Exercise and fitness

Mark McGinnes, Physiologist at AXA Health

Am I overtraining?

Exercise and Fitness

2 April 2024

AXA Health Physiologist Mark McGinnes looks at the consequences of overtraining and some of the signs to look out for and offers top tips to help keep your training programme on track.

To improve performance, strength, or speed whether at the gym, at home or in sport, the key is consistent training where you try to progressively overload the body1.

We can do this by increasing the intensity of our training over time through manipulation of frequency, duration, or intensity of individual sessions. This can be achieved by:

  • increasing the number of sessions in a week,
  • how long each session lasts,
  • increasing pace or decreasing rest times,
  • lifting heavier weights,
  • or increasing the number of reps you do.

However, if you overreach in your training or don’t plan in adequate recovery time to allow your body to rest and repair, it can result in overtraining.

What is overtraining?

Overtraining is when we exceed our body's ability to recover from exercise2 and require days or even sometimes weeks to fully recover.

For example, if a recreational gym-goer performs ‘max out’ sessions two days in a row or a novice runner completes two marathons in two days (yes, these are extreme examples!) without rest, this could lead to injuries.

If this is repeated over time, overtraining can limit our progress, cause us to lose our current fitness levels and even be detrimental to our health.

Signs and symptoms of overtraining

1) Elevated resting heart rate3 – the rise in health tech and popularity of fitness trackers means we can track our resting heart rate throughout the day.

A decrease in resting heart rate can be an indication of improved cardiovascular fitness4, however if your resting heart rate increases by 10-15 beats per minute when you think it should be going down, it may be an indication of overtraining as your body struggles to recover.

2) Disrupted sleep – sleep is a vital component of physical and metal recovery from training and finding it difficult to fall and/or stay asleep is a possible sign of overtraining. This is due to your hormones and central nervous system being out of balance5.

3) Muscle soreness – feeling sore after a workout is natural. However, if it lasts for more than three days, it may be your body showing signs that it’s unable to recover after workouts as it normally should.

You may also be feeling aches in muscles you haven’t even trained, which is another possible sign of overtraining.

4) Poor performance – the easiest way to spot overtraining is an unexpected decline in performance. This could manifest itself in below par speeds in your training, elevated heart rates at easier training intensities or failure to lift a certain weight that once felt comfortable.

It’s natural to have off-days, but consistently underperforming can be a sign that your training may be exceeding your body’s current performance and recovery capabilities. If in doubt, modify your training to suit how you feel, or take some time out to rest and reset and reduce your training intensity – it won’t undo your previous hard work and your body and mind will thank you for it.

5) Weakened immune system – it’s normal for our immune system to be affected by training and exercise however, when over-trained, our immune system can’t recover and it can be easier to catch illnesses, such as the flu, due to your body being significantly strained by the training.

Minimising overtraining

Rest is important to reduce and eliminate the symptoms of overtraining.  If you’re constantly feeling tired, take a look at your sleeping habits.

Sleep is one of the most important and often overlooked aspects of our health and in order to be performing at our best, especially when training, we need to ensure we are getting enough sleep to allow our body to rest and recover fully.

We’re all unique and the amount of sleep needed varies from person to person, but to feel like you’re thriving, rather than just surviving, 7-9 hours of good quality sleep is recommended for most adults6.

Persistent lack of sleep has been associated with poor training quality7, increased chance of injury and a variety of health risks, such as diabetes and hypertension (high blood pressure)8.


Active recovery such as light walking and cycling is an effective technique, we can use to help accelerate the body’s natural repair processes, reduce muscle soreness, decrease the risk of injury12.

It is also a helpful way for us to avoid overtraining and it offers a great way to get some movement into your day, without overdoing it. Try to have at least one or two days a week when you can switch off from higher intensity training and do other activities you enjoy as it is a great way to not only physically recover from training but, also give you a metal break as well.


Nutrition also plays a huge role in our recovery from exercise and reducing the symptoms of overtraining.

When we train, we are using our natural energy stores to do so, these are our muscle glycogen and liver glycogen stores9. After exercise these are depleted somewhat, and in order to fully recover, and be able to perform well in subsequent sessions, we need to make sure we are topping up these stores by eating a well-balanced diet.

Exercise also causes muscle damage which is of the key drivers for positive improvement and adaptation when used properly. In order to make sure we are helping our muscles to fully recover, ingesting a healthy amount of protein in our diet is recommended.

Eating a well-balanced diet with plenty of carbohydrates and proteins provides the body with the necessary nutrients to recover fully, repairing the muscles damage and drive the adaptations from training we are aiming for11.

It has been recommended that, during intense training periods, people should eat more complex carbohydrates and proteins (for example wholegrains such as brown rice and pasta and protein sources such as chicken and fish) to cope with the demands, as well keeping hydrated throughout the day10.

Preventing overtraining


It’s easy to lose track of how intense your sessions are if you aren’t organised. Planning your training for the week or month ahead will help you to control the intensity and schedule in rest days or active recovery sessions to help.

Keeping a record

Also, logging what times you run or the weights you lift will allow you to train more efficiently and safely. You’ll be able to see how intense the session was, and it’ll help explain if you feel slightly more tired or sore the next day.


Adapting your sessions will also help prevent overtraining. Having a very intense session while having a stressful week at work, or in your personal life, could end up exhausting you physically and mentally.

To prevent this, why not adapt your session so it’s not as intense, whether it means training for a shorter time, not lifting as heavy weights or slowing paces.

Sometimes life can throw a curveball, making it hard to train. When this happens, don’t compensate by ‘going harder’ during your next session, train smarter not harder. Be kind to yourself and allow yourself a break from time to time.

Top tips

  • Always have at least one or two rest days or low intensity sessions per week.
  • Try to prioritise sleep, aiming for at least 7-9 hours of good quality sleep.
  • Eat a balanced diet to give you energy and help repair your body.
  • Listen to your body – and adapt your sessions accordingly.

Taking a break from moderate exercise if you constantly feel tired will do your body the world of good. It’s easy to overlook or ignore how your body feels when you’re striving to hit a target, but without enough rest and recovery you’ll only be limiting yourself in the long run.

Visit our exercise and fitness hub for more information, tips and inspiration to help get you moving more and keep you motivated along the way.


  1. Strength and conditioning - NHS
  2. Overtraining syndrome - NIH
  3. Overtraining symptoms – Runners world
  4. Effects of Exercise on the Resting Heart Rate - NIH
  5. Hormonal aspects of overtraining syndrome - BMC
  6. Recommended sleep duration - NHS
  7. Sleep and physical performance - NIH
  8. The Effects of Sleep Deprivation on Your Body - Healthline
  9. Muscle glycogen stores and fatigue - NIH
  10. What to eat on heavy training days – BBC Good Food
  11. The impact of dietary protein supplementation on recovery from resistance exercise-induced muscle damage - PMC (nih.gov)
  12. A Systematic Review on the Effectiveness of Active Recovery Interventions on Athletic Performance of Professional, Collegiate, and Competitive-Level Adult Athletes - PubMed (nih.gov)

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