The overtraining syndrome

By April 29, 2019 May 1st, 2019 Original Research

A three-stage spectrum disorder defined


Overtraining has been traditionally described as diminished athletic performance that results from excessively increased training volume and/or intensity and competition. But the bigger picture is often elusive as the problem can be complex, necessitating a holistic view. Overtraining refers to an imbalance of, or maladaptation to, physical, biochemical and/or mental-emotional stress in an athlete’s life. While it can be deceptive and develop almost without warning, overtraining can affect health while impairing any aspect of human performance, including enjoyment of sport.

While the basic concept of overtraining as an imbalance appears simple, its complexity and lack of a single-test diagnosis can also contribute to the lack of consensus among athletes, coaches, health practitioners, and scientists on its definition. This despite extensive research on the topic of physical, biochemical and mental-emotional stress that is nearly a century old. The result is that this common and serious disorder can go untreated, especially in the early stages, and makes preventing it appear even more difficult.

This paper defines the overtraining syndrome as a three-stage spectrum disorder, following the stress model first described by Hans Selye (who also coined the term stress) in the 1930s. Its signs and symptoms are highlighted, with training, dietary and other lifestyle recommendations to help prevent and treat the condition.


Overtraining (OT) occurs in all sports, from track and field to endurance, football and baseball, golf and tennis, and even in those who exercise regularly but dont compete. (The term overtraining is best reserved for individuals engaged in exercise, whereas a nearly identical condition, burnout, refers to parents, teachers, doctors, and others exposed to various forms of undue stress without adequate recovery.)

While increased workout volume (total time spent training) and exercise intensity (measured by heart rate) are often associated with OT, reduced recovery also plays a key role — even the best training schedule can impair the body when recovery is inadequate. A simple definition of successful exercise is an equation:

Training = Workout + Recovery

Training turns to OT as duration and/or intensity increases, and/or recovery is inadequate.

There is no single laboratory test to diagnose OT. Instead, athletes, coaches and clinicians rely on various physical, biochemical and mental-emotional indicators clues in the form of signs and symptoms attributed to a single physiological factor: stress.

Referred to as a syndrome a concurring set of related signs and symptoms associated with reduced health and fitness the onset of OT can sometimes be elusive. Physiological adaptations to exercise vary considerably between individuals, therefore indications of OT can too. While images of a broken-down athlete are traditional, early stages of OT produce more modest but measurable impairment.

Functional overreaching is considered an optimal training state, preceding OT, with the advent of nonfunctional overreaching considered the onset of OT. (Due to autonomic imbalance associated with OT, the increased sympathetic activity sometimes leads to breakthrough or sudden great performance, however fleeting.)

Before discussing OT further, let’s put stress in perspective and consider how it can improve health and athletic performance.

Benefits of Exercise Stress

The bodys response to exercise and in particular, the positive physical and biochemical stress it initiates is the reason we benefit from it. Building a stronger, faster and more athletic body is due to adaptation to training stress, bringing untold health and fitness benefits. Gradually increasing exercise volume and intensity leads to more stress, which requires additional recovery, followed by more benefits.

The first response to training stress occurs in the brain through a complex neuroendocrine process of adaptation delivered to the body through nerves and hormones. Its called the HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis, and is the same mechanism we use every day in adapting to other physical, biochemical and mental-emotional stressors. This process involves increases of two stress hormones, cortisol and epinephrine, including increased actions of the autonomic nervous systems sympathetic and parasympathetic components.

  • Physical stress includes those that affect the body’s structure, especially muscles and bones, and the equipment used, including footwear, involved in the physical workout, which affects posture and gait.
  • The biochemical body generates energy from fat and sugar, manages hormones, and is strongly influenced by the quality of foods consumed.
  • The mental-emotional aspect of training includes cognition, learning and the experience of it.

The healthy stress response to exercise can produce mild signs and symptoms such as some muscular fatigue, hunger and thirst, and a rewarding, euphoric response. However, undue stress can produce more muscle fatigue, weakness, soreness or pain, and stronger nutrient cravings. (While pain is not a normal feature of regular exercise, it often accompanies competition.)

Exercise benefits are directly related to physiological recovery from stress, also a function of the HPA axis. This requires varying amounts of time depending on the volume and intensity of exercise, and ones health. Sleep quality and quantity  is a key to effective recovery.

Other non-exercise stressors can also affect the process of adaptation. In particular, the kinds of foods consumed day-to-day play an important a role in training and recovery, as this significantly regulates conversion of stored fat and sugar to energy, and impacts the balance of inflammatory and anti-inflammatory chemicals. Social factors can produce stress as well, as can travel (circadian rhythm) and weather stress (especially temperature). Stress is cumulative, even in smaller amounts from these and other factors, increasing the need for additional recovery and adaptation.

One goal of exercise is to increase workout stress above a normal level to promote improved health and fitness that leads to better competitive performance; this state is referred to as functional overreaching.

Exceeding the bodys stress threshold, with excess training and/or reduced recovery (an imbalanced training equation) can induce excess exercise stress and maladaptation. The transition from functional to nonfunctional overreaching is described here as the onset of OT.

Three Stages of Overtraining

The spectrum of overtraining can be represented by three stages the merging of a progressive, worsening state of health and fitness caused by the bodys inability to adapt to the accumulation of stress. These stressors may include:

  • Increased exercise volume (daily or weekly hours).
  • Increased high-intensity training (such as intervals, weight-lifting).
  • Increased athletic competition.
  • Reduced health (including allergies, asthma, hypertension, etc., or the need for over-the-counter or prescription medications).
  • Poor diet (processed/junk food, inadequate calories, nutrient imbalance).
  • Other non-exercise stress (personal, social).
  • Inadequate recovery (especially poor sleep quality and quantity).

Stage 1 Overtraining

The transition from functional to nonfunctional overreaching can be considered the first stage of OT. While its recognition is not always obvious, identifying it presents the opportunity to prevent further serious physical, biochemical and mental-emotional problems, including injuries, and performance decrements.

Stage 1 OT is associated with the increased production of stress hormones and rise in sympathetic activity, with the onset of signs and symptoms:

  • Athletes may become more aware of elevated stress, feel more fatigue/less energy during the day, with more physical soreness.
  • Sleep quality or quantity may be affected, especially waking during the night unable to quickly return to sleep.

Monitoring the heart rate (HR) can be an important objective measure of OT. Increased sympathetic tone raises resting, submax and competitive HRs, reducing the aerobic threshold (also called FATmax, and MAF HR). As a result:

  • Submax training HR, as measured using the MAF Test or GPS MAF Test, can increase; or may be indicated by reduced speed or power at the same previous HR.
  • Resting HR can begin to elevate.
  • Competitive HR can rise, reducing speed or power.
  • Heart rate variability may demonstrate autonomic imbalance.

Interestingly, as mentioned previously, sometimes the increased sympathetic tone, a feature of functional overreaching, can continue and produce a sudden, often dramatic improvement in competitive performance, typically occurring only one time, after which impaired health and fitness becomes evident.

For the clinician, an impaired HPA axis becomes evident with the onset of elevated cortisol (tested through salivary cortisol) and chronic inflammation; excess sympathetic tone can promote intestinal disturbance and impaired immunity. In addition:

  • Physical findings may include injuries to the low back, knee, ankle and foot.
  • Biochemical impairment may produce fatigue, increased hunger or cravings for sweets or caffeine. Premenstrual or menopausal symptoms, and amenorrhea may be present in women; and sexual dysfunction may be apparent in men and women.
  • Mental-emotional symptoms may include feelings of depression or anxiety.

Recovery from Stage 1 OT could be relatively fast and easy, with complete recovery and without detraining in one to three weeks if reductions of stress are obtained. Recommendations may include:

  • Temporarily lowering training volume by 50-70 percent.
  • Temporarily eliminating high-intensity training.
  • Rest should include obtaining a minimum of 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night.
  • Food habits include avoiding junk food (processed foods including sugar), and consuming adequate healthy fat and protein to meet caloric and other nutritional needs.

Normal training and competition can be gradually restored based on improved aerobic threshold as per the MAF Test, lowering of the resting HR (if previously elevated), and significant reductions of abnormal signs and symptoms. The process requires careful monitoring to prevent relapse, especially performing a monthly MAF Test and regular resting HR.

When early onset OT is not discovered or uncorrected, the physiologic changes can worsen merging into the second, more serious Stage 2.

Stage 2 Overtraining

Also called sympathetic overtraining, this stage is a deterioration of non-adapted stress that began in Stage 1. It is associated with specific neurological, hormonal and mechanical imbalances causing a variety of more obvious signs and symptoms.

Physical features may include:

  • Resting, submax and maximal HRs are usually higher, leading to further deterioration of the aerobic threshold as indicated by the MAF Test (diminished speed and/or power at the same submax HR).
  • Elevated competitive HR can diminish performances as well.
  • Muscle imbalance (weakness and tightness of two or more muscles) can impair posture and gait, risking mechanical injuries to joints, bones and soft tissues, and promoting chronic physical soreness, fatigue and pain.

Biochemical indications may include:

  • Immune dysfunction (increased colds, flu and other infections).
  • Gut dysfunction (increased bloating, excess gas and intestinal discomfort, especially during training and competition).
  • Reductions in FATmax leading to increasing or excess stored body fat, evaluated using the waist-to-height ratio (WtHR) .

Mental-emotional indications may include:

  • Restlessness and over-excitability, especially in relation to reduced sleep.
  • Increased potential for depression, anxiety.
  • Increased general fatigue and daytime sleepiness.

A particular feature of Stage 2 OT is abnormally high cortisol, which can specifically lead to:

  • Low testosterone in men and women (with subsequent muscle dysfunction and bone loss).
  • Low thyroid hormone (thyroxin/T3), which may mimic hypothyroidism.
  • Other hormone imbalances, reducing proper regulation of hydration and body temperature, and electrolytes, especially the excess loss of sodium.
  • Increased insulin can further impair metabolism and increase body fat stores, especially in the abdomen and around the heart.
  • Neurological performance may become impaired, including reduced sensory skills (keen awareness and fine hand-to-eye coordination) and reaction times required in many sports.

Health practitioners can play a key role in athlete care, especially during Stage 2 OT. A complete clinical evaluation is important, including history and physical examination, and appropriate laboratory testing. Dietary assessment is also very important to ensure a natural balanced diet is maintained, and ruling out disordered eating (which commonly accompanies OT).

The use of medication to treat secondary problems, such as poor sleep, depression or hormone imbalance, does not replace addressing the primary cause(s) of excess stress that may include training imbalance, poor diet and other lifestyle stress.

Recovery from Stage 2 OT may require one to three or more months, depending on the discipline of the athlete, although some require five to six months to improve FATmax and develop the aerobic system, a key part of recovery. In particular:

  • All high-intensity training should be temporarily stopped, along with competition.
  • Reduce training volume by 50-70 percent.
  • An emphasis on more rest is vital, especially obtaining 7-9 or more hours of nightly uninterrupted sleep.
  • Avoid junk food (processed foods including sugar).
  • Consume adequate calories, including healthy fat and protein, to meet all nutritional needs.

Normal training and competition can be gradually restored once the aerobic threshold improves as per the MAF Test, resting HR returns to lower levels, laboratory tests normalize, and abnormal signs and symptoms, including any physical injuries, are eliminated. Ongoing monitoring to prevent relapse, especially performing a monthly MAF Test and resting HR, is important.

Many athletes remain in Stage 2 OT through a long vicious cycle of relapse and perceived recovery. Without correcting the primary causes of excess stress, some athletes can push themselves and progress to the third stage of OT.

Stage 3 Overtraining

A serious chronic excess stress condition, this end-stage of OT is associated with the exhaustion of neurological and hormonal mechanisms, typically with more severe physical, biochemical or mental-emotional consequences. Training and competitive performance continues worsening, with many athletes competing poorly or not at all.

Selye’s description of his Stage 3 was called a state of exhaustion, in part due to the condition of the adrenal glands, and is the inability of the HPA axis to compensate for the ongoing chronic excess stress. Adrenal exhaustion includes its failure to produce adequate cortisol and other vital hormones. Reduced sympathetic tone and overall autonomic function severely impairs metabolic and cardiovascular function (reflected in an abnormally low resting HR).

The lack of physical and mental energy reduces the desire to compete and sometimes train. Depression, significant physical injury, poor immunity and gut dysfunction are commonly associated with very poor health and fitness. There is an increased risk of hyponatremia a serious, life-threatening condition of low blood sodium (which can begin in Stage 2) associated with reduced aldosterone with the potential for water toxicity.

Recovery from Stage 3 OT, and return to previous optimal levels of performance is a very difficult task, and could take months to years. Athletes are seriously unwell, and require the help of healthcare practitioners to individualize appropriate treatments and monitoring.

  • All moderate- to high-intensity and long workouts should be stopped, along with competition.
  • Rest is vital, including as much uninterrupted nightly sleep as possible.
  • Avoid junk food.
  • Consume adequate healthy fat and protein in meeting all nutritional needs.

The three stages of OT are summarized in the following table:


Recognizing the overtraining syndrome in its earliest stage can help maximize human performance while remaining healthy. This process begins with a simple ongoing assessment process that evaluates physical, biochemical and mental-emotional signs and symptoms. The MAF Test may be an important tool for recognizing OT as a first objective sign, sometimes before the onset of symptoms. Restoring athletic performance to previous levels is most easily accomplished in Stage 1 OT, with Stage 2 requiring additional time and effort. Stage 3 OT is a more serious and difficult condition to address. Overall, prevention is the best remedy, allowing individuals to reach their athletic potential and maintain this state longer.

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  • Lionel Trahan says:

    Hi Ivan, I’m a 62 year old competitive cyclist (Cat 2) and I believe I’m in a stage 2 overtraining. I backed off for 6 months and started feeling better so I started riding first 10, then 15 working my way up to 30 miles. Then I relasped. Also where I work is alot of cell phone repeaters and 5 G WiFi. By far my biggest issue is sleep. I’ll either not sleep or wake up and not be able to fall back. I also had Lyme disease in September. I also have tingling of my feet. This is by far the worst thing that I’ve ever experienced and no doc seems to know anything about this. What should I do and am I going to end up owning this forever? Thanks Lionel

  • David says:

    I was wondering how long it takes for sleep to return to normal. I’m feeling better but for some reason I can’t get in to a deep sleep and I wake up a lot throughout the night. I feel like if I could sleep properly I would heal within a couple months. What should I do about this?

  • Dragos Cimpeanu says:

    Hi Ivan,

    Congratulation for this article and amazing website!

    It has been 1.5 years since I crashed and burned with ots. Recovered after couple of months (the holiday made wonders…being far away of a stressful job)…then started to train… and quickly burned out… this time in Stage 2.
    I feel overexcitabilited wired and tired (especially after the lunch), tense leg muscles, had panic attacks and anxiety, blood pressure raised a bit. My big problem of recovery is sleep. Every night I wake up at 2 or 3 in the night and can’t return to sleep. Then I wake up at 6:30 and can not sleep anymore. I have gastric problems and also ulcerative rectocolitis that followed entering in Stage 2.
    Every time I returned to light training the symptoms have worsen. Walking and acupuncture helped me a lot.

    Any advice please?

  • AW says:

    I may be jumping into the comments a little late here, but I’ve been battling what on the surface seems like OTS for over a year. However, I remain uncertain because of the variables at work. My body more or less shut down after an extended period of high-intensity training, albeit with what most would consider plenty of recovery between workouts. But I have never been ill, never struggled with my sleep, my ACT-H and cortisol numbers are normal, all mitochondrial-related bloodwork is normal, my testosterone level was on the low end of normal but has been bouncing back up, appetite has remained normal. My heart rate has been elevated, I have fatigue through the day, and I do have postural blood pressure changes (never tested this before to compare).

    Prior to the onset, I endured some considerable work stress, and in the midst of this whole process I endured a tragic loss of my father, so there’s certainly been stresses at work that could be mimicking the symptoms of OTS with simple chronic fatigue.

    If this were textbook OTS, would it be more likely to see anomalies in my bloodwork?

  • bostongal says:

    hi there… it has been 1.5 years since i crashed and burned with ots… likely stage three. i felt horrid for a good six months and would relapse if i trained hard for a few days…

    if i do not train hard… i am pretty much back to normal… i am slowly slowly testing the waters with exercise…

    sustainable exercise is still tricky… i am extemely gentle and mostly do steady state pieces… for 20-60 mn when i feel good.

    as a woman, i find i am dependent on iron supplementation… so that is abig piece of puzzle…i tear through iron, so i may have to supplement until i stop having monthly cycles many yearsfrom now. if i stop supplementing i feel fatigued within a month…

    i am still not close to where i once was an athlete but i am grateful that the heart plapitations stopped and my heart feels normal most of the time… that took about one year… acupuncture helped alot.

    my energy levels are much better in general…

    i do still feel weird when i exercise but one piece of this puzzle has been to slowly slowly warm up my body as i exercise… i feel weird when my heart rate gets elevated but less so if i gradually warm up and prevent major spikes in my heart rate… so that is one thing i am experimenting with right now…

    i feel pretty good a lot lately…

    my metabolism has changed but i mostly stopped gaining wait by cutting back on gluten and dairy and refined foods.

    i got rid of my heart rate monitors whoop and oura ring… i learned a lot from them but decided they may have just been stressing me out…

    to all of you who have ots stage three…

    you can get back to normal but it will take a long time… much longer then u think…

    you have to change your lifestyle and say good bye to being an exercise junky…

    but your body will thank u for it… as it turns out being an exercise junky is actualy quite bad for you… best wishes for yourspeedy healing!

