefits, but in excess it can, in fact, be harmful. Are you overtraining? Read on for the 8 warning signs that can signal you’re actually hindering progress towards your goals and your body’s ability to properly function.


Research has shown that physical activity has excellent health benefits, but in excess it can, in fact, be harmful. What are the signs and symptoms of overtraining? How can you prevent or recover from it? Did you know:

  • Anything in excess, even something as healthy as exercise, is bad for you.
  • Overtraining can lead drawbacks rather than benefits of exercising.
  • Too much training affects you from a cellular level and can be harmful if not corrected.
  • Rest day doesn’t mean you don’t train.

The phenomenon of overtraining is cumulative. It’s not only what we do in the gym, but outside of the gym, too. Over-stressing your body with too many physical demands over a long period of time can run your body down. And the truth is – overtraining is a real physiological condition with negative consequences and it should be taken seriously. We’ve compiled a list of 8 warning signs you should be aware of to prevent overtraining. In other words, 8 signs to be aware of to stop you from halting your progress and ultimately, chronic overtraining, which can lead to afflictive brain, muscle, and metabolic imbalances.

1. Poor sport performance
Poor sport performance is the main symptom of overtraining and the easiest to identify. We all have bad days, but if bad days are turning into weeks, then it’s time to press pause. You may think you’re not working hard enough, but it’s more than likely the opposite problem – you’re pushing your body too hard and not giving it time to recover and rebuild.

2. Prolonged Muscle Soreness and Aches and Pains
Muscle soreness is normal a day or two after a tough workout. It also shouldn’t be used as an excuse to take a rest day; however, if your aches and pains linger for more than 72 hours, your body is hinting to you that it’s time to back off of the gas pedal, so it can heal. Otherwise, when you’re training in a weakened state, you run the risk of a real injury.

There’s also a condition brought about by excessive muscle tissue breakdown called Rhabdomyolysis or rhabdo. Rhabdo happens when there is muscle death (due to excessive damage) and the contents are released into the bloodstream. If not treated, this could lead to kidney failure. The first symptoms include non healing muscle aches and dark or brown urine.

3. Hormonal Imbalances (i.e. Low Testosterone)
A lot goes on chemically in your body when you get your sweat on, but there is a fine line between training hard and overtraining.
If you’re exercising too intensely for long durations with minimal rest, and too often, you may experience elevated cortisol (stress hormone) levels, testosterone deficiencies, and adrenal fatigue.

Some symptoms to look for are low energy levels, diminished sex drive, irritability, decreases in muscle mass and strength, weight gain (i.e. increase in fat around the abdomen), depression, and sleep disturbances – when you sometimes feel too tired to sleep or you wake up randomly and can’t sleep again.
Knowing when you actually have a hormone imbalance can be difficult to measure without seeing your family physician for lab testing. If you suspect that your hormones may be out of whack, you may want to consider getting testing done.

4. Exhaustion (i.e. sleepiness, decreased motor coordination and force production)

We’ve all experienced the mid-afternoon crash. We answer back with a cup of coffee and we’re good to go! But real exhaustion doesn’t oscillate.
When your body is in a state of being overtrained, you’re using most of the energy you do have to recover from intense workouts and digest your food, which leaves you with very little for anything else – mentally or physically.

5. Sleep Disturbance
What’s worse than severe exhaustion is not being able to sleep.

If you’ve ever worked out late at night, you may have found that it was harder to fall asleep. This is all due to exercise stimulating your central nervous system. Sleep is a key component to physical restoration and muscle growth and when you’re not getting enough of it, it will only exacerbate the problem.

6. Depression or Mood Swings
It’s normal to have a bad day every once in a while, but if you’re feeling irritable, less motivated, or down in the dumps on a regular basis, coupled with some of these other warning signs, you may need to take a hiatus from your normal day-to-day activities.

This is also evident when you start thinking of exercise as a chore and a “must” rather than a healthy hobby. You could stress over not being able to lift past your max weight or set, or feel terrible that you have to skip a workout day because of work.

7. Higher than normal resting heart rate
A physiological cue to tune into is your resting heart rate. A higher-than-normal resting heart rate (an additional 5+ beats per minute) can indicate that your body is working harder than normal to deliver oxygen-rich blood to your recovering tissues.

Keep in mind that if you are new to training, changes in your resting heart rate are normal, which often indicate improved fitness. If you’re consistent with your training, you will likely have a much lower heart rate than average.
Professional athletes have been known to have an average of 55 beats per minute, 20 beats below the average range. Endurance athletes in particular have lower heart rates than most people because they trained their cardiovascular system to a high level.

If you find that your heart rate is elevated all the time, it’s definitely a sign that your body is over-stressed and working too hard to heal itself. In this case, it would be smart to back off training or take a deload week.

Measure your resting heart rate at home:
The best time to measure your resting heart rate is upon waking in the morning. There are some cool apps out there that measure your heart rate and also log it, but all you really need to do is place the tips of your first two fingers (not your thumb) and press lightly either on your wrist (radial pulse) or on your neck (carotid pulse) and count the number of beats for 15 seconds, then multiply that number by 4.

8. Lower immune function
Exercise is great, but too much of it can compromise your immune system.
If you’re experiencing longer bouts of being sick, getting sick more frequently than normal, or experiencing “below the neck symptoms” (fever, a mucous producing cough, diarrhea, etc) it would be wise to reduce the intensity and frequency of your training until your body and immune system are recovered.


  • Recovery is just as important as your training so listen to your body.
  • When you are experiencing these symptoms of overtraining, your body is screaming for your help.
  • Off days don’t always have to mean complete rest.
  • Try doing something low impact and less intense, get a massage, attend a yoga class, go for a walk around a lake or go on a leisurely hike.

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