Overtraining Syndrome: When Exercise Becomes Dangerous

If your training is getting more intense and you have less recovery times between workouts, be careful. Not only does this have the potential to affect your performance, but it can also negatively affect your health.
Overtraining Syndrome: When Exercise Becomes Dangerous
Laura Reguera

Written and verified by the psychologist Laura Reguera.

Last update: 21 December, 2022

Everyone knows that exercise is a fundamental part of being healthy. However, like everything in life, balance is key. Regular and consistent exercise is necessary for well-being. So, when you exercise, it’s important not to spend too much time doing it. In addition to being harmful to your body, it might lead to overtraining syndrome (OTS).

Keep reading to learn more about overtraining syndrome and how to prevent it.

“My strength was that I am more balanced and calmer than most other riders.”

-Miguel Indurain-

What is overtraining syndrome

Exercising has countless health benefits. On the psychological side of things, it reduces depression and anxiety and helps you better cope with stress. Exercising improves your self-esteem and your relationships with others. From a physical standpoint, exercise helps prevent obesity and cardiovascular disorders.

Two sweaty guys doing karate.

Problems arise when you start dedicating a significant amount of time to exercising or practicing a sport. If your training is getting more intense and you have less recovery time between workouts, be careful. Not only does this have the potential to affect your performance, but it can also negatively affect your health.

You might also feel totally consumed by the sport you practice and feel mentally and physically exhausted. You might be in a bad mood, feel apathetic, or have trouble sleeping. If these symptoms persist and become chronic, you might have overtraining syndrome. That’s when your body is so maxed out that you can’t recover from your own physical effort and your performance is affected.

What makes this syndrome tricky is that many athletes increase training when they notice their diminishing performance. That leads to a vicious cycle. They assume that they aren’t doing as well because they aren’t exercising enough, so they train even more. Consequently, their symptoms and performance worsen.

What are some symptoms of overtraining syndrome?

One sign of overtraining syndrome is physiological and psychological changes. Another is maladaptive symptoms. In general, an individual with overtraining syndrome suffers from fatigue, insomnia, loss of appetite, weight loss, headaches, muscle pain, frequent infections, digestive problems, and even amenorrhea and osteoporosis.

On the psychological level, people with OTS suffer from depression, anxiety, damaged self-esteem, apathy, mental fatigue, trouble concentrating, and emotional instability. They might also notice changes in their athletic performance. Their strength, resistance, speed, and coordination can suffer.

As you can imagine, a person with OTS makes more technical errors. Consequently, it’s harder for them to achieve their set goals. But it doesn’t end there. On the physiological level, their heart rate and blood pressure spike, as well as their oxygen consumption.

“If you don’t have confidence, you’ll always find a way not to win.”

-Carl Lewis-

What can you do about OTS?

If you get to this point, taking a break from training isn’t enough. That’s why it’s so important to detect OTS as soon as possible. If you hope to reverse its effects, you have to make several big changes. You must reduce the amount of time you exercise, the intensity of your training, and allow more recovery time between sessions.

An exhausted runner sitting on the ground.

Introducing variety into your training regime is also important and helpful. Try different types of exercise that you enjoy doing. It’s also important to boost your motivation and self-confidence.

“You can’t put a limit on anything. The more you dream, the farther you get.”

-Michael Phelps-

Lastly, you need to learn to effectively regulate the emotional problems that go along with OTS. Establish some healthy habits that prioritize a good diet and plenty of rest.

Images courtesy of Joshua Jordan and Marc Rafanell Lopez.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.