  • Erin says:

    I’ve been in the overtrained camp since I was a teenager (I’m 42 now). I played college sports and overtraining was kind of the goal in the 90s I think. Anyway, it devolved into stage three adrenal fatigue where my body simply stopped making cortisol after having a kid and not sleeping because he woke up every hour for four years (and had to be hospitalized a couple of times). My fight or flight was in overdrive for years. By the time I got the saliva tests, my cortisol levels were so low that my doctor advised quitting my job and focusing on my health. It was very , very hard – mostly socially. I live in portland and even the average joe has a couple marathons under their belt. I don’t think I know anyone that doesn’t run, long and fast.

    I took it seriously and took time off work and exercise. A couple of years later my cortisol is now back up to normal and I’m starting to use MAF (5 months in with no improvement yet). I still have a lot of trouble socially since I’m too slow to run with anyone.

    I’m trying to listen to my body but I’m wondering about diet. I get super sick (end up in hospital) with too many veggies and I can’t eat fruit at all (anaphylactic reactions to many veggies, most fruit and wheat, barley, rye, cilantro…). I can’t find any specific recommendations for MAF diet with adrenal fatigue recovery but I do know that I go into ketosis quickly and don’t feel good when that happens, at all (continual nausea that then leads to not eating, which then leads to palpitations etc). I’m often low in sodium on my bloodwork and very anemic but my iron infusions have mostly corrected that. Thoughts on a diet template for adrenal fatigue recovery while using MAF?

  • […] system exhaustion when performance is significantly impaired. This spectrum is often referred to as “overtraining syndrome” although it is still a poorly understood […]

  • BMG says:

    Interesting that I came upon this. I may be well past the 3rd stage. I’m 37. In 2015 I was doing my usual life…80 mins of cardio a day (running, elliptical, stairs, etc), restricting calories, working as a teacher part time and being a mom to two young children. I first started feeling fatigued and short of breath during my cardio and mistook it for a need to switch things up. So I pushed through and added more exercise . Fatigue, brain fog, irrational behavior started to become the norm. Again, I pushed through it. Then I started getting chest pains and fatigue that would cripple me hours after a workout. I felt like I had the flu. My cardiac workup has not found any reason for my pain. The last 4 years I have suffered with these symptoms. Daily chest pain (made worse with activity and hangs around for hours and hours), hormones are a wreck, bp is low (90/60), HR is low 50 bpm, iron and ferritin are low and i can’t keep them up without supplemation. I haven’t done cardio since 2015 but I do walk on a treadmill for 3 miles every day….maybe I shouldn’t even be doing that? I’ve definitely run my body into the ground…i wonder if this is what is happening to me? Or maybe I’m way off base here.


    • Erin says:

      Yes BMG, it sounds so familiar. I’ve worked extensively with a functional medicine doctor (who is an athlete herself) and that has helped quite a bit. It sounds like it’s time for a break…
      good luck,

  • Bostongal says:

    For all of you with over training syndrome… stage three especially…

    Other then go to my full time job… i had to rest… do nothing… sleep and sleep…

    I did that for four moths… then started to train… and quickly burned out… I took two months off after that total rest… not even walking… it helped a lot…

    Then I started gently to train… a 20 mn easy bike ride… no anaerobic…

    I started feeling comfortable and had good recoveries so I trained a bit more often when I was feeling good and had a good recovery…

    Then I was feeling good again and started doing more…

    You see the trend???

    I had a two week period where I only took two rest days… then I was tired again… I had trouble completing a work out…

    Fortunately… I stopped… I rested for a month… went easy… I listened to my whoop… which showed me I was tired… I had other life stressors… this was not a time to push… I took a month off…

    When will I get back to who I was ? Maybe never…

    But I know this… I must be careful… if I want to feel good…

    It took awhile to get back to feeling good… but I have gotten there… and I can still be an athlete which means the most to me…

    But you will go through lots of periods of denial… and the truth is you need to rest and rest and rest much more then you want to… and it is going to be a long time before you get back to who you were…

    I recommend getting support from a good sports psychologist…

    In general, if you have been having trouble completeing workouts over a two to three month period or more it means you need to take six months off to rest at least and then you can only train maybe one day a week easy when you feel really good and strong…

    But the good news is your body will thank you 🙂 and it is much better for health to train less… better to be undertrained then overstrained…

    And most cardiologists will tell you that moderate exercise is most healthy for you in the long run… over training is actually quite bad for you so go easy and do gentle yoga… rest… sleep… eat… learn how to avoid getting hear again and why you got here in the first place… for me… behind my overtraining was a lot of problems I was using exercise to avoid… and I needed to find better coping mechanisms…

    Good luck! This might just make you stronger in the long run 🙂

  • Bostongal says:

    Another update from bostongal…

    It has been a year since I crashed and burned with ots… I have gained 25 lbs… but I feel physically much better. I grapple with a good exercise regimen… I have had a lot of ups and downs… and still can not find right balance with exercise… the good news is that I have not had any significant relapses and have been taking a very very conservative approach to exercising again… after twice trying to train again and twice burning myself out… about one month after… my new policy is this… after having taken a month off to rest… I use my whoop… I can only train when I am in the green, feeling physically good, and am very well fueled… for me I note that I fade quickly when I am not over fueled… a solid meal before a workout is needed… if I start to feel weird then I must stop… right away…

    All things said and done… I feel 1000x better right now then I did last year at this time… much healthier and happier… I feel more rested and energetic… less tired… I have learned so much about how to eat right and rest right… so that I can maintain energy… i am slowly slowly slowly going to train… and only when I am feeling very good… no crazy anaerobic stuff… my whoop has been instrumental in this process…

    These strategies help me a lot as a woman

    Cut back on caffeine
    Drink tons of water
    Eat a big breakfast with carbs right when u wake up
    Eat carbs lots of carbs healthy ones if u can
    Don’t train or push when hungry ever
    Do not go hungry
    Acupuncture has helped a lot
    I have hated gaining 20lbs weight but I am honestly happier then I was when I was ripped… and I feel way better too… and I feel confident I can get it back if I am careful…

    The moral of the story is I am not totally out of the woods…

    Here are some other tips…

    Sex is stressful on your system… so note that… I have learned that it is a kind of exercise and I should not push myself after and make sure to eat and rest… after… that is a hot tip that took me time to figure out… if you are sexual… go easy rest of day… and eat a lot…

  • Tom says:

    If overtraining syndrome causes inflammation of the hypothalamus/pituitary would LLLT help?

    • Hi Tom –

      It wouldn’t really address the fundamental problem, which has to do with the stress hormones that drive inflammation itself across the entire body and deep within it. Even if LLLT reaches throughout the body (which it is not likely to), it wouldn’t alter the underlying hormonal condition that is driving inflammation. Furthermore, chronic inflammation happens because the body is trying to heal from comprehensive and recurring microdamage to its tissues due to excessive training; if you manage to eliminate the inflammation while keeping the training that causes it, you could generate another host of problems.

      In short, it is a very complex problem that is best dealt at its roots: by eliminating the overtraining syndrome due to an extensive period of complete rest and relaxation, and rebuilding the body once that period is over.

  • Tam says:

    This article made me feel like I was sane again and I had to come back and reread it. After squeezing in an Ironman (with 7day week training x 6 months) and several marathons I was exhausted, depressed and gaining weight. To try and make myself snap out of it I trained and completed a second Ironman with a marathon two weeks later and an ultra two weeks after that.

    Needless to say, it didn’t help. I completely shut down. Exhausted, blue, and getting chubbier by the day. I took a season off for complete rest then gently started back with some swimming and short distance ‘jogging’. I have since improved my diet and am gradually getting back into harder workouts with weights and a bootcamp style class. For the first time since before Ironman training I feel like a million bucks.

  • David says:

    This article and the subsequent comments with Ivan’s reply are a great resource.

    I am 58 and have a single adrenal gland, having had a right-side adrenalectomy in 2014 to extract a pheochromocytoma. (I had been sick for about 8-years prior while this went undiagnosed. Many of the symptoms then mirrored OTS.) My recovery from the surgery was gradual and reasonable, and I began light excessive fairly soon after. Then, early this year I was finally able to commence a more rigorous weightlifting program with some cardio.

    Like many here, I quickly saw excellent results – especially given my age. Compliments from friends and family on my newly emerging streamlined body only served to fuel my commitment to go further. I wanted to increase the weights I lifted faster, to run harder, to eat even less (and no carbs at all!), to loose more fat more rapidly. All this while living on a single adrenal. I was beyond stupid.

    This past week I “bonked” badly after a particularly strenuous pair of weekend workouts that went on for hours each. It’s now been over another week and I am not recovered at all. I feel as if I had excercised yesterday.

    Worse, I am having the same horrible symptoms many here report: palpitations, anxiety, dizziness, wooziness, weakness, fitful sleep, etc. I have a sharp pain in my back at the site of the remain left-side adrenal gland. The only saving grace is that I don’t really feel fatigued and I have been able to make it to work and spend time with family. But inside, I’m panicking and ready to run to the ER. (I realize that most urgent care doctors would be unlikely to help, without the knowledge for a proper diagnosis or to offer a useful treatment plan.)

    My questions at this stage are limited:
    1. What type of doctor is best to assist with this? (I am in NYC and have access to the best care but don’t know where to turn.)
    2. Have you heard of someone with a single adrenal overcome this condition? I’m fearful that a single gland can’t ever regenerate adequately – or within my remaining lifetime.

    Obviously, I’m very worried and upset here at the onset. I’m prepared to stop everything and start back with slow walking. I’ve been through a lot and I can endure this. Looking good and feeling like Superman is not worth this agony. But I would like to get the best help and to have a sense of hope.


  • Donie LaSorsa says:

    Hi. I’ve believe I was stage 3 overtraining. first off, I am a 19 year old bodybuilder. I felt overtaxed and overtrained in AT FISRT in September and I just kept trying to train. I wasn’t able to do anything in the gym, I would do one set of one exercise and just leave. By October 15th, I was feeling pretty good. SO I trained and trained and in January, I felt it again. This time was HORRIBLE. I was waking up early and hitting crazy workouts 6 days a week and also working. I felt and looked great then my parents started going thru a bad divorce and that took a toll. My workouts started becoming shitty and I took a week off. It wasn’t enough but when I came back from the week off, I KILLED a leg workout. It was to absolute failure and I was grinding through it. I didn’t feel “it” during the workout tho. When I woke up the next day. I was sore for a week. Couldn’t move my legs. This was January 22nd. So I took another 4-5 days off and did the same workout. same result I kept trying to do to the gym but couldn’t workout. its march 5th and I took the last week COMPLETELY off. This is my second go around with overtraining syndrome and I’m only 19. idk if this isn going to keep happening to me. During the really bad stretch (jan 20-late feb) I couldnt sleep more than 4 hours straight. I also had ZERO sex drive during that time.I felt super lethargic and depressed. My question is, was I ever fully recovered? I was killing my workouts before I felt it the 2nd time and I felt really good. I never not wanna go to the gym and I still don’t have a desire to train… how much longer do you think it will be until I feel great again. I eat SO much good food and Ive been able to sleep 8 solid hours a night.

    • Donie LaSorsa says:

      I also feel much better at night then I do when I wake up. I wake up groggy every morning and feel like shit in the morning. I’m trying to get on a consistent sleeping schedule, but like I said, I’m 19. I am a competiive bodybuilder, I had to cancel 2 contest because this happened to me as soon as I started to “Peak” and was deep into my training programs.

      • Bostongal says:

        See recovery from this likely means taking total rest no exercise at all, eating lots of carbs, gaining some weight, for a period of six months to a year… you may have red-s… relative energy deficiency syndrome… and a lot of young women get because not eating enough combined with overtraining is really hard for the nervous system to cope with… you may want to consider cutting back on all training for six to twelve months… after seven months of dealing with this… having ups and downs… I realize that the only way to get better is to do all the resting I had not been doing for years and years…

  • Franz says:

    I There,

    I was training for an IRONMAN last year between a very stressful job and the bird of my second girl. It was of course too much at the same time but it took some time to admit this situation. After 4-5 Months trying to manage the life-work balance, the last signal before I stop was an interval session without any possibilities to reach my “normal intervals HR”.
    I had all the symptoms described in this article and after an appointment with a doctor, I had to stop all my training. At this time, 2 miles Running was impossible without a nap after… It was complicated at the beginning but this event gave me the chance to re-prioritize my life.

    After 8 months of near nothing, I’m currently recovering and try to go now for some light run.
    I avoid every activity which takes my HR above 110-115 and it works well at the moment. 3 x 25 min running per weeks with this HR give me some hope for the future!

    I have a question for you Ivan: Because stage 3 is an inhibition of the sympathetic nervous system and a parasympathetic over presence, I’ve read that it could be fine to add some very short intervals (10sec) in the aerobic zone in order to “reactivate” the sympathetic nervous system. What do you think about that? do it make sense or do I have to continue my 25min runs and add more minutes every week till I reach 1 hour.

    PS: sorry for my English, I’m french native speaker 🙂

  • Han-Lin says:

    The article said “Decrease training time by 50 to 70 percent, or more if necessary”. Does training mean exceeding MAF HR-10?
    Does that mean when we suspect overtraining, we should limit our heart rates to zone 1 when exercising?
    I suspect that I’ve overtrained to some extent. I’ve been doing low volume sweet spot base training (3.5 hours a week). It’s supposed to be a time crunched way of base training. Their workouts include intervals with the power zones sweet spot, threhold, VO2 max, and anaerobic. Three workouts were done each week. There were recovery weeks too which has endurance rides. After nearly 3 months of training, my FTP increased from 182W to 209W. Better cooling and pacing may have contributed to some of its improvements. Near the end of the period, some signs include increased difficulties sleeping, walking faster following workouts, and not feeling as fresh. If I had to get up a few hours earlier, I likely wouldn’t have slept for two days which has happened before. Even after the recovery week, I notice that I felt more tired after workouts than in the first few weeks of training. That’s why I’ve put the training plan on hold. A month before structured training and longer, I coasted too much while cycling which likely meant that I lacked base fitness. I sprinted too much when cycling too which meant the recovery from overtraining may be incomplete for the plan.
    Should I try taking a few weeks easy? If so, should I limit my time at the MAF HR to 45 minutes a week or do I need to limit it all to zone 1? An example of a plan with heart rate and exercise duration would be easier for me to understand.

    • Hello Han Lin:

      Unfortunately, it means all training, both above and below the MAF HR.

      Overtraining is very personal and manifests very individually and idiosyncratically across people. It’s almost impossible to give someone a training plan that could help them recover, because that plan would only work for a relatively small percentage of overtrained individuals. However, the name of the syndrome says it all: overtraining. There is no real way to continue training in a significant way (which has become the source of the problem) and recover from overtraining.

      Plainly speaking, what I can tell you is that you need to be as conservative as possible for as long as possible in your training. What I would do in your situation is limit myself to very light activity (nothing that could feasibly be described by the word “exercise” or “training”) for a period of 3 to 6 months. Afterward, I would begin training 30 minutes, starting with nothing more than a 15 minute warm-up to MAF, followed immediately by a 15-minute cool-down, 3 days a week (with light activity the rest). After doing so for a month, I would ad 10-15 minutes of MAF activity, and then 30 and so on.

      Overtraining is essentially the wholesale corrosion of many of the systems that maintain the body’s basic functionality. (It manifests in different systems in different people: if you pull on a chain hard enough, you know it’ll break, but it’s hard to predict which link will be the one to break. That has to do with the idiosyncrasies of the specific chain.) Because of this, if I were you I would resist the temptation to try to recover from overtraining as fast as possible. Overtraining is very much like a broken ankle: it is an injury on a massive scale, which requires complete rest of that area (in this case, that “area” is the entire body). It’s best to rest (and then use the body lightly) until you are 100% absolutely sure it can withstand the stress of exercise.

      Does this help at all?

      • Han-Lin says:

        Thanks for the reply.

        If the activity is easy enough that you felt like you’ve never exercised, is that conservative enough to not count as not exercising or training for people who are overtrained? That’s how easy recovery rides are when done properly. I hope that I can still bike to work.

        Can supplementing with magnesium speed up recovery? It’s been used to improve sleep and reduce stress which seems like it may break the vicious cycle. Stress can deplete magnesium.

      • Han-Lin says:

        Even if the HRV app thinks I’m well rested, should I still assume that I’m overtrained and take at least 3 months easy?

