Less Is More: How Overtraining Affects Your Gains


Feeling tired and sluggish? Have a hard time recovering from exercise? Do you run through the motions and find it hard to stay focused? These signs might indicate you're overtrained. Contrary to popular belief, spending long hours in the gym isn't the key to a perfect figure. It can actually stall your progress and ruin your health.

What Is Overtraining?
It's not uncommon for athletes and gym goers to exceed the limits of their physical capabilities while training. You're feeling strong and ready to conquer the world, so you kill yourself in the gym. Unfortunately, training too hard or for too long causes more harm than good.

Evidence shows that overtraining causes fatigue and affects athletic performance. This condition occurs when you're pushing yourself too hard and ignoring your body's recovery needs.

Physical activity causes tears in the muscles and stresses your nervous system. Your muscles grow at rest, not in the gym. Thus, it's crucial to give your body time to recover from training.

Statistics indicate that more than 33 percent of non-elite runners and 60 percent of competitive runners are or have been overtrained. Endurance athletes are the most likely to experience these issues. However, overtraining can occur in people of all ages and fitness levels.

For instance, most people tend to go overboard when starting a new exercise program. They hit the gym hard and work out until they can no longer feel their arms or legs. The next, they do the same. This leads to overtraining and poor recovery.

The Real Dangers of Overtraining
Without a doubt, overtraining is one of the most common yet overlooked issues among athletes. This condition not only ruins your gains but also weakens immune function, leaving you vulnerable to infections. In the long run, it increases injury risk and affects overall performance. Its side effects include but are not limited to:

  • Chronic fatigue
  • Clinical depression
  • Mood swings
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue and exhaustion
  • Slow recovery from training
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Body aches
  • Increased cortisol levels
  • Decreased strength and endurance
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of motivation
  • Increased heart rate
  • High blood pressure
  • Recurring infections
  • Fluctuations in blood sugar levels
  • Irregular or missing menstrual cycles
  • Low libido
  • Sluggish metabolism
  • Unhealthy food cravings
  • Trouble sleeping 
  • Racing thoughts

As you see, overtraining affects both mental and physical health. The more you go overboard, the more you'll "pay" via exhaustion, injury, or illness.
When you're training too hard or for too long, you're overloading your joints, muscles, and nervous system. Your cortisol levels go up, which in turn, causes muscle loss and fatigue. It also triggers hunger and cravings, or shuts down your appetite. Moreover, you'll have trouble sleeping, lose your sex drive, and get sick more often.

Overtraining also leads to fitness plateaus. The increase in cortisol levels slows down your metabolism, affecting body weight and energy expenditure. At the same time, your testosterone levels drop and your body enters a catabolic state.

Fortunately, there are ways to prevent overtraining - or at least minimize its impact.

How to Deal with Overtraining
If you experience any signs of overtraining, take a break. Don't worry - you won't lose your hard-earned muscle in a week or two. Choose one of the following approaches:

  • Take at least one week off training 
  • Decrease workout intensity and duration
  • Diversify your workouts and try new activities

Let's say weight training comes first on your list. Plan a recovery week and get plenty of rest so your body can recover from stress. Or work out with lighter weights and perform fewer exercises.
Another strategy you can use is trying new activities. Go swimming or hiking, practice yoga, or plan an active holiday. It’s no need to give up exercise altogether.


  • Overtraining affects people of all ages and fitness levels, especially enduranceathletes. 
  • It has both immediate and long-term side effects, affecting your performance on every level. It also leads to fitness plateaus and hormonal imbalances. 
  • Fatigue, depression, muscle loss, and slow recovery are just a few of its side effects
  • The best way to deal with overtraining is to take a week off or exercise less.