How to avoid overtraining

Doing sports is great but rarely do we hear of the risks of ‘doing too much exercise’ and how these excesses can harm the people doing the sport.

As previously posted, habitual physical activity is beneficial for your health, in psychological as well as physiological terms, and prevents certain pathologies from developing, that is, if the exercise you do is moderate. But what happens if you take it to extremes?

One of the main objectives of professional sportspeople is to reach maximum performance. They do difficult, demanding training sessions, with adaptation to effort which helps them deal with the demands of competition.

To reach this goal, the physical and psychological requirements need to be increasingly more demanding, while resting time is reduced. In consequence, fatigue occurs and, with it, decreased sports performance.

There are currently 3 categories to classify the severity and consequences of over-training:

  1. Functional overreaching: reduced performance and fatigue can be reversed after a short recovery period.
  2. Non-functional overreaching: reduced performance and fatigue persist following a recovery period.
  3. Overtraining syndrome: this is the most severe category and usually has consequences in the short and medium term.

Over-training is caused by excessive training or insufficient recovery, and is frequently associated with changes in lifestyle or different kinds of emotional problems. It is thought that between 20% and 60% of elite sportspeople suffer from the negative effects of excessive performance, at least once during their sports career.


Overtraining manifests itself in numerous, diverse ways. Below is a table with the physical and psychological symptoms:

Greater sensation of fatigue Less motivation to train and compete
Reduced performance Difficulty sleeping and relaxing
Greater muscle tension and aches Greater irritability
Greater propensity to disease or lesions Reduced sense of self-worth
Reduced appetite and weight loss Uncontrollable emotions
Increase in the metabolic rate (resting) Greater anxiety and insecurity
Rise in blood pressure levels Increased sensitivity to criticism
Women may stop menstruating (very severe cases) Apathy or sadness

As it is a multi-factor syndrome, it has different causes:

  • Undiagnosed or uncontrolled disease.
  • Changes in dietary habits. Lower energy consumption, giving rise to a negative energy balance. Carbohydrate and/or protein deficit, as well as vitamins and minerals.
  • Changes in lifestyle
  • Travel to geographical regions with major variations in latitude or altitude
  • Changes in timetables or less time for sleep.
  • A change of trainer
  • Adverse family or personal situations
  • Pressure due to others’ expectations.
  • Frustration because of the score or rank obtained.



Despite there being tools for monitoring sportspeople’s fatigue levels, there are always cases of overtraining. It is very difficult to prescribe the ideal treatment as the causes are diverse and may even be associated. It is not at all easy to make a diagnosis. What we can say is that prevention is the best cure. It is essential to detect any changes made as soon as possible and lay down the opportune measures to prevent its occurrence. Preventive measures that need to be applied are as follows:

  • Monitor your state of mind, the sensation of fatigue and muscle aches during training, with an aim to lowering the workload if the training session seems harder than usual.
  • Include one or two days to recover in your weekly training programme.
  • Stop the training in the event of any discomfort.
  • Avoid contagion. Sportspeople are more vulnerable to possible infection following training or a competition.
  • Follow a suitable diet.
  • Keep hydrated, before, during and after your training sessions.
  • Make sure you have a good night’s sleep.
  • Avoid situations generating tension or stress.
  • Set up a programme to check your sports performance regularly (e.g. blood tests)

In the event of overtraining syndrome, we recommend you take the following corrective measures:

  • Lower your work load.
  • Do your training at intervals, avoid monotony and do it in a small number of high intensity stages or sessions.
  • Add exercises which are largely fun.
  • Go for flexibility exercises.
  • See a nutritionist so that they can prescribe a healthy diet and improve your dietary habits.
  • Keep a healthy lifestyle: a good diet, sleep (on average 8 hours a day), forget about smoking and do not drink alcohol…
  • Psychological care, if necessary.
  • Physiotherapy: spa, massage, special equipment procedures, etc.

Popular belief has it that a syndrome of these characteristics is reserved exclusively for the “world of professionals”. However, there are more and more cases in amateur sports. And, what is the reason for this? The highly demanding training sessions many sports people undergo, together with a day’s work and family matters, can cause increased tiredness. More so, if we don’t give ourselves enough time to recover.

At Ivy Health we would like to recommend controlled physical activity which is suited to your condition and needs. Yes to sport, but not in excess.