        I use Elite HRV. Today’s HRV was 70 with a relative balance of 9. It said that compared to my recent baseline, I should be able to train harder and handle more stress. Other details include:
        Min HR:45.88
        Max HR: 87.77
        Avg HR: 56.35
        Mean RR: 1065ms
        RMSSD: 92.52
        NN50: 68
        LnRMSSD: 4.53
        PNN50: 48.571%
        SDNN: 123.34
        Weekly CV: 6.8%

        • Han-Lin says:

          Too bad I didn’t measure it throughout the 3 months. If it shows let’s say a four before recovery week, then I’m more confident with the readings.

        • Han-Lin:

          That could potentially be the case. You can be both rested and in a fragile state at the same time. This is like a broken ankle feeling really good and ready to go when your weight isn’t on it.

          I’m not trying to say this is necessarily the case you’re in—my point is that HRV says very little about the overall state of your physiology; it almost only tells you whether your autonomic nervous system is rested or not.

  • Perla says:

    Been dealing with overtraining syndrome now for 10 months, i’ve been in recovery for 7.
    It has been a very challenging and learning experience for me. Learning to let go was really really hard.
    Never thought it was going to happen to me or that it was even a real syndrome.
    I’m so glad i got in touch with my then new coach who saw what was wrong and helped me recovered.
    I thought i had diabetes then i thought there was something else wrong with me .
    I was ready to give up on myself and on triathlon.I was exhausted. My legs felt so heavy and they hurted alot like pinching needles at night and even walking up the stairs was difficult, i couldnt keep the pace anymore and even recovery sessions felt hard.
    My hormones levels went crazy i was crazier than ever, i was super tired at first and craving sweets constantly. I was gaining weight and training more couldnt understand why i was getting fatter. Then i got awful headaches in the mornings and i got insomnia.Went from sleeping alot to not sleeping.
    I was a bit tired of everything , sad, a bit depressed.
    Not everyone understands that this is a really existing and serious thing! They just tell you to go and train with them easy.
    So you have to take responsability for your health and learn to say no.
    Learn to respect your body . Your body can do amazing things! you just have to give it time to heal and RECOVER, recovery is a huge thing.
    Be patient with yourself and you will see the light again 🙂 . I’m happy that i found my coach and get to know what was really going on with me.
    Stress, work, life and pushing to hard in training got me in a big dark place.
    My fitness its at 85% now which is great for me. I’m so happy to be getting back in real training in a healthier way .
    Train smart, and stay healthy :)-

  • bostongal says:

    these things ultimately helped me recover from overtraining syndrome and RED-S combined…

    1) virtually no anaerobic exercise over four months
    2) very light walking only and restorative gentle yin yoga only
    3) adding in vitamin supplementation — but always talk with doctor first
    women’s multivitamin
    2 iron pills (blood builder brand was gentlest on my body)
    100mg magnesium
    1 b complex multivitamin
    Fish oil, twice a day

    4) eating protien combined with complex carbs at every meal was the final missing piece… CARBS CARBS CARBS, i needed more CARBS
    5) hydrating… drink tons of water, ideally some with electrolytes
    6) I have a whoop which also guided me significantly in my recovery and I listened to and never pushed myself when my recovery was low
    7) REST when you feel tired… nap… rest… SLEEP… go to bed early…. REST!!!!!

  • Bostongal says:

    Here is the latest update on my overtraining syndrome… also known sometimes as REDS (relative energy deficiency syndrome) at least commonly in female athletes …. these things appear to have contributed to a period of four months in which i struggled with significant fatigue and elevated heart rate doing easy things… among other symptoms including anxiety, heart paliplations (which are benign thank god), lightheadedeness, wooziness… etc.

    1) trying to lose weight (1-2lbs a week) while doing heavy training put me at a significant energy deficit over time
    2) being a vegetarian meant i had not enough iron and b in my diet and i was not supplementing correctly, even though I was on iron therapy… it was not high enough (i also was taking it with caffience and calcium which is a no no and no vitamin c)
    3) i had a diet that did not emphasize carbohydrates, which are critical, critical, critical in endurance sports
    4) i did not rest nearly enough until my fatigue was so intense that i felt physically weird…
    5) i ate light, low carb dinners and worked out early in the morning with very low glycogen stores after a night of fasting, which was hard on my body over time

    So the moral of the story is rest, proper nutrition… are key…

    Because I was at an energy deficit for some time… I believe my body also was becoming insulin sensitive… meaning… that I needed even more carbohydrates then I ordinarily would…

    So I have been on these supplements:

    1) daily womens multivitamin
    2) two iron pills (always consult with doctor before taking iron!!!!)
    3) 1 b complex multiviatmin (do not overdose on b6)
    4) 100mg magnesium
    5) 2000 ui d3
    6) drinking electrolyte water–tons of water… really helps with my heart rate and anxiety

    Most recently, I think I figured out another big piece of the puzzle after reading sports nutrition for endurance athletes… which was I needed more carbs then was possible for me to eat in a day… i was definitely at a significant calorie deficit and my muscles were starving for energy…

    It took from 9/13 to 11/1 for me to see my heart rate normalize on my whoop after doing basically no activity other then very light walking… that is not get elevated when doing ordinary activity… so almost two months for my body to recover…

    But I still felt fatigued… and that was because I needed the vitamins and the much more complex carbs (quinoa, brown rice, sweet potatoes) taken with a protien and healthy fats 3x a day at least… I have actually started to eat poultry because this place where I have been has not been fun and I hope to never go back 🙂 but I think I am on my way out at last 😉

    Currently, I have tons of energy after drinking electrolytes and eating nutritiously… its kind of exciting and have been oked to do gentle steady state pieces 🙂

  • Bostongal says:

    So one big piece of the puzzle was that my iron was too low for too long… I had been midly anemic in sep 2016… and went iron pills, but my ferritin as an endurance athlete was not high enough (never got above 42 and ideally would have been at least 50)… so they put me back on iron pills and b pills… and a multivitamin… i am mostly vegetarian female endurance athlete… so this nutrition issue definitely contributed to my overtraining… I am feeling hugely much better after three months of resting… walking is getting easier at longer distances… I may start doing steady state stuff for 15mn at a time… nutritionally my body was in the hole… and it may take longer still to recover… but at least now I feel normal most of the time… and all tests have been normal… 🙂

  • Nicole says:

    I’m so please I stumbled upon this site.
    I’m sure I’m in stage 3 of overtraining after reading this and have been for several years. A couple of years ago I was at my worst with brain fog and a general inability to function feeling so tired through the day even after sleeping, my emotions were all over the place and I lost all interest in training, I suffered from hot flashes and no labido.
    I don’t have periods and my bloods test from my Dr’s say I’m going through early menopause and I’ve been put on HRT.
    A couple of years into my training I became a bit addicted, I wouldn’t have recovery days and I would stress if I couldn’t train, I used to have good muscle tone but now I really struggle to build muscle.
    I feel at a bit of a loss it’s so difficult to find anyone who understands and helps!
    Over the last couple of years I seem to rest and start to feel better then I go back to training then after a couple of months my symptoms come back my hormones however never seem to normalise .
    In recent months I have reduced my training to every other day and have worked up from just walking for 2weeks to training only for 20 mins, I’m currently at 40mins, my resting heart rate is in the mid 40’s and I use a heart rate monitor every morning to measure my heart rate variability which is always green, I’ve been taking and adrenal complex, a multi vitamin, magnesium, zinc, omega oils, vit D, my sleep is improving and I’m not as fatigued through the day, my hot flashes are subsiding, I would really love some more support and advice on how to recover 100% if it’s possible and to know if you offer any sort of individual recovery programme?!

    • Nicole:

      Hi. We currently do not offer anything of the sort, unfortunately.

      The very best thing you can do for your body when you are overtrained is to stop training completely and simply engage in very light aerobic activity, such as walking. Unfortunately, the effects of overtraining can reach very far into the body: it’s been known to break down the body’s basic infrastructure (its nervous system, endocrine system, etc.), which is what the muscles (and indeed, all of the body) rely on to power their function and grow. In this vein, overtraining breaks down the very systems that the body uses to recuperate from activity, illness or injury. For this reason, recovery can be very very slow: the systems that the body uses to rebuild itself have to be themselves rebuilt.

      It’s not until those systems are rebuilt that you’ll be able to gain much strength or muscle power and expect to keep it. The very best way to do that is to not ask those systems to exert themselves and allow them to heal. For the systems whose job it is to heal and rebuild the body, training while overtrained is not unlike insisting on running on a broken foot or ripped tendon—there is no opportunity for it to heal as it is constantly put under stress.

      This means, unfortunately, that the safest, and most commonly successful solution is a total or near total abstinence from anything that might even look like “training:” insofar as those systems are being asked to support a high level of bodily function and help the body recover from it, they themselves won’t be able to heal. And in their weakened state, they are at grave risk for continued deterioration.

      Does this make sense?

  • Maxine says:

    Hey Ivan,

    Just a couple of quick questions. I believe that I am in stage 1, due to adrenal fatigue symptoms. My libido has decreased and I am experiencing somewhat erectile dysfunction (hard flaccid). I dramatically increased my training intensity as I was beginning a lean bulk and I also immediately increased aerobic activity with sudden cardio as my basketball season just started.

    I do not feel chronic fatigue as I’ve been sleeping better and I still have an itch to get in the gym and make progress, so I do not think I am at stage 2 or 3. I do not have any muscular discomfort and my overtraining period lasted only about a week as I noticed these changes and began researching right away.

    Is it okay if I just decrease my intensity and cardio duration for a while, or should I stop all training right away? Your input would be greatly appreciated!

  • bostongal says:

    Update from bostongal… I am finally feeling normal today–five weeks after my last row and of underdoing it–including two weeks of total bed rest basically. I am now convinced that the anxiety attacks were part of overtraining syndrome… and generally caused a variety of weird symptoms including wooziness, heart palpitations, and lightheadedness… interestingly, I never had strong feelings of anxiety… so it was not clear that I was having an anxiety attack… I have started light walking… one or two miles at a time with rest in between and it feels great. I am feeling hopeful I am recovering at last. I also started taking magnesium supplements which are helping me feel more calm and also sleep better then ever… I am seeing a sports psychologist as well a nutritonist and a sports endocrinologist… hopefully they will help me get in balance so this does not ever happen again. Meanwhile, I plan to use extreme caution in training going forward… and work closely with athletics doctors in the process… to all of you reading this… TAKE TIME OFF IF YOU ARE TIRED immediately… you have nothing to lose… everything to gain.

  • Bostongal says:

    I have had one nurse practitioner say I have overtraining syndrome in august. I am a rower on the Charles in Boston. I have been obessesive about it this summer. In August 2, 2017, I bonked badly during a workout and immediately went to my doctor. I have been rowing competively and spinning recreationally 2-3 times a day since may… with rarely a rest day–I have been doing this for about three years with some rest period built in, but not this summer really. I started adding in rest days in mid august and going down to one rowing workout a day, but it was not enough. I completely crashed by 9/20/17… my PCP doctor does not know what overtraining is… I have not exercised in almost 4 weeks… and have been resting… I was so fatigued that vaccuming my apartment felt strenuous and at times that I was capable of passing out–Around this time I started having panic attacks. I think the panic attacks were just my bodies way of saying it could not go anymore… I have had countless tests–ekgs, stress tests, etc, all of which are normal… and I am feeling better… I am out and about and back at work… but I still often feel woozy and fatigued after short periods of time which could be anxiety over my health… I have never felt this way in my life, ever… it appears that I have not caused any serious damage… but I can not believe how I feel… how long will it before I feel normal again and can do light exercise… I am not sure I care at this point if get back into head racing shape… I can be recreational… I just want to feel normal and good again… and be in optimum health. I am willing to be very patient and go easy… but no medical person I have talked seems to have a clue of what is going on with me except the nurse practioner… who said I need to see a sports medicine person… so here I am 🙂 thank you.

  • Emma says:

    Would you agree that it takes twice the amount of time to recover from overtraining as it took to become overtrained?
    So, if a runner experiences warning signs in June, and crashes in March of the next year, (so 9 months), it would take 18 months of recovery?
    Thanks! 🙂

  • Bobbie says:

    Thank you so much for this article. I am a 62 year old woman, who has been an avid exerciser for 30 years, primarily aerobic, and for the last 2 years strength training. I felt like I was in the best shape of my life, pushing myself to new heights. Suddenly, my BP went up, and I was experiencing agitation and anxiety, head pressure, with symptoms increasingly and finally leading to a collapse and a trip to the ER. All heart tests and blood tests are normal. An endicrinologist has been monitoring my thyroid (I have been well managed for hypothyroidism for 12 years), parathyroid, and tested cortisol levels. All normal, except now I am on a half dose of my thyroid meds. I am still symptomatic, but less agitated and anxious, but now concerned that I am beginning to have another set of problems related to low thyroid function. I see a direct correlation between how hard I work out and how badly I feel the next day. I can’t get anyone to listen to me about this correlation.

    I am unable to get any traction at all among my primary care physician or endicrinologist about the concept of overtraining syndrome, maybe because it seems illogical for someone my age who is not an “athlete.” I’m even having problems getting traction at a Sports Medicine Clinic here, because their emphasis is not on metabolic issues. So, two questions: am I on the right track with the overtraining theory? Where can I find a physician who understands this syndrome? Neurology? Endicrinology? another Sports Medicine Specialist? I live in a major city known for the quality of its healthcare, yet I’m lost. I’m fairly desperate to find answers at this point.

    Many thanks in advance for any guidance you can share.

  • Eric says:


    Please remove my lastname from my previous reply.


  • Eric says:

    Hi Phil,

    My cafts are swelling after cycling two days ago.
    I haven’t been practicing much last weeks and last saturday I cycled 86 kms.
    Could this also be a sign of overtraining?
    I had this before with running. It ended up (together with an injury) in thrombosis…

    The Netherlands

  • Sergiu says:

    I think I m in stage 3 overtrainning,because for 3 years I was working out 6 days a week,even 7 days sometimes.I could not sleep properly and I had numerous injuries but kept pushing like an addict.

    Now, when I try to contract my muscles it feels like there is no strenght,like I can t feel it,feels drained.Are these symptoms part of stage 3 overtrainning?

    • Sergiu:

      Yes, very much.

      Let me direct you to a choice Outside Magazinet aricle on the topic. Some good excerpts:

      The earliest known scientific reference to OTS was made by a researcher and athlete named Robert Tait McKenzie, who noted in his 1909 book, Exercise in Education and Medicine, an acute exhaustion and “slow poisoning of the nervous system which could last weeks or even months.”

      The consequences of pushing past that point are different for every athlete, but OTS can affect everything from hormonal balance to neurological function. Some athletes describe mysterious pains, loss of appetite, and diminished libido. Others experience strange heart arrhythmias or a debilitating staleness in their legs. (One runner told me that for days on end he couldn’t get his heart rate below 130 beats per minute.) Researchers say that OTS can mimic a host of diseases, including leukemia. But the most common symptom described by athletes is simply an ineffable, confounding lack of ability.

      • Sergiu says:

        Thank you very much for replying.Any advices that could speed up my recovery? I have 2 months now since I m out the gym,not one workout done in 2 months,muscles are fading slowly,it s really depressing but I hope I will return in the gym a better and wiser person.

  • Mark Davis says:

    I my experience training tens of thousands of individuals in the Australia Army as Physical Training Instructor it can take as little as one session for overtraining to occur. Immediate and long lasting injuries are easily sustained without applying congruent specialised training methods.

    Phil’s teaching of MAF and common sense trainmen progression ensures this doesn’t or rarely occurs. I have rehabilitated soldiers back from acute and chronic injury using Phil’s method. It is simply the most powerful training tool in our kitbag.

    Overtraining is easy. With Phil’s techniques we get to learn what our bodies like, and then from this foundation we can reach impeccable levels of fitness. Mark Allen and many other of the best endurance athletes in the world know for sure.

    Overtraining is a curse of our inability to listen closely to our bodies needs. Phil’s method for endurance training counters this mistake. We need patience and consistency. Train for this time next year, not tomorrow.

    Then every year becomes more improvement than the last. It’s actually not that new. The very best elite athletes, and the better coaches understand that 1% overdone is worst than 10% underdone!

    Train smart not hard.


  • Mathew says:

    Hi, I am really interested in the comment that functional overtraining is “sometimes accompanied by a sudden or dramatic improvement in competitive performance that may convince the athlete that training is progressing well.” This is a very interesting concept and I was wondering if you could point me in the direction of the research supporting this? Anecdotally I could see how this definitely could happen, just wondering if there was any research that captures. Cheers

    • Matthew:

      This is known as “sympathetic OTS” or “stage 2 OTS” It is a well-documented phenomenon characterized by a dramatic increase in a stress response, putting the person in generalized overdrive. You can probably find ample evidence by using the text in quotations as search terms. If not, I’ll be glad to point you to specific studies.

