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Overtraining Syndrome

Updated: Jun 12, 2018

What is Overtraining Syndrome?

Before I get started I want you to notice that I called it “Overtraining Syndrome,” meaning that I am referring to Overtraining as a detrimental bodily state and not an action that one can take part in.


Overtraining Syndrome has recently been the flavor of the week in “fitness” circles, it is the new diagnosis that everyone supposedly has – my tone gives away my thoughts on the matter. But what is Overtraining Syndrome?


There are two types


-Positive Overtraining (Supracompensation)

-Natural process in which the bodily systems are challenged via training and exposed to a catabolic state (breakdown), followed by the anabolic state (progressive recovery).


-Negative Overtraining

-Maladaptation or the inability of the bodily systems to maintain progressive recovery due to a variety of factors, resulting in a prolonged catabolic state (breakdown).


**Both types of overtraining (+/-) can be viewed in both a systemic and local manner. Ie. One muscle group or the entire system as a whole.


Localized overtraining results from training the same, or supportive musculature on successive days, or with too much initial volume without corresponding proportional recovery time allotted. This is very common in bodybuilders and powerlifters due to the nature of their sport.


Systemic overtraining is much less common, but more severe, as it involves a body wide catabolic state. Most common in high level athletes in season due to schedules (workout, competition, skill development).


Remember earlier when I clarified the difference in terminology between Overtraining the act and Overtraining the syndrome? Here is where the key difference lies. I’ll let you in on an observation of mine, the majority of people – your average gym goer – will never train hard enough to reach levels of overtraining. Your body has a remarkable capacity for regeneration and recovery. It takes an elite level of dedication and intensity to begin “overtraining.” Instead the average joe is Under Recovering. You can’t expect your body to have the ability to adapt positively if you are fueling it with junk, under-eating, under-sleeping, etc.


“The key to prevent overtraining is an active and proactive enhancement of recovery” – Hanrahan, SJ; Andersen, MB. Routledge Handbook of Applied Sport Psychology: A Comprehensive Guide for Students and Practitioners. 2010.

As increased stress is placed on the body, a break even point will be reached when the body is no longer able to innately recover. At this point, proactive approaches must be taken. This is where most run in to trouble. The foundation to true recovery is dependent upon proper nutrition (macro and micro), sleep (Increased GH levels), and Cortisol management (psychological stress reduction, caffeine minimization).


Does this apply to me?

The Symptoms May Include:

  • Reduced growth hormone (GH) release and protein synthesis leading to weight plateaus

  • Increased protein breakdown, which can lead to muscle loss, bone loss, arthritis, and overall muscle weakness.

  • Immune system compromise (increased risk of infection)

  • Decreased metabolism resulting in increased fat storage

  • Disrupted sleep patterns.

RPE Self-Diagnosis

The Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) has successfully shown a correlation between training load and perceived exertion – providing an estimate of the intensity of the exercise.



From muscleandstrengthpyramids.com


In theory, an exercise performed at the same intensity successfully should be rated at a lower perceived exertion each progressive week, as the body positively adapts to the stimuli. Those at risk for overtraining will find that loads once moved at a lower RPE, are now perceived at a higher RPE or are unable to be completed entirely due to the induced, prolonged catabolic state.

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