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Overtraining, Signs and Symptoms

Is it over? Tell me it's over!

This is a little article I wrote for the Wild Geese Martial Arts monthly newsletter, I don’t usually reprint these elsewhere but I’ve had so many of the guys coming up to me saying thanks, I thought I’d share it here too. Personally I’ve taken the last 10 days off training, cut out caffeine and am eating far more than normal because even though I’ve been telling several of my members to take time out, I’d neglected to follow my own advice. My own crash had my wife very worried, but my training partner was right there and said very succinctly, “Get rested” This article explains some of the signs, symptoms and reasons for overtraining and what to do about it……


We’ve had quite a few of our regulars on the banned list recently, most have been told to take a minimum of one week’s break from training. They’ve been told to eat, sleep and rest. Nothing more.

Each one of these people was told this because they come in week in, week out and train long and hard. Every now and again the body rebels against this and gets its self run down. Sometimes we are the last person to realise his is happening, so when others start commenting, it doesn’t always go down too well. But if you’re familiar with the feeling, then you can usually nip things in the bud before they get bad.

Training is essentially stress. Most of the guys that need worry about burn out, or overtraining, are the competitive types or those training hard with the weights. Each workout for these guys places a great deal of stress on the body, causing it to adapt, get stronger, faster and better. This adaptation takes place later, at home, especially while you sleep. This repair and adaptation takes fuel and raw materials to complete. This means food, a diet with sufficient calories and enough protein, fat, vitamins and minerals is essential to anyone wishing to train hard.

The other variable is the amount of stress in your life outside of the gym. Most of us are working or studying for most of the day, this can leave you fried and frazzled, especially if there are important deadlines or risk factors involved in the work. What’s the home life like? Are your family or friends a source of stress, have you been putting off a few jobs in the home, is that pile of dirty dishes playing in the back of your head?

Each of these little stresses, no matter how insignificant, adds up. We respond to stress with adrenalin and in our caffeine fuelled, high stress modern lives the adrenal glands are under constant load. We have more stresses and fewer ways to express them than ever before in history. We sleep less, eat poorer quality food and survive on coffee. Unless we check ourselves our adrenal glands will tire, our body will struggle to repair itself and pretty soon we become tired, sluggish, irritable and generally unpleasant. Training becomes a chore, things that should be easy become a struggle, which provides more stress, and as we are martial artists, which means we are perfectionists, we will fight to complete the task, in our heads we know it should be easy, so we will get it done.

Then comes the crash. Either you get hurt or you simply cease to function.

Because of our nature, we are fighters, we train to be able to survive anything and everything, we have a tendency to over train, or more accurately, under recover. From time to time, it’s a good thing. Mild overtraining on the way up to an event can be beneficial, just so long as the taper is well planned. A weeks rest before a big event after a period of over training will have you so fired up, rested, restored and pumped that you’ll be a whirlwind on the day. Without adequate rest, you’ll be nothing but a light breeze.

So ask yourself the following questions: Do I sleep a minimum of 8 hours every night? Do I eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables? When was the last time I took a break from training? Have I found myself struggling with motivation recently? Are old injuries plaguing me? Am I snapping at those closest to me? Am I craving more coffee and/or alcohol than usual?

If you recognise any of the symptoms, I highly recommend you take a break, put your feet up and relax. Do a few things that you enjoy, treat yourself. Also spend some time thinking about your training routine, is it optimal, is too much, too little? Maybe it needs to be balanced better. How is work, is there anything that could be changed? And perhaps most importantly, food and sleep. Get these two sorted and everything else is easy. Snack on fruit and Nuts during the day to ensure you get the minerals and fats, and remember that variety id the spice of life and eat a wide range of veg. If you’re struggling with sleep, why? Are you taking caffeine too late? Are you sitting up too late watching movies or playing on facebook? Try setting your alarm for the same time every morning, once waking at this time becomes a habit, you’ll find that you’ll naturally find yourself going to bed at the same time each evening. Do your best not to eat too late, leave a 2 hour gap between eating and hitting the pillow. To allow the body’s hormones to return to normal. Late eating raises insulin and prevents the growth hormone from doing its job.

Overtraining, or under recovery, is a common problem but is easy to fix. Sometimes a few days off are all that’s needed, other times it’s a review of the bigger picture. But if left it will eat away at you and potentially make you sick.


Tomorrow (Thursday) I start back training, my first session will be with my advanced kettlebell group, so I think we’ll go light….. Regards Dave

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