  • David says:

    Hello, I am a 19 year old track and cross country D1 collegiate athlete. I stumbled upon this article because I have been looking non-stop for some answer to my problems. I have had unexplained leg fatigue on and off since my sophomore year of high school. At first, there were explanations. I had low serum ferritin levels(not anemic), but since I have gotten those up. I went gluten free for a while (after more leg fatigue problems even with high iron), and had spotty success with that… not much better. And last April I had mono… I did not actually get this tested until late May. And the results showed I had this mono for at least two months, which means I had been training the hardest I ever had been (senior track season) with a slight case of mono. I knew towards the end of my season I was feeling more fatigued but just thought it was the season catching up with me. I ended state championships in a way I was not happy with considering the season had been going so well (finally a good stretch of running). So, I took the rest of the summer completely off and just started running again in september (about 2-3 days a week, slowly building back up). At this point I am at college, so its not like I have a huge amount of freedom in my running. I raced the normal cross country season (3-4 races) and showed some flashes of success in workouts and such but ended the season very poorly (extremely heavy during last 2 races). So then I had winter training, that went well and I really thought it was a great time to get back to running like the old me. I come back to school for indoor season and had a solid 3K race for the first meet (8:38).. seems promising right? Ever since then has been absolutely miserable… 4:28 mile (slowest time since junior year of high school) and then my first outdoor 3K was a 9:04. And i am not exaggerating when I say that I felt heavy, worn out, exhausted from the very first step in these races. In regards to training over this period, the best way I can sum it up is inconsistent. One workout is decently good (okay I may be back into things), and the next I cannot even finish (I have never given up on a workout until recently, I like to take pride in my toughness). One thing that has become consistent is that my easy runs are no longer easy(feel wise), no matter how slow I go. I used to run my easy days around 6:30 average, now its 7:30 and that is most of the time not even comfortable for my legs. Now before you think that I am just adjusting to college training… I am 100% truthful when I say that my high school training was much more intense and difficult than this. We do no weight training here(I try to on my own) and the recovery(easy days) are much more frequent here than in high school. Also I’m running about 10 miles less per week on average. So I cannot figure out what to do. My legs have this weirdly unusual, extremely heavy feeling about them. Nothing is easy anymore. I have tried taking days off, running easier (usually not by choice-my legs cant go much faster), icing, you name it. I eat very healthy for a college athlete, I try to get 8-9 hours of sleep per night. I’ve gotten countless blood tests and everything comes back normal. I just need help… please anything will do. I love running and always have.. yet I can honestly say I have lost my love for it. I would say I am depressed now, frustrated like never before, and hopeless. I have thought about giving up, something that I would have never imagined myself thinking. I do NOT want to give up and I know my potential is there… but everyday i go out to run I do not feel normal one bit. I don’t know if overtraining can carry over from my senior year of high school?? I am going to do the MAF test starting tomorrow and my coach is lowering my mileage tremendously to see if that helps. I would greatly appreciate any sort of help. The point I am at now is very low, both in my running and in my life. Thank you for reading this…

  • Lina says:

    Thanks again for your input!

    Nice to hear you saying that, because I was so confused about those people who claimed that they have manage their way out of adrenal fatigue by exercising. I think I lost my own perception of this for a minute or two. Maybe because I wanted them to be right?

    I hear what you are saying – There are many things that contributes to OT, but the core problem is always insufficient recovery, and the way out of it is therefore near-complete rest and then light activity. There are no shortcuts. Now I know. Thank you!


  • Lina says:

    Hi Ivan,

    I have a question regarding burnout and overtraining. Is there any difference between these diagnoses in addition to the obvious – hard to say you´re overtrained if you do not exercise at all. 😉

    From what I understand, both states leads eventually to adrenal fatigue. If so, I’m curious how it is that some people diagnosed with burnout seem to manage to exercise, while others definitely do not. Does it matter where the adrenal fatigue comes from when it comes to recovery? Is there any differences in the approch to recovery? Would be very interesting to take part of your knowledge and wisdom regarding this topic.

    Thanks for any input in advance!


    • Lina:

      Excellent question.

      A period of near-complete rest (and afterwards, a period of very light activity) is the best way to successfully deal with both these issues.

      First of all, let me begin by saying that “burnout” isn’t really very well-defined as a term. There hasn’t been enough agreement of what it means. You could be talking about any number of things. So I won’t really discuss burnout “in opposition” to OTS.

      Second, let me address the issue of overtraining and exercise. In one of our white papers, we discuss a connection between Carbohydrate Intolerance and OTS. This is because Carbohydrate intolerance stresses the body systemically (meaning most of its essential parts and processes), and OTS is also a systemic stress, eventually leading to systemic collapse. So, I am currently pushing for the adoption of the idea that when someone has carbohydrate intolerance, they are at risk for overtraining whether or not they exercise.

      This does not mean that they are overtrained, but rather that it would probably take a much smaller amount of anaerobic training for them to succumb to OTS than otherwise predicted. So “overtraining” has less to do with “athletic training” as we understand it, and more to do with whether the body is ably recovering from the stresses it is exposed to. This is what has led some researchers to re-define the overtraining syndrome as the “insufficient recovery syndrome.” (Insufficient recovery happens whether or not you are training).

      Adrenal fatigue is usually the precursor to both states. You can understand “burnout” partly in that it is the adrenal glands that have become exhausted to the point of damage. I have not heard of any case where adrenal fatigue was NOT a major subcomponent of overtraining or burnout.

      • Ewa says:

        Hi Ivan,

        thanks a lot for quick response and input. 🙂

        English is not my native and sometimes it is difficult to explain what i mean. But as you said, burnout is not very well-defined. Where I live there is a number of specific symptoms that shows if you are suffering from adrenal fatigue, and I dont know if you have a special name for that or not. I call it adrenal fatigue but I dont think that is the right word for it in english. Nevertheless, you got my point. 🙂

        I was curious on your take on it because it seems that some people with adrenal fatigue syndrome that have also damaged their cognitive skills, still can go for long walks, while some can barely make it to the mailbox. I understand that individuals who suffer from OT in stage 1 or 2 can do light activity but when you have hit the wall so hard that your cognitive skills dont work properly anymore and yet, can take long walks… Or maybe they still are in denial?

        What you wrote about the carbohydrate Intolerance is very interesting. One can wonder how many people who suffer from this and have no clue at all. I have done the 2-weeks test and It seems that I am not carbohydrate intolerant. But I am trying to eat less carb anyway in order to leave some space for protein, fats, veggies and fruit.

        “So “overtraining” has less to do with “athletic training” as we understand it,..”
        I see what you mean by that. When I first started to develop different kinds of symptoms and talked about being overtrained, poeople just didn´t believe that I could be overtrained because of the small amount of exercise I did at that time. I had a strong sense that it was not just the exercise but my over all lifestyle that made me sensitive to OT – poor diet, sleeping problems, stress and so on. Therefore, I was so happy when I found Maff´s books.

        Although diet, bad sleeping habits, mental and emotional stress etc. have a huge inpact on the body, I think there is one more enemy we have to fight in order to come to term with Ot/adrenal fatigue, and that is our self-sabotaging behavior. There is, of course, always some exception to this, but I dont think healthy people, those who have a sense of self-worth and really likes him/her self, end up in a adrenal fatigue. They are so attuned to their body´s needs and have a natural inborn radar that stops them from doing too much, whatever that is.

        Oh, well, thats my 2 cent on this topic. 😉 As always, it is very interesting to reading your thoghts about this, so thanks again for your input.


        • Lina:

          Yes, we also have a defined set of signs and symptoms for adrenal fatigue, and I’m sure it’s the same one. What I meant to say is that adrenal fatigue is almost always a precursor to burnout and overtraining, and it’s very difficult for burnout and overtraining to NOT include adrenal fatigue.

          What you are getting at in your second paragraph—that some people exhibit different symptoms—is why we call overtraining a “syndrome” and not a “disease.” To use a metaphor, overtraining is a lot like when you pull on both ends of a chain hard enough that it snaps. Overtraining is the stress that you apply on the entire chain. But even though the entire chain comes under stress, a specific link will snap, and the failure of that one link is what causes the chain to break. So this “link” could be anything, from a specific joint like the knee, to something very broad such as the respiratory system, or the nervous system, or something like working memory or alertness.

          So when someone loses cognitive and motor function like what you describe, that person has almost certainly been chronically stressed for a long time. But the core problem of overtraining is insufficient recovery. So the overtrained person that is trying to remain in activity as much as possible (even if all they can do is walk) is still exhibiting the same behavior that drove them towards overtraining: they are pushing the body as hard as it can be pushed. So yes, it would be reasonable to say that they are in denial.

  • Cameron says:

    Hello, I am a 35 year old male and have been running at my calculated MAF since June of 2016. The only times I deviated from this type of training was for two half marathons that I ran last year. One being in July and the last being in September. Due to work scheduling I training mostly on a treadmill. I was amazed at how much better I felt during the week and and the progress I seemed to be making. Since starting MAF I was consistently running 30 mpw, and was seeing progressing well into November. However, just prior to Thanksgiving, the gym which I had been attending shut down and by the time I had done some research and purchased my own treadmill approximately 2 1/2 weeks had passed and I was unable to run during this time.

    Since this period of not running, I had seen a tremendous regression in where I was at prior. I have not been sick, had any injuries, my sleep habits as well as my diet are just where they were prior to the time off. I have not gained any weight, nor lost any. I do not believe there is any more stress in my life than there was prior and everything seems to be as it was before. The only problem I am seeing is I am no longer able to run the paces at my current MAF that I was before.

    Five weeks have passed since that time, and I am still maintaining 30 miles per week and have seen little to no progress. I am extremely baffled, and frustrated with myself. I do not quite understand what is going on. I thought maybe it could be the heart rate monitor I have been using, so I purchased another to find the same results. Also, thought it might be some issues with the treadmills I was using at the gym. But I used several models/makes while there and also have run at other gyms (in the past) with no variation in my pace.

    I was hoping someone might be able to provide some feedback. Much thanks.

    • Cameron:

      It’s difficult to say. Something that a healthy, unstressed body naturally does is to slow down its rate of activity over the winter months, as a way of recovering from the full year. Effectively, a healthy body (that is in tune with its long-term cycles of activity) relates to the year as it does to training: there is a period of warm-up (spring), exercise (summer), cool-down (fall), and recovery (winter). Since this cyclicality is a symptom of a well-functioning body, it is usually the stressed body that maintains its athletic output throughout the year without heed, and with consequences to long-term health. In effect, the stress itself functions as an impetus to disregard the need for rest: one of the reasons that athletes often become overtrained.

      This is not necessarily what’s happening to you, but hopefully it can provide you with a better idea of the processes that may be affecting your athletic output, particularly in the deep winter.

  • Mandy G says:

    I am glad I found this website. I believe I am slowly recovering from Stage 3. I am active 48 y.o. female. I have been an athlete my whole life. I was training at a very high intensity from January 2015- June 2015 with very little recovery. I hit the wall August 2nd. I ended up in the ER with bilateral upper chest and neck tightness. I had a regular strong pulse but, I wanted to make sure I was not having a heart attack. All of my enzymes were normal, 100% O2 on RA, Bradycardia and low BP. I spent one more day in the ER with the same symptoms and outcome after very low level exercise. The additional symptom I had was “burning” in my neck and head. For the next 5-6 weeks I lost 8 pounds in 2 weeks, I was very light headed, orthostatic and exhausted. After clearing my heart and lungs, numerous blood and urine tests I started walking slowing around the house, making sure I did not pass out. I have been to numerous doctors without finding a real answer. I continue to improve day by day. I am in complete menopause. I have slightly elevaited cortisol, doctors questioning mild Cushing’s due to re-gain of the 8 pounds rapidly. My symptoms come and go and the time frame between has increased. I get random “asthma” feelings in my upper airways and neck “swelling” feeling. Sitting back and evaluating what happened, I started wondering about overtraining. Now, reading this site, I believe I am recovering from stage 3. My resting heart rate has returned to 48-52 and my energy is returning. I would love to hear if anyone had similar symptoms I had and how long it took to recover.

  • Matt says:

    Nearly every winter around this time I start to suffer from headaches and a general dizzy feeling that seems to take about 6 weeks to clear (with rest). I run approx 10 marathon/ultra’s a year and Im wondering if this is just my body reacting to the strain (overtraining) or if its just a symptom of winter. I dont train with a HR monitor (hate them) but I do listen to my body and rest if Im feeling a bit exhausted, diet is also good. Can you tell me if the headache and dizzy symptoms are usually a sign of overtraining….?

    • Matt:

      It’s quite likely. It’s also the case that the body’s natural cycles tend to match the seasons. In other words, our bodies organize themselves so that when the cold days come, and its uncomfortable to work, we already have a 3-month “resting season” planned. So, as your body is trying to wind down, a very intense training regimen increasingly clashes with that process. So, while it’s likely that those are the symptoms of overtraining, that may be the reason you experience those symptoms at those particular times. So, they occur in winter because of the winter, but if you weren’t strained, they shouldn’t occur at all.

  • Max says:

    Hi. I’ve experienced what was diagnosed as “burnout syndrome” by a mental health professional 7 years ago after a couple of years of intensive work and workout ethic and a rather cavalier attitude to stress and “mind over matter”. Before I had my mystery flue that didn’t go away I was lifting weights 4 times a week during lunch break, working 12 hours a day, racing to and from work on a mountain bike everyday and training for an 24 hour endurance event in hill climbing and had just finished a cutting diet. I went and completed the Endurance event when symptoms of ‘mystery flue’ were manifested. Anyway, the following 6 months were the worst and I just about managed to keep my job going. I quit pretty much all exercise and over the next years occasionally tried getting back into it, but often giving up because of cumulative symptoms. I feel reasonably well and happy, and have a functional and active lifestyle with my 2 young kids and doing lots of “functional” physical activity as long as I don’t do actual exercise that results sustained raised HR. I’ve learned that HR is key. I’m grateful for what I have, but I’m ready for the next step.

    I believe in your method and I’m committed to make 2017 a breakthrough in my recovery. I have bought a good exercise bike allowing me to do very low intensitiy 30m sessions 4-5 times a week while watching TV. For the 6 weeks , I have been training 4-5 times a week on very low HR of 100 at the lowest resistance setting. Going to the second resistance setting, tends to push me over HR 120 which tends to push me over my limit and the next day I can get a negative response still. I’m aiming for MAF heartrate which I calculate to be 130-140, but it would mean recovery for 1 to 2 days. I’m not there yet. I can’t consistently to that HR for a few days as it causes a setback. My strategy is to keep doing frequent but low intensity, occasionally doing a session at hr 110 – 120 , compensating with a recovery HR 90 lower the next day. Does that sound sensible?

    One thing I noticed over the years is how my quads react. There is a correlation between quad DOMS-like soreness and setbacks. I can tell if I get DOMS in my leg, I’m doing too much and symptoms will increase if I don’t allow recovery. Recovery doesn’t mean doing nothing. Very very low intensity exercise can actually help clear up symptoms quicker. It’s like there is a buildup of something , and ‘active recovery’ flushes it. That’s how it feels anyway.

    Just finished the 2 week MAF test which has been an eye opener. I got cravings after half a day. It felt like nicotine withdrawal and low blood sugar. It quickly subsided after a few days. High fat, low starch made overtraining setbacks much less pronounced and calmer. Instead of tired , jarred nerves and insomnia, I only get tiredness during a setback, which is a massive improvement. I added a banana to my smoothie this morning, and I had my first nicotine craving in weeks and a nervous feeling. Sugar clearly plays a part here and I’m steering clear of sugary fruit for now.

  • Kay says:

    Ivan, I’ve posted before but for some reason my post was never published. I’d like to get your thoughts on what I am going through and if you think it is OTS or something else.

    Before I explain stuff, I’d like to point out I was not an athlete. I was a classic ‘weekend warrior’. I am a 29 year old male now.

    Basically around 5 years ago I was severely obese. So over the course of 2-3 years I subsequently lost around 120 lbs (50kg+). I reached a very healthy weight for my height (6ft – 155 lbs). I got into exercise and particularly running. Then at some point around 2 years ago my tendon problems started. It began with an actual muscle strain in my chest. The when that healed it became tendonitis due to a bad comeback strategy. I then developed tendonitis in achilles, groins, shoulder rotator cuffs, shins splints, and other places over the next year. No injury would heal on its own no matter how much I rested it or conditioned it. Then I sought physiotherapy, but my body was probably at breaking point. One day, after a particularly straining PT session with a PT who is really clueless, I descended into hell.

    Within a week I got so fatigued even standing became difficult, and for the next 10 months, up to this date, very little causes me great fatigue. But the fatigue tends to be immediately after exercise, in the form of sharp and prickly leg pain and extreme stiffness. But within hours it improves to a baseline. The baseline is not good at all, but it is functional, I would describe it at 60% of normal. I cannot do walks in bouts of more than 30 mins a time without reaching a point of standstill as the legs get very heavy and stiff. Lactic acid burns me and I have to cease activity. I can do two of these walks a day before I reach the ‘breakdown point’ which means I cannot do much that day until I have a full night’s sleep and return to baseline (which I described earlier).

