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Overtraining: When More Is Too Much

Exercise has many benefits, from relieving stress to keeping us fit, but too much exercise can lead to injuries.

Exercise has many benefits, from relieving stress to keeping us fit, but too much exercise can lead to injuries. Typically associated with excessive repetitions and little rest, overtraining can result in numerous injuries. In this article, we will teach you the warning signs of overtraining, as well as strategies to use in order to avoid getting hurt this season.

Warning Sign #1: Prolonged Muscle Soreness

It’s completely normal to have muscle soreness for a day or two following a workout. This soreness can rear its ugly head as soon as six to eight hours post-exercise but can peak up to 48 hours after your workout. This is known as delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, and can occur anywhere in the body that has recently been exposed to unfamiliar or intense physical activity. However, if you’re still sore past the 72-hour mark, you may have overdone it in the gym. This type of extended soreness is a sign your muscles aren’t recovering and negatively impacts your muscle-building efforts.

Warning Sign #2: Halted Progress & Sluggishness

Plateauing can occur for different reasons, varying from too much consistency to insufficient weight. Muscle needs a chance to repair, and this is only possible when your body has enough time to rest and recover. Too much training can even change your body’s production of hormones, making your body lose muscle from decreased testosterone production and store fat from increased levels of cortisol. This can lead to debilitating fatigue that leaves you feeling sluggish and tired.

Warning Sign #3: Illness & Injury

If you spend time in the gym and follow a healthy diet but feel ill, your body may be trying to tell you that your immune system is suffering from overtraining. When in this state, your body is in a continual catabolic state, which lowers immunity and increases your chances of becoming ill. Similarly, overtraining can result in injury or aggravation of old injuries because your body isn’t getting enough time to recuperate between workouts.

Warning Sign #4: Decreased Concentration & Motivation

You’ve been going to the gym consistently for a while now, but all of a sudden you start skipping more and more days; and when you do go in, it’s hard to focus on what you’re doing. These may be signs that you’re overexerting yourself, which can lead to injuries from improper form. Typically found in athletes that train with high-intensity intervals, the sympathetic nervous system goes into overdrive, causing hyper-excitability and an inability to focus.

Warning Sign #5: Insomnia

You work hard in the gym, feeling winded and dripped sweat as you get off the treadmill. So why are you having difficulty falling asleep at night? With overtraining, your nervous system and hormonal system can be over-stressed. This can stop you from getting the rest that your body needs in order to start repairing the muscles you worked on.


Once overtraining sets in, it may take a long time to fully recover, ranging from days to months. Your nervous system has been put under a lot of stress and needs plenty of rest in order to recover. If you want to avoid taking this unplanned break, make sure to train smart and all your body the time it needs to recover.

Tip #1: Stretch and Warm-Up

Warming up before your workout can prevent tight muscles from encouraging overcompensation, which can lead to injury. A good warm-up increases the temperature within the muscle, allowing it to be more pliable and flexible during your workout. Static stretching also increases your range of motion by keeping the muscles from tightening as they get stronger, allowing your muscles to work most effectively.

Tip #2: Vary Intensity

Choosing a type of workout and varying the intensity levels can challenge different muscle groups. This can be accomplished with both cardio and weight training. Changing the intensity level can maximize your results while minimizing your injuries. Allow your body to adapt to this change by progressing your workouts slowly, instead of making large jumps in intensity.

Tip #3: Proper Nutrition

Your body uses food as a tool to help you recover. Select foods that are good sources of protein and eat shortly after your workouts to replenish and build muscle. Drink fluids before, during, and after exercise to avoid dehydration. Both your pre- and post-workout meals are key for recovery.

Tip #4: Sleep

Avoiding overtraining can be as simple as getting enough sleep. When you work out, your muscles are put under a lot of stress. Your body requires time to repair the damage incurred during your workout, which is best accomplished while we sleep. Going to bed an hour or two early can ensure that your body has ample time to replenish muscles and restore strength.

Tip #5: Recovery Days

Scheduling recovery days allows your body to recover and prepare mentally and physically for the next workout. Taking at least one or two days in between training sessions helps you recover much faster. However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t do anything on these days. Active rest activities like yoga and swimming, as well as stretching and foam rolling, can aid in recovery. Just make sure you aren’t overdoing these, too!

Sidelined by a sports injury or orthopaedic condition? Our award-winning fellowship-trained providers are here to help you return to your active life! We invite you to call us at 703.444.5000 or click here to request an appointment with one of the physicians at Arthritis & Sports. To stay up-to-date on the latest news and tips from us, be sure to follow us on Facebook and Instagram, and sign up for our monthly newsletter for even more information sent straight to your inbox!


  1. Fry AC, Kraemer WJ. Resistance exercise overtraining and overreaching. Neuroendocrine responses. Sports Med. 1997;23(2):106-29.

  2. Lehmann MJ, Lormes W, Opitz-gress A, et al. Training and overtraining: an overview and experimental results in endurance sports. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 1997;37(1):7-17.

  3. Johnson MB, Thiese SM. A review of overtraining syndrome-recognizing the signs and symptoms. J Athl Train. 1992;27(4):352-4.

  4. Kenttä G, Hassmén P. Overtraining and recovery. A conceptual model. Sports Med. 1998;26(1):1-16.



Arthritis & Sports is the premier orthopaedics practice in Northern Virginia. Our team of specialty-trained physicians offers the latest treatment options for the full spectrum of orthopaedic sub-specialties - all under one roof.


From nonsurgical treatments like orthobiologics and physical therapy, to massage therapy and  nutrition counseling, we are dedicated to providing you with exceptional care from injury through rehabilitation.

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