We see a lot of athletes at The Injury Clinic, many of whom have phenomenal training loads.  But, how much training is too much? How do we know what is enough and what is too much? When do we stop and re-evaluate what we are doing? Believe it or not, overtraining is a real thing and we see it a lot at The Injury Clinic.



Overtraining isn’t something that happens overnight. There is often a cycle of increased training load and reduced recovery which eventually leads to overtraining. Often, as time goes on and we get further into a sports season we forget to listen to our bodies. We stop taking note of how we are feeling, how our moods are, how we are sleeping etc. and miss the early signs of fatigue.

A few definitions relating to overtraining…

  • Recovery: is multifactorial, but can loosely be defined as regeneration, or a restorative process relative to time. If this process of recovery is disturbed, fatigue can occur.
  • Performance: is the accomplishment of goals by meeting or exceeding predefined standards. This is therefore determined by the development of specific skills and abilities.
  • Regeneration: a physiological aspect of recovery that ideally follows physical fatigue induced by training or competition.
  • Functional overreaching: a short-term decrease in performance without signs of maladaptation secondary to intensive training.
  • Underrecovery: insufficient recovery to general stress.
  • Nonfunctional overreaching: negative psychological and hormonal alterations to training and subsequent decreased performance.
  • Overtraining syndrome: Physical symptoms such as continuous muscle soreness, pain sensations and endocrinological disturbances.


When we train for an activity our body is put under load. If this load is within our bodys tolerance, we will recover, the regeneration process will be quick and we will be prepared for the next training session within a reasonable period of time.

To improve performance, functional overreaching must be a part of training programs. To ensure there are no negative effects of performance, there must be sufficient recovery prior to the next high-intensity training session.

Overtraining syndrome, as it has been defined above, occurs after a period of underrecovery and nonfunctional overreaching. The point of overtraining will differ between athletes and is often affected by more than training alone; with factors such as environment/lifestyle, school/work load, family commitments and state of health playing a significant role in a person’s ability to recover and tolerate load. Once a reduction in performance is clear, it can take anywhere from several weeks to several months to recover see diagram below).



Recovery can be loosely described as a restorative process over time. It is also:

  • Dependent on the type and duration of stress,
  • Dependent on a reduction, change or break from stress,
  • Individualized,
  • Passive, active, and/or pro-active,
  • Closely related to life situations (ie. sleep, social/family commitments).

While recovery may refer to short-, mid- or long-term restoration, a clear and specific time frame is difficult to establish due to the variability of the recovery process. We can associate rough time frames for recovery dependent on the severity of overreaching or overtraining (see table below – please note OR = overreaching).



  • Impaired performance.
  • Higher resting heart rate.
  • Weight loss.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Increased susceptibility to injuries.
  • Changes in mood.
  • Hormonal changes (which can lead to a cease in menstrual periods in female athletes).
  • Reduced self-esteem, emotional instability, restlessness, irritability.
  • Disturbed sleep.


Sleep is one of the most important markers of overreaching and overtraining. We also know sleep is vital for recovery. Good sleep can be explained by the following features:

  • Sleep onset within 5-20minutes
  • 1-2 brief awakenings during the night
  • If woken by an external source during the night you feel fine
  • Wake in the morning feeling great
  • Good recall of dreams.

If you sleep too light:

  • It takes longer to get to sleep (greater than 20minutes)
  • Three or more awakenings in the night that can be of long duration
  • Thinking or awareness of thinking during the night
  • Waking early in the morning

If you sleep too deeply:

  • Short onset (less than 5minutes)
  • No awakenings
  • No or poor recall of dreams
  • Awakening later, feeling tired or average.

Ideally, we should have 7-8hours of sleep per night. Our sleep should be varied with at least 3 nights of good sleep, 1 night of light sleep and 1 night of deep sleep per week. Insufficient or change in sleep habits can cause change in mood, work performance, immune function (ie. are more likely to get sick) and altered cognitive functioning.

When we looked at recovery strategies in the previous blog (click here to read more), we discussed sleep as being the most important aspect of recovery. It is therefore reasonable that changes and disturbances in sleep patterns can be one of the greatest indicators of overtraining.


Overtraining is becoming more and more common but is incredibly multifactorial. As Physiotherapists, we often see people who become injured as a result of overtraining. For many reasons, rest is a vital aspect of recovery and enables an efficient return to activity. If you have any questions regarding overtraining, please call (03) 5229 3911, email info@theinjuryclinic.com.au or book an appointment online to chat with one of our Physiotherapists.

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