    Certainly fatigue is the core problem, but it is worth noting many other symptoms come and go, including but not limited to: chronic soreness and redness in throat, headaches, back pains, all around rigidity and lack of fluidity, concentration problems. Pain is related to fatigue or tension but is not a symptom on its own. Muscle weakness is common. Health anxiety is a major factor and continues to be, though I have been on anti-depressants for around 4 weeks now. They improve my mental state slightly but do nothing for me on the physiological side.

    Every now and then I attempt to come back. I have done stress tests and measured my fat burning threshold to be at 125 bpm (very close to my Maff HR). As such I have attempted several times to train below that heart rate for short bursts (e.g. cycling for 15 mins at 100-110 bpm). I always suffer greatly the next few days though and I end up with flu-like symptoms and weakness. So I now just do short gentle walks for 10-15 minutes. I do 2 or 3 of these a day when I am off. When I have work, which btw is a real struggle, I tend to consider work as my workout these days.

    Important to note that I have been fully paleo pretty much since my problem got bad (around 10 months). I also take plenty of supplements which I think do a fair bit to help. My sleep is regulated, and I have taken plenty of stops to improve my mental state, including meditation.

    But I always wonder what my issue is. We did plenty of tests and found nothing significant, and some people have suggested Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, others Fibromyalgia, but a part of me feels it is closer to OTS. Do you have thoughts on the matter?

    • Kay:

      It’s very difficult to know specifically what it is. For example, CFS is commonly a symptom of OTS. That’s because OTS uses up and damages the same parts of the body (plus others) implicated in CFS. It seems to me that the other signs and symptoms you describe—sore throat, rigidity, problems concentrating—may all be related to the fatigue, as you describe. Fibromyalgia-type symptoms are common in OTS because extended chronic fatigue tends to wear down the neuromuscular system, reducing the brain’s ability to power the muscles. And when you try and force power production, you get very strange symptoms of discomfort.

      I would consult with a specialist for a diagnosis. A question you might want to explore with your health practitioner or specialist is whether your condition may have been exacerbated or produced (or a combination of both) by the kinds and volumes of training you have been doing.

      Needless to say, this is all speculation. The one thing I can tell you is that any exercise that produces any and all of the signs and symptoms you mention should be off the table, until you know what your diagnosis is and its relationship to these signs and symptoms you mention.

    • Max says:

      Hi Kay,

      This sounds very similar to my story i posted below. My Occupational Health Doctor said it was more common story than you would think, in my industry (financial services) with lots of A-type overachievers. During my first 6 months a HR of 90 on an exercise could push me over. It was very depressing. Eventually I found solace in the fact I could function reasonably normally and wasn’t bed ridden like some other forms of CFS type conidtions. Kids came into the picture which is a whole new kind of stress like you can’t believe and will increase your baseline physical activity which is actually great for this condition because its varying and low intensity.

      Knowing what I know now, I would get a good HR monitor (I have a polar with bluetooth that works with phones and exercise bikes), pick an (preferably outdoor) activity like walking or cycling and keep a log noting AVG HR, MAX HR , DURATION, SYMPTOMS/FEELING. Try and create the most ridicilously low intensity schedule possible to find a baseline. Idea is to do something ultra low intensity frequently that doesn’t cause a flare-up or setback. The bad way to do it, is pushing yourself, causing a flare-up and recovering and retrying. That’s a vicious cycle that for me always ended in giving up for a few months. If this means 5 minutes at 80 BPM , then you *have* to accept that. For example a 15m walk at max HR of 90 four to five times a week. Play with time and HR. I found HR to be key. I could cycle for 45 min if I kept it very low, but a short sprint at 140bpm would cause a flareup. Write this down in the log, you will start seeing a pattern. Once you have found a baseline, keep it for a few weeks, then plan a slight increase in HR, followed by a recovery lower than usual HR the next day. Think of HR zones like base camp on everest. You need to go acclimatize to low oxygen of your zone and occasionaly venture up to increase your tolerance and come back down. Getting too euphoric because of a gain and going up to quickly and you end up all the way back to lower base camp sucking on an oxygen tank and a bruised ego.

      You do get better, but it needs very high discipline and its mostly a battle against your overachieving ego that got you here in the first place.

  • Jon says:

    Ivan, I’m a former strength athlete (football, basketball, weightlifting) trying to recover from what seems to be stage 2-3 overtraining. I stopped training years ago because it was clear that I was only hurting myself, but until reading this article it never occurred to me that I was overtrained.

    My problems include repeated muscle injuries, tendinitis in various locations, shin splints, insomnia, sexual dysfunction, borderline low cortisol, and hypothyroidism. These and other problems have all improved to varying degrees with years of training abstinence, but I never fully recovered. Occasionally over the years I’ve tried to gradually reintroduce training, only for my symptoms to return with a vengeance after a week or two (at which point I would again quit). It looks like my mistake was that, when reinroducing training, I would always do some kind of anaerobic exercise like sprints or heavy-ish weight lifting.

    I’ve spent a lot of time on this site recently and the general theory is quite compelling, so I’ve been trying to build up my aerobic system.

    I first tried to train near my MAF heart rate (140 = 180-30-10), aiming for about 135. I did this for 2 weeks, 3 workouts a week, but noticed my low thyroid symptoms returned, my morning HR dropped by about 5, and my HR at the same bike settings (rpm and resistance) dropped over the two weeks by ~7. I should probably note that, while these workouts were pretty comfortable cardiovascular/respiratory-wise (I felt like I could go for hours at that pace), I was using a stationary bike and did feel the burn in my quads during most of the workout. So in that sense, the workouts were not totally effortless, but they weren’t exactly strenuous either. In any case, I’ve reduced the intensity of my biking to the point where there’s no burn (HR ends up 100-105), and my hypothyroid symptoms and resting HR have improved.

    This leads to my first two questions. Although I was at the MAF HR, would the burn in my quads count as training anaerobically? (I’ve seen your response where you describe running vs biking and points of support, but I’m not sure to what extent that is applies to my situation.) If so, I guess that would explain the return of my symptoms and maybe I need to find some other activity where I can work at higher HR’s without feeling the burn. If not, why do you think this training seemed to make me worse?

    I’m also trying to figure out how I should think about reduced HR in my situation. As you probably know, hypothyroidism results in a lowered HR. Thus it’s unclear whether my HR dropping by 5 was a result of the mild hypothyroid state I felt I was in, or a result of pushing myself into parasympathetic OT. What do you think? In fact, this raises the question, does the lowered HR in parasympathetic OT involve some degree of hypothyroidism, or is it mediated independently of thyroid hormones?

    Finally, it occurs to me that in parasympathetic overtraining, one sees the same changes in HR and HR during exercise that are expected as you develop the aerobic system – they both drop. In fact, I initially thought my reduced HR and HR during exercise were improvements in my aerobic fitness; it was only the fact that I felt worse that made me think otherwise. So how do you distinguish between improvements in aerobic fitness and parasympathetic OT?

    Thank you for your time. Your posts on this site are really valuable, I’ve spent a lot of time reading them.

    • Jon:

      Thanks for your comment.

      I’d wager that your hypothyroid and the OT are intricately related. Either the OT caused hypothyroid, or the hypothyroid made you more susceptible to OT. Which is it is more or less an academic question as far as we’re concerned. To answer more directly, thyroid hormones play a hugely important role in the body’s energy balance. All of the signs and symptoms that you outline can be traced in one way or another back to hypothyroid and its consequences. Some of those ailments are more obviously related to HPA dysfunction, but then the hypothalamus and the thyroid are partners in crime. Where one goes, the other follows.

      The very best way to distinguish improvements in aerobic fitness and parasympathetic OT is that improvements in aerobic fitness have no associated negative signs and symptoms. Improvements in aerobic fitness coincide with the clearing and ultimately the reversal of all symptoms: tendinitis becomes replaced with tendon resilience, low energy becomes replaced with very high energy, etc. In fact, any negative signs and symptoms of any kind—from allergies to heart attacks—are implicated in small and large ways (different illnesses to different degrees) with aerobic dysfunction or suppression of the aerobic system.

      I want to point out something, related to the improvements in your signs and symptoms when you cycle at a lower heart rate. OTS is a lot like a broken bone. The first step in healing it isn’t to work out the limb in question—it’s to rest it until the bone heals completely. Only after the bone is fully healed, will even light physical therapy help strengthen bone, muscle, and tendon tissue. So, for athletes with OTS, one oft-overlooked prerequisite for aerobic training is a frustratingly protracted period of rest.

      • Jon says:

        I tend to think OT caused the hypothyroidism for a few reasons. The latter started during a period of intense exercise, and after abstaining from training I’ve been able to go for a year or more without taking any meds while keeping my TSH and thyroid hormones in the normal range. And finally, my symptoms never really cleared up even when my thyroid hormone levels normalized.

        Regarding rest, the problem is I’ve been resting for 5 years now. I completely ceased training in 2011, and since then the only physical activity I get is ordinary stuff like walking up the steps at work (none of which is fatiguing for me). Is recovery impossible in some cases? Are there any supplements or pharmaceuticals you recommend in extreme cases? It seems like some people recommend herbs like licorice root and ashwagandha for adrenal fatigue, which seems to be a similar condition.

        • Jon:

          Although there are some cases where recovery is theoretically impossible, those cases are extremely, extremely unlikely. One of the things people often don’t consider is that something that is wrong with the body isn’t necessarily wrong with the body itself. Instead, there are almost always very powerful environmental forces pressing in on the body and forcing it to assume its present shape (such as the “shape” of an overtrained body). There’s a lot to play around with here.

          We can’t really recommend pharmaceuticals for liability, ethical, and practical reasons. That said, licorice root and ashwaganda (supplements) are good for mitigating symptoms of adrenal fatigue. However, consider that the fundamental solution lies in strengthening the thyroid, adrenals (and any other systems that may need to be strengthened in your case). I would wager that the primary issue in your case is that there is one (or several) hostile environmental stressors acting on your body, tiring our your glands (and various other systems), that your now tired and overworked systems have to work even harder to act against. My wager is that finding those stressors and removing them will be the deciding factor in increasing the effectiveness of any other interventions you implement.

          • Jon says:

            Would you consider a moderate-high carb diet (eg SAD) to be a stressor? I can’t imagine what is preventing my recover. I have an easy job and laid back personal life. No drugs etc.

            I’ve been measuring my heart rate to see what it’s like throughout the day and it’s unremarkable except that when I take a shower my heart rate reaches about 160 for 5-10 minutes (MAF HR 140). Do you think this is a problem?

  • Michael says:

    Hi again Ivan, I’m posting once again to give an update on my suspected stage 3 of Overtraining (I was a road cyclist), this experience has been totally life wrecking so far and tbh don’t see it letting up any time soon, total nightmare!

    It has now been 6 months since I quit all high intensity exercise, but unfortunatety I have seen zero improvements in my OT symptoms! But to be totally honest I haven’t implemented any dietary changes to help my body recover. Because of the low energy and depression I have succumbed to eating convenient takeaway junk foods regularly, sugary snacks, comfort foods etc. As a result I’ve gained 4 stone (50 pounds) since January 2016 (9 months, shameful I know!) The exercise I have been doing is walking my dog twice aday, this I thought I could handle but recently I’ve noticed after my evening walk I get “flu like symptoms” with mild muscle pain, fatigue etc, clearly too much for my damaged system to handle, but there is no way around this routine, my dog still needs his walks.

    I had a wake up call a few weeks ago when I noticed even my skin health is being affecting by this adrenal fatigue type illness. I’ve suffered with acne for over a decade now (I’m 29) but fortunately it is less severe than my younger years (mild moderate) and the past 8 years I haven’t really seen any new scarring which I was very grateful of. This has now all changed however! I’m now noticing even small non-inflamed pimples are leaving permanent indent scarring on my face, this this shocking because I constantly breakout, that means continuous development of new scarring! The problem?…..slow wound healing, I believe a massive loss of collagen and elastin from my skin ( responsible for skin resiliency). I read it’s quite common to lose collagen when dealing with adrenal fatigue, this has me highly depressed and wanting to get the the bottom of this and actively do all I can to fix this issue once and for all.

    I’m going to start eating a cleaner diet, lots of whole foods, vegetables, fruit, lean meat etc. One bad lifestyle habit that I think may play a significant part in my Adrenal Fatigue/Overtraining is CAFFEINE! I drink tea thought-out the day, A strong set addiction (drinking caffeine since childhood). Obviously you mention this in the above article, how caffeine keeps the adrenals in an exhaustive state. So over the next few weeks I’m going to slowly taper off my caffeine habit in the hopes of finally seeing some improvements (going to be tough with college starting again though).

    Clearly time alone isn’t enough to beat this beast, unless I make some massive changes I’m never going to recover from this.

    Kind regards,


  • Mitch says:


    I am glad I found this article because I am almost positive that I have reached a severe point in my training. I am a rower that trains for races year round and I really enjoy what I do, the only problem is that I feel my training has just tanked and I am also getting a sense of it affecting me off the water too. I recently visited some doctors that have been running multiple test and the only things they found were low testosterone and a shift in liver enzymes, so they really couldn’t tell what was going on. I had a sense of the Low T when the sexual dysfunction started to occur and I started to just plateau on test. I could only take time off at the end of seasons and even then it was hard to relax with the contsitant worry that I would fall behind in my training.

    I did end up feeling better as stressors were lifted off my shoulders at certain points but I am not one to just sit around and do nothing all the time I enjoy working hard for my goals. I still experience major shifts in appitite which cause me to over and under eat at times; mood swings at certain points after meals and in the afternoon that cause me to get anxious and irritated; shifts in concentration; sexual dysfunction; and underperformance in my fast paced workouts. When I took a week off I still experienced these degrading symptoms and I still felt awful when I got back into my training again.

    My biggest question is do I need to rest for a long time before getting back into intense training? If so how long would this take? Also how do I regulate my hormones so that I don’t expirience mood swings, over/under eat, feel dysfunctional, and I can feel more competitive going into competition again?

    To be honest I really enjoy rowing and wish I could race like I used to. I am very ambitious but the issue is my body is just drained. I like walking and other light activity but can I still row and run?

    Thank you for your time!

    • Mitch:

      Typically, enough that you are absolutely, completely confident that your body has healed. This is typically a minimum of 2 months but often goes for more than 6 months. Part of “being healed” is that your hormones are regulated—protracted periods of overactivity, which are some of the main causes of overtraining, drive various hormonal glands across the body to exhaustion and subsequent damage. So, if overtraining was the cause of these hormonal fluctuations, rest and relaxation is one of the most important things you can do to heal them.

      Let me direct you to our white paper on carbohydrate intolerance, where we discuss a lot of the issues that you’re having, and how they relate to overtraining. I’m sure you will find it useful in figuring out strategies to help regulate your hormones.

      Without knowing your case specifically, I can tell you with a good degree of certainty that running and rowing in the state that you describe is the surest way to jeopardize your athletic future, and do lasting damage to your health. Think of an overtrained body as you would a broken bone: physical therapy is not only useless in a limb that is broken—it is also counterproductive. It must heal completely and solidly before any physical therapy can take root. And the development of athletic capability is much further into its future: mobility, motor control, and skill quality must be restored first (once the bone is fully healed).

      I hope this helps.

  • Kayve Man says:

    Hello MAF Editor,

    I would really appreciate your input on my condition which I will keep brief.

    I am so glad to have stumbled across this article as it has largely reduced much of my anxiety, but my problem is complex.

    Over the course of 3 years from 2012-2015 I lost 55kg. It was insane. During the year 2013 alone I lost 30kg. The first period of weight loss at times I was eating no more than 600-800 cals a day, constantly hungry. But the results were so encouraging. Ofcourse the eating was then increased and increased to realistic numbers, but also I had started to get very interested in fitness. I started running in 2014 and really got into it in 2015. Towards the end of 2015 I was running 2-3x 13km a week and I was so happy at my fitness. At no point would I say I was going crazy, but I was dedicated.

    2015 was also the year of injuries. In rapid succession (6-8 months) I got achilles tendonitis, pectoral pulls then tendonitis, groin tendonitis, shoulder bursas. I was going crazy. With each injury all I was worried about was how it would stop me from continuing my path to being more athletic. I would go to doctors thinking I have a horrible disease that makes my tendons jelly. I just didn’t (and still really dont) understand why I was getting so much injuries when I really wasn’t doing SO much. I mean sure I was running, but who wasn’t. I still suffer from these injuries.

    Then I started developing some fatigue. The emphasis here on ‘some’ as you will learn later below about where I am now. It was the type where you wake up sluggish and yawn a bit too much at work. As my injuries worsened I decided to start seeing a physiotherapist to address these problems. I was also diagnosed with a very mild anemia (cause unknown). The anemia went away but I had become obsessed with this idea that I was developing chronic fatigue syndrome. My anxiety was growing.

    Then disaster struck later in November 2015. I had a PT session that was very intense. The PT clearly didn’t know where I was on the performance scale and asked me to do very straining exercises, pull-ups, heavy weights. All in 30 mins. I came back home SHATTERED. Over the next few days I would recover during the day, but every night I would feel like I was hit by a train. I’d come home unable to stand properly. Legs were like jelly and tiredness would strike me hard. I would hardly be able to cook dinner then go to bed. But it was only a week of this before it got worse. I started waking up feeling like the night before, I was not recovering at all. My anxiety struck and I was living the horror show of my life. I even had to take 3 weeks away from work which I mostly spent in bed.

