OVERTRAINING – What is it?


Mike had been doing CrossFit for a year and was ready to try out for the Taranis Winter Challenge.  He had been seeing steady gains over the past year and decided to increase his training from 4 days a week up to 6 days a week to prep for his box tryouts. About a month later, he started to feel frustrated as some of his lifts were plateauing and he was feeling extra exhausted during the WODs.  What was happening?

Have you ever felt like this? If so, you may be experiencing something called “overtraining“.  Well you’re in luck – this article will give you information on what it is, how to manage it, and how to avoid it in the future.  If you haven’t felt like this before, read on to learn to identify if it is happening to you before it’s too late.

First let’s back up a step and get back to the basics of how exercise works. In order to successfully train and improve performance, a certain amount of overload is required to challenge your body to adapt and become stronger.  Often this will result in fatigue and decreased performance soon after the exercise, but if followed by enough rest, you will become bigger, faster, and stronger.  As we all know, CrossFit workouts provide you with plenty of opportunity and encouragement to push yourself during workouts. 

Now, if your body is exposed to too much overload and not enough rest, your body might be undergoing a maladaptation to exercise. This is an umbrella term referring to your body’s inability to adjust to increased exercise.  There is a wide spectrum of maladaptation, with “overreaching” and “overtraining syndrome” used to describe different extents. Signs and symptoms include fatigue, increased resting heart rate, weight loss, performance decline, mood disturbances (irritability, emotional instability, perhaps even depression), along with numerous possible physiological changes in all body systems.

Let’s look at the different stages in exercise maladaptation:

                                           (From Halson and Jeukendrup, 2004)

1)      Single training session:

  • As mentioned above, overload during a single session will result in immediate fatigue and weakness
  • However when followed by rest, restoration of performance will take one to two days, and you’ll even see an increase in performance


2)      Overreaching:

  • An accumulation of training stress that results in short-term decrease in performance
  • May or may not have related physiological and psychological signs and symptoms of maladaptation
  • Restoration of performance capacity may take from several days to several weeks


3)      Overtraining Syndrome:

  • An accumulation of training stress over time that results in long-term decrease in performance
  • May or may not have related physiological and psychological signs and symptoms of maladaptation
  • Restoration of performance capacity may take from several days to several months
  • A hallmark sign of OTS is the inability to sustain the intensity of an exercise.  An athlete may begin the exercise session normally, but rapidly drop off in performance (unexplained)


**It is important to note that there is no one diagnostic test for Overtraining Syndrome; it must be made by excluding other possible contributors.  Other causes for similar symptoms may include nutrition deficiencies, allergies, hormonal imbalances (ex. thyroid or adrenal gland issues), sleep disturbances, infections, life stressors (ex. job, personal, financial etc), and more.  Please see a physician if you are feeling down in the dumps for a long time.

So now what? Check back for part 2 of this article, which will give a few tips on why this info is important, and what you can do to manage and prevent overtraining.

Andrea Mendoza, BSc, MPT, fellow CrossFit’er

  1. Meeusen, R., Duclos, M., Gleeson, M., Rietjens, G., Steinacker, J., Urhausen, A. 2006. Prevention, diagnosis and treatment of the Overtraining Syndrome. European Journal of Sport Science. Vol. 6, Iss. 1, 2006.


  1. Brenner, 2007. Overuse injuries, overtraining, and Burnout in Child and Adolescent Athletes. Pediatrics. Vol 119, No. 6. Pp 1242-1245.


  1. Halson, S., Jeukendrup, A. 2004. Does Overtraining Exist?: An Analysis of Overreaching and Overtraining Research. Sports Medicine. Vol 34, No. 14. Pp 967-981(15).