How to Avoid Overtraining

Overtraining is something a professional athlete might experience a few times in their career and is more prevalent in endurance or combat type sports.

The signs of an overtrained person are very obvious. Every aspect of their life tends to be affected, like poor sleep, impaired recovery and immune system (cold sores, illness, etc), poor gym or athletic performance, and very low energy.  

To have a good understanding of overtraining, we need to mention the three stages of the General Adaptation Syndrome model (GAS), the way we can measure the body’s response to a training stimulus.

The three phases of GAS are:

Phase 1. Alarm

The body identifies a stressor as a threat to homeostasis (the ability to maintain a relatively stable internal state) and initiates an adaptive response. During this time, performance is diminished, and energy stores are depleted.  

Phase 2. Resistance

During this stage, the body tries to counteract the physiological changes that occurred during the alarm stage. 

Phase 3. Exhaustion

If the stressor is applied for too long or is too strong, the adaptive capacity of the body becomes overwhelmed. There are three types of exhaustion:  

  • Functional overreaching (Fatigue dissipated/Performance improved)  
  • Non-functional overreaching (Fatigue dissipated/Performance returns to baseline, with no improvement) 
  • Overtraining (Extreme overreaching, which makes it a lot harder to recover from/Performance diminishes)  

The best way to avoid overtraining is to have the nutrition dialled in, improve your sleep quality and quantity (studies have shown 7-9 hours is optimal for most) and follow a structured & progressive training program that allows for optimal adaptation.  

In the context of Personal Training with clients who train 3-4 times per week – overtraining is not something that is very common, as all the variables (nutrition, recovery and training) should be controlled tightly by the trainer. We very rarely have to consider ‘deload’ periods to improve recovery, as clients have busy lifestyles which very often interferes with the training frequency, reducing the overall intensity by default.  

If you feel you are physically exerting yourself to attain your fitness-related goal, our Head of Online Training, Elliott Upton, has put together his 5 top tips to help you maximise your fitness results.