    To avoid boring you, I did see plenty of doctors in that period. All blood tests would come back normal. They told me to go home. But I wasnt getting better so I started seeing a functional practitioner. I changed my diet to be fully Paleo. Cut out grains, dairy, legumes, sugar, inflammatory oils, etc. Sleep was regulated. But anxiety wouldnt go away, and my biggest fear of chronic fatigue would get worse every day I didn’t heal. We did a cortisol test twice. It would show that my cortisol was VERY high in morning and afternoon, but it was normal during the day and late in evenings (though still high normal).

    That was 8 months ago! Many symptoms improved, including a boost of testosterone (which was initially dismally low) and I have plugged plenty of nutritional gaps (which we have tested). But what doesn’t seem to improve at all is this chronic fatigue characterised by anaerobic metabolism. It seems that my body just isn’t able to efficiently produce energy, and it keeps falling back to glycolysis whenever I do anything. This then generates a high level of lactic acid which leaves my muscles tired and fatigued. I fear my metabolism has been damaged by my weight loss and overtraining. Is that possible?

    I fear I am in stage 4, if that exists! My body is making improvements in many areas but not fatigue, which remains my biggest mental obstacle. And this in turn has caused me grave anxiety and depression. I dont feel I am a normal person and I fear I will remain like this forever. Is there hope in fixing this if I continue down my path of healing? I am also seeing an osteopath who aides in correcting postural issues I have and helps give me a light programme of exercise. But even that is difficult.

    What would you advise me to do extra? I do walk daily for around 30-40 minutes but it brings with it significant fatigue and muscle aches. I am unable to do more than this without really struggling, eventually my legs get extremely tired and weak. The fatigue wears off slowly though, and after a good night’s sleep I wake up better. Not normal, but certainly better than the night before! I just don’t understand why many people lose weight and train okay but for me it was this disastrous…

    • Yes—overtraining is by definition a syndrome of damaged metabolism. You are experiencing stage 3 overtraining.

      For someone who experiences that much fatigue with walking, complete rest is necessary. Think of your metabolism as you might think of a broken bone. A broken bone has no business being put under even light activity—you are only going to damage it further. You will need light training to increase bone and muscle mass—but only after it has fully healed. The fact that you experience that much fatigue walking tells me that your metabolism simply is not ready for it.

      What I would do in your case is to rest completely, as stated above, and practice breathing exercises and meditation. And remember that for all intents and purposes, it is a broken bone. “The metabolism” seems like quite an esoteric concept, but it is a real thing, and its “brokenness” means that you cannot do with it the kinds of things that you cannot do with a broken bone.

    • Dragos says:

      Hi Kayve,

      How do you feel now? Have you recovered from the OTS?

  • Chris says:

    Also, I forgot…would aerobic walking benefit and how much per day? Thank You sir.

    • Chris:

      Anywhere from 30 mins to an hour and a half is a good idea. The way you know it works for you is if it doesn’t sap your energy and you feel genuinely refreshed afterwards.

      • Chris says:

        Thanks ivan…..I want to let this out. I have been lifting weights for awhile (but have rest days and I dont lfit heavy Im 45 years old btw) but Im not sure if Im overtrained…i do have an anxiety disorder that might be excasarbating my problems. I cannot sleep well, 4 hrs this past week, but I dont feel really tired. The thing is I feel like lifting weights but kind of scared because I wont wanna hit stage 3. My resting heart rate is 75 where it used to be 68…I just feel FULL of anxiety, I know im probably the oddball on here. I do feel better after walking. Thanks for any help here. God Bless.

        • Chris says:

          I mean 4 hours a night plus a nap and or deep relaxation in the daytime…sorry forgot to add that. ^^^

        • Chris:

          With anaerobic training and anxiety, it’s difficult to tell which is the chicken and which is the egg. Even if you know for certain that the anxiety disorder came before, anaerobic training can exacerbate and entrench it.

          The best help I can give you is to tell you to stop lifting weights. There is no way to come back from overtraining< \em> while training. You simply cannot do it. You can range far and wide to discover new and amazing ways to mitigate your symptoms, but if the issue truly is overtraining, nothing but stopping all anaerobic training will begin to solve the issue.

          • Chris says:

            Thank You….I have been feeling a bit better now..getting better sleep and feeling calm. Just taking it easy and going on walks seems to help. Maybe its adrenal fatigue (and I just need to talk to my dr. next time and get hormone tests). I went to my Dr. the other day just to get the bloodwork and it came back perfect. I think it is extreme anxiety/panic, but Im going to wait until I feel alot better mentally and physically. God Bless you Ivan, I am at my wits end trying to figure all this out.

  • Michael says:

    Thank you Michail for all your insight!

    If I’m understanding correctly did it take you 4 years to recover from Overtraining?….wow! Now that sounds frustrating beyond belief! I’m glad you finally recovered though! ☺

    You are very right that there is more to life then high intensity exercise, I think one of the issues for me is the weightgain going from fit and lean to franky unfit and fat! (Put on 3 stone in 5 months!) and because of this my self confidence has plummeted to an all time low. I’m going to start watching my diet and going for brisk hour walks a couple of times aday, at least then any weightloss will make me feel better in myself.

    I have most of the Overtraining symptoms you listed apart from muscle pain, but definitely the disrupted sleep patterns (struggling to wake in the mornings), the brainfog, mood swings, irritability, low energy etc so I’m pretty sure it is Overtraining. Though for awhile I thought it may have been from a copper deficiency; for years now I have supplemented for 15mg Zinc daily (RDA without copper) and know too much Zinc can low copper levels leading to similar symptoms such as; mood disturbances, Flu like symptoms and fatigue, but despite taking a break from Zinc for weeks at a time my symptoms haven’t improved much so it must be OT.

    I’m going to be patient and concentrate on walking and diet for now!

    Thanks again! ☺


  • Peter says:

    Hi Ivan,

    Looking for a bit of assistance here as not too many doctors here in the UK fully acknowledge this issue.

    I am a runner, and trained hard last year in 2015. Come the end of 2015, I was burned out. I took some time off, but not a sustained period of total rest- maybe a period of 6 weeks with, say, lower intensity work with less frequency (2 to 3 times a week at most).

    It’s now the second half of 2016, and I’m at the stage where I am continually tired. I ran an easy 10K the other night at an easy pace and a week later, I am still sore and tired.

    I work offshore- I am functional, but always being tired and irritable (without signs of it improving), would suggest I am at Stage 2 of adrenal fatigue. Surely if I was Stage 3, I would not be able to function and turn up to work?

    I have done the MAF tests before- would you advise one in this case or would you advise TOTAL rest (maybe with doing weights or something else?). My coach advises rest until I feel better, which I normally do- but even making comebacks with runs at an easy pace (they feel alright at the time), I’m still knackered.

    This is affecting my life and mind quite badly (not to mention family life, where I have two lovely kids who deserve their Dad to have a bit of energy), and I look forward to your advice. I will be hopefully be seeing a specialist soon.

    Therefore- what would you recommend for me just now- MAF test or not? How long would it take for a recovery, in your opinion, and should I take total rest in terms of running/ exercise? I feel an easy run helps with stress, but the intolerance to easy runs as mentioned above and the subsequent fatigue totally negates this. Many thanks . 🙂

    • Peter:

      If I were you, I’d do a reverse MAF Test. After a light warm-up of very leisurely walking, walk at a good pace where you don’t feel too much stress—say 4 km/hr (2.5 m/h)—and record your average heart rate every quarter mile or half kilometer a few times. That way, you can track any improvements by reductions in your heart rate at the same speed.

      What I would do is stick with very light movement training—this is a great time to work on flexibility, stability, and movement patterns without exerting yourself. And I would take long, slow strolls. Although there are a lot of ins and outs that may or may not apply to your particular situation, the trick is that whatever you do does not sap you of energy and feels genuinely restorative. If the only way you can manage this is to take naps during the day instead of working out, then that’s exactly what you should do.

    • Kay says:

      Have you had your iron levels checked?

      • Peter says:

        Hi Ivan,

        Thanks very much for your reply- it is greatly appreciated.

        I seek your advice once again!! 😉

        Since you last replied:

        I took myself down to simple 30-min Maffetone runs, which for me would be at 142bpm. Although these are easy at the time, the next few days are hellish- tired, cranky…………… ultimately, depressed, stressed. Achy muscles, sore bones.

        I done an easy row (6mins) the other night, and a bit of core work. Again, easy at the time, but very ropey in the days afterwards.

        In reply to both yourself and Kay, I got my bloods done- all came back normal (in terms of a standard NHS blood test).

        It now looks like- yes- I’ll just have to go down the road of total rest for the remainder of the year as it looks like I’m intolerant of exercise just now……… or would you define this as exercise intolerance?

        How can I control my weight? Would I do this through diet and gentle walking? Could i try Yoga?

        How long (individuals vary and are unique) roughly do you think it will take for me to recover?

        I’m finding it tough, mate. My mood and vitality have taken a knock, and i need my energy for the good of my family and myself.

        Like i say, thanks in advance for advice.

        • Peter says:

          ps. I should have followed your advice first time round!! 😉

        • Peter:

          I’d say that you can just call your condition “overtraining.” Perhaps one of the best ways to control your weight is to go on walks—think “leisurely stroll”—extending the distance periodically and without exerting yourself. Also, try and eat relatively high-fat breakfasts: think egg and avocado omelet, coffee with coconut cream, etc. They’ll help stabilize your appetite throughout the day.

  • Michael says:

    Thanks for your reply, Ivan. I do walk my dog at least an hour aday (various terrain including hills in the countryside) and have done from the very start, so my body is used to light intensity exercise everyday. Generally it’s the low level energy and fatigue that hasn’t abated despite 3 months of rest makes me question if it is indeed Overtraining I’m suffering from? I’ve had a few blood tests (full bloods, testosterone etc) and they have all come back normal.

    You’re absolutely right though, if I don’t fix this issue now it could last years, my absolute worst nightmare! I think my impatience comes from following one of the best years of my life last year (Cycling, losing alot of weight, finding a purpose) to one of the worst this year…..really feel like this year has just been a complete write-off! (What a great way to see out the last year of my twenties! Lol) 🙁

    I’m just going to have to take it easy this year and have faith my body will eventually heal where I actually feel normal, ready to do higher intensity exercise, hopefully sometime next year. I would have learnt one hell of a lesson that’s for sure!

    Thanks again.


    • Michaił says:

      Michael, I like to give people good advices so give You one. First of all you must to change your thinking if you are really overtrained. I see that you see need of continous training – I very understand, Tour de France started and only turn the legs 😉 but its not good in your case, because with time you’ll be more angry and vexed because of inability to normal training. The best thing is forget about sport(mainly high/medium intensity) for some time (good psychologist can also very help, REALLY :), your best friend can be the psychologist for you) ;)). If u have a girl go with her for a long walk(long walking is very good even if u are not overtrained, it keep u oxygenated and your aerobic system in good condition, you’ll have easier start), chillout, meet with family (go to the grandfather and said him to tell you about times of war (personally love it;)), see more comedy films, play on the guitar, pray more and attentively, maybe jogging? 🙂

      I had to forget about trainings on nearly 4 yrs. Personally I tell you that it was the worst part of my live, was then very young and so depressed.. felt a big weakness and imposibillity to all, test dropped, every day thought about it and was angry, stressed, when I’ll be finally able to run, walk on the moutains, exercise on 100%, had so many plans. After a long time I understood that not my trainings are most important in life, that are much more others more important things and did only these what gave me pleasure with the principles of nutritrion (on this page useful notes) and sleep hygiene, and after a year or more some one rainy day I felt almost(90%) good. with weeks was only getting better. Don’t worry. Be happy, make nice things and head’s up, body needs time to recovery and remember that overtraining catches only ambitious(too ambitious) people 🙂

      If u want to check whether it is really or not overtraining, more popular are muscles, leg pains when walking up the stairs(legs like wool, you cannot produce the maximum strength), morning heart rate(some more beats if it is 1 or 2 stage of overtraining or less when advanced), need for salt/carbs, foggy brain, headaches after more effort/tiring day, disturbed relations with family/friends, sleepiness(everyday) after meals, insomnia, mornings fatigue, or simply – take something heavier and exercise it, and if you’ll feel shooting in the joints, weakness of the ligaments and muscles, you can be sure that you are overtrained. But like I wrote, don’t worry, overtraining is not the end of the world 😉

      I think that this note will help You and anyone who would look at page 🙂

      Greets from Poland and quick recovery 🙂


  • Jennifer says:

    Hello, Ivan…

    Is over training possible when all is done aerobically? And if over training is indeed the culprit wouldn’t this manifest itself in the MAF HR? If so, how would it manifest?

    Why I ask: lately I have been having no HR issues (paces are “normal”; no weird/erratic HR issues), however it has been harder for me to keep my HR in that “sweet zone” (I like to keep it between 120-125; 125 being my MAF HR). I keep wanting to slow down, which of course causes the HR to drop down to around 115 or so when I am comfortable. In order to optimize MAF HR, don’t you want to train at the highest possible HR without going over? I want to maximize my workouts; wouldn’t this drop in HR be less productive and relevant?

    Thank you!

    • Jennifer:

      Am I understanding correctly that your MAF speed remains constant at your MAF HR, but you feel like running at a lower heart rate than that (and therefore at a slower speed)?

      • Jennifer says:

        Yes, you are correct. I feel like I have to exert myself more than is comfortable in order to maintain the 125 HR. Is a run still “productive” if run sub- MAF? It is my body/muscles that feel/s overexerted, not my respiratory mechanism.

        Perhaps this is a result of too much mileage too quickly? Or insufficient recovery time? Not sure. I’ve only been at this for about 3 weeks now.

        (This is the most informative site I’ve come across. I love it and recommend it to all of my fellow distance runners!)

        • Jennifer:

          The likeliest case is that it’s a result of too little recovery time. What you seem to be experiencing is fatigue of the nervous system (autonomic fatigue), If I were you, I’d rest for at least 2 consecutive days. (If 1 rest day is 1 unit of rest, 2 consecutive rest days are 3 units of rest.) I’d also consider cutting back 5-10 miles a week, and adding them back over the course of a month.

  • Michael says:

    Hi again,

    I posted 3 months ago having had a strong suspicion I had overtrained Cycling intensely last year (having had weeks off at a time without any recovery progress). 3 months of rest later I’m now totally perplexed on where I stand as far as recovery goes?

    It’s been terribly difficult leaving my once loved exercise routine behind (haven’t regularly cycled now since November!) and frustrating still is I’m clueless where I stand? Most days being inactive (apart from walking the dog an hour aday) I’m feeling sluggish and lazy, my mental health has suffered alot as I used exercise as a coping tool for a chronic incurable health condition I suffer with (which Cycling helped a great deal), not having that outlet I’m quite depressed and feeling rather hopeless.

    I’m desperate to go out for a bike ride, jog, lift some weights etc, to feel alive again but I’m hesitant as I dread these 3 long months being all for nothing! (Like my several 2-3 week breaks beforehand)…..I keep telling myself I’ve got to rest for the prescribed 6-12 months, but measuring any progress at all is very difficult as I don’t feel “refreshed”, tbh I don’t feel any different…..but then again I tell myself of course I’m not going to feel great having been so inactive and having put on alot of weight!?…….I just don’t know what to do?

    • Michael:

      The best thing you can do for overtraining is take it extremely easy, doing very slow aerobic training for quite a while (such as long, strolling walks in the park). Think of overtraining as you might think of a broken limb: if it’s broken, it’s broken. And once it heals, it might be fully healthy, but it’s also extremely weak, and not used to moving. That process of rehabilitation that you need to do before you make the “limb” stronger again is this long period of very light aerobic training.

      What you do NOT want to happen is for you to find yourself in the same position you do now 2 years down the line, and then 2 years after that. So take it very, very easy for 6 months. What I would do to hash out the specifics of this process and see where there might be shortcuts you can take is to go to a sports specialist that deals with overtrained athletes.

    • Chris Mars says:

      Hi, how are you feeling?

  • Kay says:

    I have had an elevated heart rate for the past 2 weeks (10+ beats above normal resting heart rate). In the middle of that I was ill…so I thought maybe it was that but am now thinking I am in stage of overtraining. For the last 2 weeks I have done a little bit of running here and there but my pace has gone from 9min miling to 11 min mile when I keep it at my usual low heart rate for easy running. My heart rate today had come down a bit. It was elevated still but was about 5 beats or so elevated…so I went for an easy run (3 miles) – my pace was still 11 minute miling. After the run I now have a mild fatigue..which I really shouldn’t have for such a short run.

    Before this happened I was running very slow/low heart rate mileage each week around 85 miles a week (for about 8 weeks…with a couple of down weeks around 60).

