Why do we train? Well, that’s obvious, we train to get better. But what happens when your training schedule starts to do the opposite- instead of getting stronger, fitter, faster and more powerful, your performance starts to slide backwards? Welcome to the world of overtraining or underperformance. It’s a funny to one discuss, given that on the whole, we are under moving as a population, however it is important for those who have got a good exercise and training routine to keep an eye on.

“…there is a fine line between progressive overload and just plain old over load.”

Coaches will be well versed on the strategies for systematically progressing an athlete for competition so that they reach their peak on the week/day. Through the use of progressive overload and specificity in training along with periodisation of training blocks and recovery, an athlete can be lead through serious training sessions and come out the other side somewhat unscathed, and hopefully as number one. However there is a fine line between progressive overload and just plain old over load, with the latter potentially putting months of hard work to waste.

Over training and over reaching are terms used to describe when an individual’s increased training schedule (be it volume or intensity) is not supported by adequate rest periods or adequate recovery, resulting in a variety of symptoms ranging from poor performance, lack of performance improvements, decreased immune function, to low mood, fatigue, sleep disruption and increased injury. Not a pretty picture and this is not just for elite athletes.

It is not uncommon for your garden variety athlete to hit the over training/under-performing threshold and not have a coach to help them identify the signs or guide them out of it. More often than not we see people progressing from newbies to the gym, loving the training and wanting to hit it every day, and hit it hard. There has been good results and impatience or just plain old excitement drives the individual to step it up. This enthusiasm is great, but it can also lead to the aforementioned health issues if left unchecked and when we are focussing on burning calories rather than building body capacity and incrementally building performance.

“Even the world’s best athletes take time to listen to their body and rest…”

So how do you take your training to the next level and get the results you need to win, without over reaching ? Here are the main points to consider when training for and event or your next Personal Best (PB):

  • Plan your peak. Whether you are planning to run a half marathon or enter into your first triathlon, map out your training in advance, and be sure to factor in regular rest days and tapering of training coming into the event
  • As you increase training load, be sure to make sure you are eating well and sleeping enough. Often we can take over even the most hectic training schedule until we lose sleep or we aren’t fuelling our body enough to be able to recover properly.
  • Factor in a de-load week regularly, even every 3-4 weeks. You are going to be giving your body the best chance at adapting and super-compensating if you give it a week of lighter training sessions within your grand scheme as you ramp up to competition or a PB. Chances are the next week you will see major improvements in your performance and will be ready to step up to the next level.
  • Life stressors count towards the effect of over training. A heavy training load on top of a busy work or family life is going to make life hard. You are better off taking a day or 2 off to get on top of things at home or in the office than trying to hang in and keep pushing on through.
  • Try active recovery. Not all recovery has to be straight rest. Active recovery could be a light technical session, a complementary activity at low intensity or even a yoga session to stretch out.
  • Listen to your body. Niggling pains are normally the step before full blown injury. By listening to your body you can get a heads up before an injury occurs and take the measures to prevent it before it happens. Having your physio on speed dial will help!

The best thing you can do as an amateur athlete or weekend warrior is know the signs that you are over training, which as mentioned before encompass both physical as well as emotional symptoms. It can be a head game; with many people often trying to push through what they think is a plateau, only to find themselves at greater risk of and illness or injury which could put them on the bench for a lot longer than a few days of training. Even the world’s best athletes take time to listen to their body and rest, so keep calm and train hard, then rest harder.


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Harriet Walker
Harriet Walker resides in Canberra ACT and leads a busy working life as Nutritionist and Dietitian, Personal and Trainer and also for the Physical Activity Foundation - [More Kids - More Active - More Often] implementing activity programs and healthy messages throughout ACT Schools. Harriet is also a regular feature writer on numerous topics relating to nutrition, wellness, and fitness.