Overreaching and Overtraining

Posted: May 9, 2011 in Training

Understanding the term “overreaching”.

Distinguishing overtraining from overreaching is important, because overreaching is a very natural process when we train. If you take a look at one of my training programs, you will see that it is based on three weeks with overreaching followed by one recovery week.

When you get to the third week, you will not feel stronger than you were in the first week, but after a recovery week with super compensation, you will be stronger than you were when you entered the program. Using a training program structure like this is what I call ‘controlled overtraining’.

Overtraining doesn’t happen overnight.

Overtraining is a physical, behavioral, and emotional condition that occurs when the volume and intensity of an individual’s exercise exceeds their recovery capacity. They cease making progress, and can even begin to lose strength and fitness. Overtraining is a common problem in weight training, but it can also be experienced by runners and other athletes.

Many people use the term ‘overtraining’ for both overreaching and overtraining and I guess that is why many people diagnose themselves as overtrained.

The problem is that if you are really in an overtraining situation, it can take several months before your performance is back at 100%. If you have overreached in a period, a week or two is normally enough to get you back on track.

This principle is often used in tapering protocols, where training volume is reduced the last two or three weeks before a big event. Overtraining syndrome doesn´t happen over a night or week. It takes 6 to 8 weeks or even longer to develop.


Causes of overtraining:

It is possible to categorise certain factors, if permitted to accumulate, which will bring about a state of over-training. They are as follows:

  • Recovery is neglected (mistakes in the build-up of training cycles, inadequate use of general exercise sessions for recovery)
  • Inappropriate increase in frequency of training or extent of loading or density of loading
  • Demands are increased too quickly, so that adaptation cannot be consolidated
  • Too rapid increase of loading after forced breaks (injuries, illness)
  • Too great an extent of loadings of maximum and sub-maximum intensity
  • Too high an intensity of duration loadings in endurance training
  • Excessive and forced technical schooling in complicated courses of movement without adequate recovery
  • Excess of competitions with maximum demands, combined with frequent disturbance of the daily routine and insufficient training
  • Excessive bias of training methods and units


Other factors that can reduce performance:

  • Life Style:
    • Inadequate sleep, irregular routine by day
    • Use of alcohol and nicotine
    • Excess of caffeine
    • Bad living conditions (noise, overcrowding, inadequate light, etc.)
    • Over stimulating company
    • Lack of free time or inability to make good use of free time (no relaxation)
    • Nutritional deficiencies (lack of vitamins)
    • Rush and hurry
    • Frequent necessity to adjust body-weight
    • Taking on more stresses when already at capacity
  • Environment:
    • Over burdening with family duties
    • Tensions within family (parents, husband, wife)
    • Difficulties in personal relationships
    • Dissatisfaction with career, studies, school
    • Bad assessment and marks in school, in studies, etc.
    • Conflict of attitudes to sport (family, superiors)
    • Excess of stimuli (TV, cinema)
    • Increased burden in one area of environment (e.g. final exams, A levels)
  • Health Upsets:
    • Feverish colds, stomach or intestinal upsets
    • Chronic illnesses
    • After effect of infectious illness


Common signs and symptoms of overtraining:

Physical Signs & Symptoms

  • Elevated resting pulse / heart rate
  • Frequent minor infections
  • Increased susceptibility to colds and flu’s
  • Increases in minor injuries
  • Chronic muscle soreness or joint pain
  • Exhaustion
  • Lethargy
  • Weight loss
  • Appetite loss
  • Insatiable thirst or dehydration
  • Intolerance to exercise
  • Decreased performance
  • Delayed recovery from exercise

Psychological Signs & Symptoms

  • Fatigued, tired, drained, lack of energy
  • Reduced ability to concentrate
  • Apathy or no motivation
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Inability to relax
  • Twitchy, fidgety or jittery
Treatment/Prevention of overtraining:
  • Taking a break from training to allow time for recovery.
  • Reducing the volume and/or the intensity of the training.
  • Suitable periodization of training.
  • Splitting the training program so that different sets of muscles are worked on different days.
  • Increase sleep time.
  • Deep-tissue or sports massage of the affected muscles.
  • Avoid incorrect exercise selection (overuse of certain muscles or joints).
  • Avoid excessive use of eccentric muscle actions.
  • Take into account the cumulative training stresses from other forms of exercise (i.e., cardiovascular training, sport-specific training, etc.)
  • Ensuring that calorie intake at least matches expenditure.
  • Ensuring total calories are from a suitable macronutrient ratio.
  • Addressing vitamin deficiencies with nutritional supplements.
Elizabeth Quinn “Can You Overtrain with Weights?” Retrieved from, http://sportsmedicine.about.com/od/strengthtraining/a/overtrainweight.htm
Wikipedia “Overtraining” Retrieved from, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Overtraining


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