    I don’t know what is the right thing to do? Should I just keep resting…or is a very low heart rate run of 3 miles a day ok…or is it going to hinder me further. I’m disappointed as my base was coming on nicely…but I feel unsure of how to handle it…I am guessing my heart rate coming down is a good sign?

    This is the first post I have found that has any info on this issue – its so appreciated! Thanks for any insight you can give.

    • Kay:

      If you think you are overtrained, cease training immediately. There is really no way to continue training and return to full health when the problem is overtraining. What I would do is continue to keep an eye on the heart rate, and make sure it keeps coming down. As long as that’s the case, you’ll be fine. But if your body continues to be overtaxed, or it’s difficult to do any kind of training without overtaxing it, take a few weeks off and just walk, eat well, and rest. That’ll be the quickest way that you’ll return to training with a reasonable certainty that you won’t fall back into overtraining a few months or a year down the line.

      • Kay says:

        Hi – thanks for the reply. I thought I would update.

        My heart rate is now back to normal, my sleep is good and I am eating well (I think this may have been what triggered the overreaching – 2 weeks in a row I didn’t eat anywhere near enough). So I started running MAF heart rate but minus 10 to take into consideration being “ill”.

        My pace is still around 11 minute miling though in comparison to 9 min miling it would be at this heart rate if I was back to my normal self. I have decided to continue running as each morning my heart rate is back to normal so obviously my body can handle running…I am wondering if the pace will come back in a few weeks time or overreaching so much has messed my aerobic system that I am starting from scratch?

        I am not doing my usual mileage though…this week as my first real week back running will be cut down significantly and I am taking it on a day by day basis and taking it all very cautiously.

        I seem alright though – the only thing that is not same as before this happened is pace for the heart rate.

        • Kay:

          To need to start from “scratch” you need to have been overtraining, injured, and re-injured for a year or two. So you are probably experiencing an overtaxing of the aerobic system. While anything that is overtaxed is by definition deteriorating, the aerobic system can take a lot of punishment. So, as the stresses on the body wane, you’ll see your aerobic speed pick up a minute or two (easily within a month, as you suppose).

          • Kay says:

            Thank you – that’s good to know….will definitely keep taking it easy. Will report back when I am back to normal, for anyone reading.

            i know we tend to want to read everything we can when researching this stuff 🙂

            Thanks again for your insight.

          • Kay says:

            Well just to update this turned out to be iron deficiency (and illness). I have had iron deficiency before but because I have been really good about keeping my diet iron rich didn’t cross my mind this time (and symptoms were different). At least I know the problem!

  • Elizabeth says:

    I ended up overtraining late last year whilst on a low carb diet. Despite my efforts I saw no weight loss and ended up running the tank empty. I’ve stopped exercising/dieting for the past 2 months after I started to suffer from extreme exhaustion, insomnia, brain fog and low mood. I sleep at least 8/9 hours a night, but I’m struggling to work out the best diet to aid my recovery- I’ve increased my calorie intake but I’m worried I will end up putting on weight. I’ve noticed if I go hungry for even as little as an hour I start to experience brain fog, and if I don’t eat late at night then I have difficulty sleeping. On the other hand, my symptoms almost disappear if I overeat. I’ve read that cutting carbs can help regulate blood sugar, but my experience of low carb dieting made me groggy, tired and irritable. Is there any way for me to continue my recovery without gaining weight?

  • Elliot says:

    Ive been suffering from overtraining for 1 year and 4 months now. I have almost all the symptoms, still have them but they are just better then before I think.
    When i finally decided to rest I was tired all the time, could sleep 12 hours a day and never wake up rested, it was like this the first 8 months and then it got better.
    You could say ive had/have every symptom there is except depression which im greatful for.
    The only gamechanger for me getting better was the light training I started with months ago. I rested for almost a year without any training but only job and rest and nothing happened, almost got worst Until I started with light training like walks and lunges. Main issue for me is that the signals is fucked up and with light training my body is finding that connection between body and mind again I think, but its taking forever. Once a week im even doubting if this really is overtraining or some virus messing with me. Its a struggle every day and there is so little information out there and not a single doctor or physiotherapist can help me because they have no knowledge about this.

    I would really like some guidance or tips. What can I do to speed this up? Anyone that is full recovered and how long did it take for u?
    (sry for my bad english )

    Any advice is appreciated!!

    • Matt says:

      Eli, the best way to recover from overtraining is forget about this. Make these things which make your face happy. It can be meditation, prayer, family meets etc. Sleep more and eat good products(no gluten and dairy and caffe and sugar(not including fruits))you can add vits. If you want to train, train but very wisely, lightly,slowly and not much. This is all knowlege about this problem.

  • Sam says:

    My testosterone plummeted to 1 way back in January 2015, probably even before that too. I had sleeping trouble, exhaustion, no sexual function etc etc. It was a result of an extended period of training really hard in the gym combined with an eating disorder which meant I was in caloric deficit. Once I’d finally realised, I began to eat more but never stopped training. (mainly hiit weights and circuits for 90 minutes, 4 or 5 days a week). I recovered notably just from eating more, but my testosterone then plateued around 8 ish (below average for a 50 year old, let alone a 23 year old like me). I’ve tried stopping training for 3-4 weeks but my belly is beginning to protrude and my muscles are diminished (they were small anyway due to depleted testosterone). My job requires me to look in fairly good shape, so do you think I can lift weights at an intensity which is low enough to not cause any problems? I just want to maintain some structure and body composition, I don’t need to look like a super lean model. My thinking is that if I lift a heavy weight and then rest long between sets and training days that I can keep cortisol down.

    I would massively appreciate your advice, as the doctor is telling me I’m wrong in thinking that training is affecting my testosterone. He just says I’m in the ‘normal’ level, but isn’t concerned that I’m normal for a 70 year old man!! He thinks I should carry on training as that is the advised thing to do to increase testosterone and zest for life!

    • Sam:

      When you get low T, it’s because the systems that activate to produce testosterone (not just the glands) are completely shot. The only way to make sure that they recover is for a protracted period of low-intensity, very easy exercise. While it is “possible” in a theoretical sense to do this while lifting weights, if you actually succeed, (1) you’d do so against all odds, (2) that would make you the extreme exception, and (3) it would take you 10 times longer than if you just trained exclusively aerobically in the first place.

      So if I were you, that’s really, really not a bet I’d make. I’d treat this like I’d treat a broken bone: when you have a broken bone, you don’t worry about the composition of that limb (you don’t try to maintain muscle mass, etc.) Overtraining is a severe, systemic injury of the body.

    • Sam says:

      Thankyou for the clear and important warning. I need to constantly remind myself to be patient, it’s incredibly challenging to be so patient! Ultimately I want to return to normal of course, and am very scared to jeopardise that. It’s quite a foggy process and it’s really hard to tell whether I’m improving or not. Not many people understand this issue, and unless you’re on crutches or have a well known injury they tend to raise their eyebrows when I say I cant do any hard work! Personally I just don’t want to become pear shaped, but I fully understand the importance of a well rested and nurtured soul, and a harmonious inner self. At the moment I am sitting around nearly all the time, doing 0 exercise. I want to do this for an extended period before even beginning the light cardio. From your experience, do you think someone of my age that is still hovering on low testosterone could recover in 6 months to a year. Or do you think intense activity is out of the question for 24 months or longer??

      (Sorry to keep bugging you with questions – you’re the first person I’ve found that has the knowledge of this and can advise me – part of the problem I got so deep into the trouble in the first place!!)

      • Sam:

        I’d say that 6 months to a year is quite reasonable. I’d stick with very light activity—long strolls through the park, etc. Ultimately, recovering from overtraining is a lot more than about nurturing the soul: overtraining damages the systems of the body that are responsible for getting it up and mobilized, and alert, and active. As long as you do “hard work,” you are still stressing those systems.

        On the note of it being difficult for people to understand that there has been damage, look at my answer to Rick’s comment directly above your initial comment.

  • Rick says:

    I have a 17 yr old son who is a HS junior with OTS. On July 11, 2015 he was on a long run when his “legs got real heavy.” He backed off on his training for several months but was still doing workouts with the high school cross country team. We had blood tests and saw doctors but no diagnosis was given until we saw a sports medicine doctor who diagnosed him with OTS halfway through the XC season. The sports med Dr had him take 2 weeks completely off then try it again. If he was still fatigued he would have him take 3 months completely off. After the 2 weeks he felt some better so he ran a meet but didn’t feel great. He did win the race with a pretty good time but definitely labored more than normal. The next week the team ran a timed mile where for the first time in months he felt pretty good (his time was 4:30). The next week was the league championship and he easily won and broke the school record (15:38 for the XC 5K). He felt good for that meet. The next week was regionals where the competition was very good. He won but felt like he was starting to go backward again. The State meet was the next weekend and even though he didn’t feel like himself he ran the race and placed 2nd. He pushed it incredibly hard but never had the normal “pop” in his legs.

    Since that day, 10/30/15, he has had significant fatigue with some of the sleep issues he had experienced previously. Even after 8-10hrs of sleep he doesn’t wake refreshed. He also has a mild “dizziness” on occasion which happens more often in the morning. He’s not running track this spring due to the fatigue which is difficult for a young person. The hard part is not knowing when the fatigue will improve.

    So after studying Dr Mafetone’s work he now has a heart rate monitor and has improved his diet to include less processed carbs and more proteins and good fats.

    Any advice or words of encouragement would be helpful.

    • Rick:

      I empathize with your son’s position deeply, as someone who’s been overtrained before (and depressed because of it).

      One of the main things that overtraining does is that it damages the system that is responsible for kicking up the body’s activity levels, and helping it recover. The problem is that this system isn’t a discrete organ like, say, the liver. When someone falls and damages their liver, the damage is obvious to us, and we respond to it in obvious, common-sense ways (in other words, correctly). We make them rest and recover until the liver is whole again, despite the uncertainty of when the healing will be complete.

      My advice to you is to think about your son’s OTS in the very same way. That is the best way to ensure that his body does end up healing correctly. Very light activity can be an excellent thing: morning walks, leisurely weekend hikes.

  • Robert S. says:

    Hey, i have some questions, because it is very difficult for me to find any physician in hamburg/germany, that can help me with my problem – well overtraining i guess.
    my level of DHEA is 2,51 mg/l, cortisol at noon is 51 µg/l and testosteron is 3,33 µg/l. i feel pretty good at the moment, no symptoms i guess. i sleep perfect, no stress symptoms during the day, my mood is almost stable.
    but until december last year i had minor symptoms of depression – for about 4 months (sept. til dec.). then i stopped training due to a virus infection and rested for 3 months and all the symptoms were gone.
    at the moment i am doing low intensitiy cardio – about 70 % of my max heartrate – 3 times a week.
    i dont really know when i can start with hiit training again, like typical crossfit workouts that i ve been doing before. how long do i have to rest ? would be soo nice, if sbdy can help me out.


  • Michael says:

    Thanks for your reply Ivan, much appreciated!

    Good idea about taking up low intensity exercise, I was wondering if brisk walking for an hour or two aday would be okay? Or would it hinder recovery? (Already walk my dog an hour aday but it’s very slow walking, stopping and starting).

    The start of last year I kicked off my weight loss/fitness regime by walking 5-7 miles aday (taking up too 2 hours to complete), it would be great for stress relief as well as weight management if I could implement that into my life for the next year until recovered , I just worry that brisk walking may be too much as it isn’t technically ‘rest?’

    Thanks again.


    • Michael:

      An hour a day of brisk walking sounds reasonable. The best way to know if it will hinder recovery is if you observe the same signs and symptoms that led you to believe you were overtrained crop up again or intensify after walking. In other words, if you can honestly describe your walking session as a “restorative” experience (say), that’s a very good indication that it’s working for your benefit.

  • Michael says:

    I am deep into Overtraining now, it’s scary because at the time of the initial symptoms and still pushing on through it I didn’t realise one day it will be so bad a single workout would leave me feeling ill for weeks! 🙁

    Start of 2015 I started Cycling to make some positive changes after many years of inactivity and being overweight, being so unfit I started really slow, 3-4 miles on the bike 3-4 times a week, I loved it and was excited at losing weight and getting fit! As my fitness increased so did my mileage, managed to lose alot of weight and by summer time I was riding 30-50 miles aday on my road bike, 6 days aweek, I had boundless energy and motivation, sometimes ever going out once in the morning then again in the evening, longest ride was 75 miles, life was good, I was hooked on cycling, it was my passion, my confidence increased so much when I started getting compliments on how good I look having gotten into shape….

    Then I started noticing some strange fatigue issues by September 2015 (8-9 months into Cycling), for the first time ever, I had gone out and was unable to complete the ride, my power had disappeared and my legs felt like jelly, strange considering this was only my third day on the bike, usually no would feel tiredness and muscle weakness kick in after 6 days which I would then take a rest day and after which I would be back to full strength.

    Then over the following months I noticed a gradually decline in my endurance/fitness levels, going from being able to ride 6 days aweek before needing a rest day, to after 5 days, 4, 3, ,2 then finally feeling exhausted after a single bike ride! Symptoms come on in full, constant tiredness, muscle weakness and aches during the day, brain fog, feeling all disorientated, depression, anxiety, disturbed sleep, nightmares, night sweats…..just awful!

    Finally clocked on and read about Overtraining and decided to rest for 2 weeks in December, I was planning on waiting until I felt my normal fresh energetic self before jumping back on the bike but my rest break was broken by the bout of depression i had by not being able to exercise for so long, the ride felt OK, but hours later the symptoms of total exhaustion and irritability were back!…..for weeks afterwards!……then my routine over the next following months consisted of riding a few times, feeling like death and taking a few more weeks off then only exercising again due to the frustration and depression of knowing I was losing my hard earned fitness and the weight was piling back on.

    Finally since February after another few days of Cycling I think I felt my worst, constant muscle aches and brain fog so severe that I wasn’t even understanding conversations anymore!..enough was enough and I went to the Drs for blood tests, they all come back normal so I decided I needed a longer rest, for the whole of march I stayed off the bike, the severe tiredness and brain fog improved slowly over the following weeks, but I still felt ‘flat’ overall, after 5 weeks rest I had enough of being inactive (apart from walking my dog an hour aday), and depression at being unable to do what I once loved, I went for a ride, the ride was difficult, I had lost alot of fitness managing only an hour ride, but here’s the kicker!…..symptoms come flooding back and the following 4 days I’ve had muscle aches, tiredness, well a complete feeling of exhaustion, nightmares, night sweats, mentally totally out of it!……this I believe is stage 3 of Overtraining, I’m so angry at myself that all those weeks sitting around were for nothing as I’m now back to square one!….I was hoping during December that with enough rest I would be all good for spring (now) but I’m now doubting I’m going to be even able to ride in the summer! Or this year at all! I’m gutted! 🙁

    So my question now is how long should I rest for? My gut instinct is telling me 6+ months, maybe even a whole year and just give up the idea of exercise for now, frustrating seeing the weight slowly creep up but this Syndrome is going to completely ruin me if I’m not careful, I’m going to have to make my health a priory, if that means turning into a fat slob again then so be it!

    • Michael:

      Yes, that’s correct—6 months to a year.

      Depending on how much you need to rest, I’d suggest taking up a relatively low-intensity sport in which you’re not as invested, such as moderate hiking or backpacking. In particular, try to find something that constitutes light aerobic activity but also isn’t surrounded by a competitive culture.

  • Jim Roche says:

    I was glad to view this article. I have been suffering from overtraining for over two years. This is the first article that actually gives me a plan and hope for recovery. I also like the MAF test which can be done every month to monitor your current aerobic capacity and to give warning of a possible relapse into the overtraining. I thought I was running aerobically by running 9:30 minute miles (down from my pre overtraining of 7:45 minute miles). I just started running with a heart monitor and keeping aerobic has me running 10:30 minute miles. I am glad to finally begin digging out the hole that I dug for myself. Thanks.

  • Mike says:

    ok i am really glad i stumbled upon this site. I have a question for you and believe i may be in stage 3. Every time I eat anything I feel so lethargic and nauseous I can barely function or get out.. Not to mention horrible acid indigestion and GERD. I was a full time NPC physique model who was training twice a day and barely eating 1600 cals a day. i am 196lbs, 5ft 10′ and 8% bf. i am very “jacked” and lean but have starved and suffered for years to get here and stay here. i really don’t know what to do at this point. My sleep is great. I sleep 8 hours right through the night. Also every morning i feel like a million bucks. However as the day progresses i feel worse and worse. It peaks at its worse around 4-6pm every day. The weird thing is if i don’t eat i feel ok. As soon as i start feeding my body it all starts. i get horrible indigestion, fatigue, anxiety ect ect. I am also have heart palpitations. I have taken the last 7 days off from the gym (something i haven’t done is years) and am feeling better. But this is still quiet bad. I have no idea what to do. It is severely compromising my life as it is hard to function after eating. I believe maybe it could be related to blood sugar from adrenal burnout? I had blood work done and my thyroid is fine ( free T3, free t4 and TSH) and my test levels are around 615. So i have no idea what the hell is going on. Its almost like my body cant digest food or is using an extreme amount of energy to do so and leaving me with no energy to function. HELP

    • Mike:

      This is not something you want to tackle by yourself. My advice is to go to a doctor.

