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Is your body coping with the training load?

Brad Walker explains why not giving your body the rest it needs may lead to a sports injury disaster!

In this article we are going to have a look at the difference between being just a little tired or on a down-cycle and being legitimately run down or overtired. It is important to be able to tell the difference if you want to stay injury free. Nothing will put a stop to your fitness goals more quickly than not being able to recognise when you are legitimately run down and overtired. One of the biggest challenges to achieving your fitness goals is consistency. If you are repeatedly getting sick, run down and overtrained it becomes very difficult to stay injury free. So, how do you keep the consistency of regular exercise, without over doing it and becoming sick or injured? Amateur and professional athletes alike are constantly battling with the problem of overtraining. Being able to juggle just the right amount of training, with enough sleep and rest, and the perfect nutritional diet is not an easy act to master. Throw in a career and a family and it becomes near impossible.

What is overtraining?

Overtraining is the result of giving your body more work or stress than it can handle. Overtraining occurs when a person experiences stress and physical trauma from exercise faster than their body can repair the damage. Now this does not happen overnight, or as a result of one or two workouts. In fact, regular exercise is extremely beneficial to your general health and fitness, but you must remember that it is exercise that breaks your body down. It is the rest and recovery that makes you stronger and healthier. Improvements only occur during the times of rest. Remember stress can come from a multitude of sources. It is not just physical stress that causes overtraining. Sure, excessive exercise may lead to overtraining, but do not forget to consider other stresses, such as family or work commitments. Remember, stress is stress, whether it is a physical, mental or emotional stress, it still has the same effect on your health and well-being.

Reading the signs

At this point there are no tests which can be performed to determine whether you are overtrained or not. You cannot go to your local doctor or even a sports medicine laboratory and ask for a test for overtraining. However, while there are no tests for overtraining, there are a number of signs and symptoms that you should be on the lookout for. These signs and symptoms should act as a warning bell, which will give you advance notice of dangers to come. There are quite a number of signs and symptoms to be on the lookout for. To make it easier for you to recognise them I have grouped them into either physical or psychological signs & symptoms. Now, suffering from any one or two of the following signs or symptoms does not automatically mean you are suffering from overtraining. However, if you recognise a number, say five or six of the following signs and symptoms, then it may be time to take a close look at the volume and intensity of your workload.

Physical Signs & Symptoms;

  • Elevated resting pulse / heart rate
  • Frequent minor infections
  • Increased susceptibility to colds and flu's
  • Increases in minor injuries
  • Chronic muscle soreness or joint pain
  • Exhaustion
  • Lethargy
  • Weight loss
  • Appetite loss
  • Insatiable thirst or dehydration
  • Intolerance to exercise
  • Decreased performance
  • Delayed recovery from exercise

Psychological Signs & Symptoms;

  • Fatigued, tired, drained, lack of energy
  • Reduced ability to concentrate
  • Apathy or no motivation
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Inability to relax
  • Twitchy, fidgety or jittery

As you can see by the number of signs and symptoms there are a lot of things to look out for. The most common signs and symptoms to look for are a total loss of motivation in all areas of your life (work or career, health and fitness etc.), plus a feeling of exhaustion. If these two warning signs are present, plus a couple of the other listed signs and symptoms, then it may be time to take a short rest before things get out of hand.

Way forward

The answer to the problem Okay, you feel run down and totally exhausted. You have got no motivation to do anything. You cannot get rid of that niggling knee injury. You are irritable, depressed and have totally lost your appetite. Sounds like you are overtrained. What do you do now? As with most things, prevention is by far better than cure, so let us start by having a quick look at a few things you can do to prevent overtraining:

  • Only making small and gradual increases to your exercise program over a period of time
  • Eating a well-balanced, nutritious diet
  • Ensuring adequate relaxation and sleep
  • Being prepared to modify your training to suit environmental conditions. For example, on a very hot day, going to the pool instead of out in the sun.
  • Being able to monitor other stresses on your life and adjust
  • Avoiding monotonous training, by varying your exercise as much as possible
  • Not exercising during an illness
  • and most of all be flexible and have some fun with what you can do

While prevention should always be your aim, there will be times when overtraining will occur, and you will need to know what to do to get back on track. Your first priority is to put your feet up and take a rest. Anywhere from three to five days should do the trick, depending on the severity of the overtraining. During this time forget about exercise, your body needs a rest so give it one - a physical rest, as well as a mental rest. There is no point in beating yourself up mentally over losing a few days exercise. Try to get as much sleep and relaxation as possible. Go to bed early and catch a nap whenever you can. Make sure you increase your intake of highly nutritious foods and take an extra dose of vitamins and minerals.

After the initial three to five days rest you can gradually get back into your normal exercise routine but start off slowly. Most research states that it is okay to start off with the same intensity and time of exercise but cut back on the frequency. So if you would normally exercise three or four times a week, cut that back to only twice a week for the next week or two. After that you should be right to resume your normal exercise regime. Sometimes it is a good idea to have a rest, like the one outlined above, whether you are feeling run down or not. It will give both your mind and body a chance to fully recover from any problems that may be building up without you even knowing it.

It will also freshen you up, give you a renewed motivation and help you to look forward to your exercise again. Do not underestimate the benefits of a good rest.

Article Reference

This article first appeared in:

  • WALKER, B. (2005) Is your body coping with the training load? Brian Mackenzie's Successful Coaching, (ISSN 1745-7513/ 24 / July-August), p. 1-2

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • WALKER, B. (2005) Is your body coping with the training load? [WWW] Available from: [Accessed

About the Author

Brad Walker is a prominent Australian sports trainer with more than 15 years' experience in the health and fitness industry. Brad is a Health Science graduate of the University of New England and has postgraduate accreditations in athletics, swimming and triathlon coaching. He also works with elite level and world champion athletes and lectures for Sports Medicine Australia on injury prevention. Brad can be contacted via his website at

Related Pages

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