      There’s very little I could say about your problem, beyond that it’s clearly related to some kind of stress, which could be OTS. I’d be very surprised if the gut wasn’t compromised in some way: of all the systems that could’ve crashed, there’s probably a reason it’s the gut in particular that keeps crashing. Going to a doctor and searching for evidence of this as well as removing other stressors is a good idea.

      If it is Stage 3, the first thing you need to do is to cease all high intensity exercise and focus on very low-intensity activity, such as walking.

      I’d also consider going to a nutritionist to discuss any dietary interventions that may be useful.

  • Goro says:


    I started to read this article and I am more and more positive that I currently sufer from this condision.
    I have all of listed simptoms.

    Let me firs say I am proffesional water polo player and have been playing water polo for 5 years on a very proffesiona level.
    During this time I didn t take more than a few days off, honestly because I never felt like I need one.

    When i look back now, the symptoms have probably started during last season, but I never gave them a second thought.
    I haven’t really improved much, and and my performance has suffered.

    After the finals, I took a week or so off, but during that time, I’ve been really active on other
    fields – I went surfing for 1 week, where I didn’t really rest as I should.

    After that break, I had to start getting ready for the next season(the one, that’s happening right now), and it all got worse.

    Now that I look back, during this preparation block it was better, but I can now honestly say,
    that the preparation block this time around was the hardest – I didn’t recover as I should, I got injured / tight muscles really fast.

    When the season started, I’ve changed clubs and therefore my environment. I started off
    with a big drive, to prove myself, but in the next few months it started to decrease. After about a month or so in, my sleep has taken a huge toll.

    Now back then, I’ve attributed that to stress, and have plowed through it. (it probably started around November of last year, so 4-5 months ago), but in the end of December, my immune system has dropped so low, that I’ve gotten sick for basically anything.

    Even during christmas and new year holidays, the most I’ve taken off was like 3 days, and never rested as I probably should have.

    Those 2 or 3 rest days were enough to bounce me back, so I could start training again, and never gave it a second thought. Because the season is in full swing, I had plenty of practices and matches, so in my mind, resting for a whole week was never an option.

    Mid February, I have decided to visit a doctor, and got prescripted antibiotics (Amoxicilline), which I took, but because my sleep was really off, I never got fully recovered.
    Because I had some important matches that time, I couldn’t skip them, so eventually I felt worse.

    In the start of March, it all got even worse. I’ve slept for 6 hours max per night, and kept waking up, I couldn’t get myself to feel excited for anything, especially not trainings, and last week, when I finally had some time off, and I came home, I got sick.

    I had a really sore throat, headaches, and felt like crap. After 3 days of that, I went to the doctor, who then checked my blood – tests came back OK, and i got prescripted another batch of antibiotics (called “Sumamed”, which contains 500mg of azithromycin), but I didn’t get any better.

    This was 5 days ago, and yesterday I came back from my leave, but I wasn’t feeling any better (even though I have took the whole last week off from any heavy practices), so I have started googling my symptoms, which is how i discovered this site.

    I have a strong suspicion that I am suffering from Overtraining syndrom, and am wondering what’s your take on my whole situation.
    I would also like to ask you for any feedback, regarding the therapy to get better, or even any general recommendation.

    • Goro:

      Thanks for commenting, and sorry for the delayed reply. I’d say that the first thing you need to do is to find every opportunity to rest, or at least to engage in very low-level and relaxing activities such as walking. When does your competitive season end?

      • Goro says:

        Thanks for reply. I din’t see it right away.
        Anyway my season ends in two months but I decided to finish early because I am not
        capable of continuing season. Like you said all I can do is walking, a little joga and meditation.
        Any recomendation to speed up recovery?

        • Goro:

          By slowing yourself down mentally, physically, etc.. I’d really recommend getting away from the mindset of trying to “speed things up”—the body’s way of “speeding things up” is by increasing its stress levels (the greater the required speed, the more the stress).

  • Elleanor says:

    Hello, I am convinced my 14 year old daughter is over trained. She is an elite distance swimmer. She isn’t depressed, just sad that she is over trained. Her championship meet is this weekend. Her coach of course doesn’t think she is over trained and wants her in the water. She sits to be state champion in several events. She trains a minimum of 18 hours a week which includes 3 dry lands and two double practices. She has had many meets this season some back to back and few days off. She now can barely move through the water and her whole body hurts when she swims. Her coach says this is normal after a travel meet which she just attended. She did not do well or feel well at the meet. I am convinced she is over trained. I pulled her from the water this weekend. The meet starts this coming Friday. Coach wants her back in the water Monday to be ready for the meet. I don’t know what to do. I am considering keeping her out Monday too, then letting her swim at 50% Tuesday and Wed., then light swim Thurs to stay supple. She has the 500 twice, the 1000 and the mile plus all her other races and relays to swim at the meet. I don’t want her to miss the meet in case I am wrong, but don’t want to do more damage. If she does crash at the meet, I am pulling her for at least two weeks. Do I let her swim this weekend? If so, should she have light practice Monday too so she is supple or take off so she has had at least 3 days off? Thank you!!!

    • Elleanor:

      I can’t give you direct advice but I can tell you this:

      The overtraining syndrome can be very, very damaging to all the systems of the body. A lot of elite athletes end up cutting their careers short due to chronic fatigue or adrenal dysfunction—two symptoms of overtraining. By playing conservatively you may be protecting not only your daughter’s health, but also her future swimming career. The most important thing is that her body feels ready for the next workout. When someone is overtrained, they aren’t just hurt—the systems that help them recover are also damaged. Usually, periods of prolonged rest, sometimes far longer than 2 weeks, are necessary to repair and recover these “recovery” systems.

  • Sam says:

    I was in great condition, lifting heavy weights and playing football, never feeling tired but nicely balanced. Then I broke my leg playing football, and I became paranoid about deconditioning. So I carried on doing upperbody weights, whilst my leg was in cast, and following that up with salad and protein – believing I no longer needed carbs whilst sitting with my leg up.

    I lost a lot of weight and continued to deprive myself even after I was back on my feet and training again, enjoying my new ‘lean’ frame.

    After a few months in caloric deficit my overtraining crept up on me very slowly, but I was distracted with work etc and didn’t notice it at first.

    I carried on pushing hard with a big dose of caffeine in the mornings, as I couldn’t understand why I was not building strength (actually lost all my muscle) even though I was working so hard in the gym. My answer was to push harder – I didn’t even realise that overtraining existed. When my sexual function was absolutely non existent I realised something was wrong, so I visited my doctor. He seemed very apathetic, did a couple of blood tests for diabetes and then said I was okay and that I needed to get a girlfriend in order to stimulate my testosterone again. (muppet – awfully unprofessional)

    Anyway, further down the line, after a little more probing and a change of doctor I found that nervous system fatigue can be a problem. But this second doctor said she’d never heard of someone’s testosterone reducing due to too much exercise. (my body was crying out for someone to tell me to just stop 100% and rest rest rest) So I carried on working out, but thought maybe I’d eat a bit more, as I admittedly had an eating disorder (trying to only eat ‘clean food’s and a feeling that I had to earn even the slightest amount of calories) My supreme lack of nutritional knowledge meant that I was in a caloric deficit for a long time. My family were extremely concerned, believing that I was very unwell, as I looked so gaunt.

    Eventually I decided myself that I’d try cutting my workouts to 3 times a week, and continue to eat a bit more. Obviously I began to recover bit by bit, gaining a stone in weight and lifting heavier weights in the gym. Really what I needed was to stop completely and recover, as my situation was truly chronic, however my slight increase in health was a good sign.

    The doctor still couldn’t diagnose it and tell me why my testosterone had gotten so low, so I stopped visiting them, even though my testosterone still hadn’t yet reached normal levels (it had increased significantly and was nearly there).

    I’m a little over a year since I was at my worst, and having come across this article and a couple more online, I’m finally 100% certain of what happened to me was overtraining. This past month I’ve been creeping back in to intense weight lifting, and I noticed disturbed sleep and a very slight decrease in sexual function again. (I don’t think it has yet to return back to my optimum sexual function at all).

    So now I’m thinking I need to just stop and sit still for 20 years or something?? This idea frightens me as I don’t want to become fat, lazy and out of shape, but I really ought to just let my muscles go and recover. It has been 7 days since I did some hiit cardio, and 9 or 10 since I touched a weight. Trust me, I have a dogged determinism that served to push me hard into a chronically overtrained state in spite of fatigue, so the same determination can serve to force me to rest for as long as needed. I read somewhere of a martial artist who said it took him 5 years to recover, after he had 0 testosterone and had used TRT as prescribed by doctors. Do I really need to just do walking for years??? I’m 24 and supposed to in the best and most active years of my life, I want adventures – not a sedentary lifestyle!

    The notion that I could have done permanent damage to my body really concerns me.

    Any thoughts/comments are greatly appreciated!


    Sam from the UK

    • Sam:

      Use that determination to take care of your aerobic system. Train at MAF for a while (a few months) until you’ve been improving for a while, increasing speed and power at the same MAF heart rate, and then put in tiny doses of high-intensity training in order to stimulate neuromuscular development a little more. Once you’re ready to incorporate a bit of HIT, I encourage you to adopt an entirely new mindset: instead of thinking of HIT as “using up your energy,” do it until you feel stimulated but well-away from fatigue, and then do 2-3 days of aerobic training to make sure that you’re back to baseline before another anaerobic workout.

      Keep in mind that for a long time, your nervous system and muscles will be extremely sensitive to high-intensity training, so it’s paramount that you be conservative and build up your resilience slowly but surely.

  • Jegger says:

    My overtraining take months..I feel that Im at stage 2. I feel overexcitabilited wired and tired. My the big problem of recovery is sleep. I can’t to get 7/8 hours of sleep. Everynight I wake up at 2 in the night and can’t return to sleep. Sometimes I can sleep 7 hours but this is only sometimes. When I wake up without sleep in the morning I know that my aids stay in place and I get stressed out and despressed. I experimented with meals,macro,micro,timing,dosing but once help others not help. I don’t train, only walking around 30min/1 hours per day.Any advices?

    • The sleep/wake cycle is tied to your hormones. One of the best ways to regulate your hormones is to start by having a relatively filling, relatively fatty breakfast. (An omelet with cheese, avocado, and veggies is a good example). Doing so will cause your body to be less wired and more relaxed throughout the day. Also, eat meals of decreasing size throughout the day: big breakfast, medium lunch, small dinner. This will make your digestion easier at night and you’ll have an easier time sleeping.

      But the hormonal “reset” that you get with a big breakfast at the beginning of the day is probably the most important component.

  • Maddie says:

    Hi there – As I started training for marathons, about 2 years ago, I started putting on weight I just cannot shake. All of my hormones have been disrupted over the past 5 years also. I have now just been diagnosed with “insulin resistance” and been told to quit running. I am booked to run an overseas marathon in 6 weeks so I am going to keep going to that. Do you think running with the MAF method only would allow me to keep running or do you think I should follow the doctors orders and quit running to recover? I am so confused about what diet to follow, adrenal fatigue people recommend some carbs and more frequent eating yet with pre-diabetes the LCHF diet with some fasting is recommended?? Any help would be so gratefully received.

    • Maddie:

      Do you have adrenal fatigue? If so, running that marathon will strike a blow to your physiology. You don’t want to do that. One thing you can start by is doing the Two-Week Test. And in terms of training, replace running with walking. That will help re-build your low-level aerobic base. It’s only a good idea to start running once the adrenal fatigue is gone.

    • barb says:

      Please read The Metabolic Storm by Emily Cooper. Not only would you find it interesting because it relates to everything you are saying about your body, but it will help you solve the problems you are facing. I know this response is a year late. I very much hope you have already found this book because it could be life changing for you.

      My daughter is a runner and was having symptoms similar to you.

      Please read the book!

  • Shirley Oya says:

    I am 55 and have exercised regularly for many years. When I began working with a trainer a couple months ago I noticed myself feeling over tired, and my heart would sometimes race when exercising. When I did a stress test recently the cardiologist told me I had inappropriate heart rate recovery although she still considers me low risk because I have super good cholesterol and no other major problems. Could this poor hrr be caused by overdoing it recently with the trainer? I’ve also been experiencing more hormonal changes including anxiety and night palpitations. Of course now it’s hard to check my hrr because the whole experience has made me extra anxious when I exercise. thanks!

    • Shirley:

      Yes, that’s probably why. The best way to increase recovery is to train aerobically: the aerobic system in fact, directly aids recovery from anaerobic workouts. So, when your aerobic system isn’s sufficiently powerful to recover from the workout, you see your hrr suffer. The anxiety and palpitations are typical signs of non-functional overreaching—heralding overtraining.

      By dramatically reducing your anaerobic workouts and focusing on aerobic training, you’ll develop your body’s ability to tolerate such workouts in the future. But the signs and symptoms you mention indicate to me that indeed, your body cannot handle the volume of anaerobic training it is being subjected to.

  • Katherine says:

    Hey! It looks like I have stage 3 of OTS. And was told so by my sports doctor. So I was wondering once you have OTS are you ever able to get back to your normal training level again? I play soccer and so pretty much will I always be a step behind from the other players? Can I ever reach my maxim level again and can I ever get my heart beat rate back to normal like the other players?

  • cristina says:

    Hello, I was wondering if you have any doctor recommendations or advice about how to go about with overtraining. I am pretty sure that I am, if not surpassed, level 3 of overtraining. I have had an incredible weight loss to accompany it.. could muscle spasms also be another symptom because I have had a lot of spasms in certain areas where my strength has diminished? Is there any stories about people who have overcome this? I am really worried since I am a really low body mass index weight and fear that my heart, a muscle, has taken a hit. While I don’t have a heart monitor I know that my athletic durability has lessened.

    • Cristina:

      Sure. Most of Dr. Maffetone’s big athletes—Amanda Stevens, Mark Allen—have had big troubles with overtraining, and Dr. Maffetone helped them rekindle their athletic careers. If you are in stage 3 overtraining, the best thing you can do is rest, until the big negative health symptoms (muscle spasms, arrhythmia, etc.) stop occurring, and then start doing very low-level aerobic work.

    • Alex says:

      Hi, just thought i would like to let you know you are not alone in having muscle spasms. Through about 9 other symptoms included in OTS, muscle spasms have been one that i have not seen on the list of symptoms but still affect me. I have been struggling with stage 3 for about 6 months now and missed an entire wrestling season and am oping to be able to return in a month.

  • James Logan Posthumus says:

    Really great article..I think the problem is training can become an addiction so quick. Being an avid rugby player for many years i put my body under severe pressure on and off the field. While a student it was easy to get away with the overtraining as there was very little stress in my life. After work got quite hectic i tried to continue the training load and eventually the cracks started showing. The difficult part of all of this training was my “go to” as i was massively over weight as a youngster. However i never knew the word BALANCE and i kept pushing. About a year ago i suffered with a sever “flu” which in turn was the start of my downward spiral. I still never pulled up the hand break and continued to push and now i have no choice but to stop. All that i do now is very light swimming and yoga with walking added in (Is this acceptable as aerobic training?). I still am finding it very hard to accept the stop as my body is wired to go go go. However I’m positive i will get on top of this and i do believe that everything happens for a reason. I just need to find someone to help me draw up a training program in a few months time to not make the mistake of jumping straight into hyper drive when things feel ok! Good luck to everyone and know that you are not alone through your struggles!

    • James:

      The best measure of “aerobic training” is whether it occurs below the MAF heart rate. I feel the same way as you—I love racing, and it was very difficult at first to train at the MAF heart rate. I started running 9:50 minute miles and now I’m running 7:40 minute miles.

      Stick with it, and it can get quite exhilarating!

      • Courtney says:

        Hi Ivan,

        Can you please provide some insight as to how long it took you to progress from 9:50 minute miles to 7:40? And what was your previous pace before you started training at the MAF heart rate?

        I think I’ve been struggling with this for over a year. A year ago (almost to the week) I was in the final stages of training for my 8th half marathon and one day I could run fast, the next day I couldn’t. I was using a training plan that had wiped me out before (as in I tried it for other marathons and ended up scrapping it halfway through because it was too intense). And again, I felt like the speedwork was getting to tough. Then I noticed my long run times were becoming basically a slow shuffle and I haven’t been able to come out of it since. I had to miss races this year. Struggle with inflammation. And I’m depressed (mostly because I can’t run like I used to). I’ve had my blood work done, seen a chiropractor, nothing helps. Even took several weeks off. Scared this is permanent.

        • About 8 months. But I wasn’t overtrained, as it seems you might be. I think the problem you have might be overtraining. The issue is that when someone is overtrained, the first step usually isn’t to strengthen the aerobic system. I mean this in the same sense that when you have a broken bone, the first step isn’t to strengthen it. The first step is to heal it.

          A big problem with overtraining is that the aerobic system itself isn’t the only thing that gets damaged—or even the primary thing that gets damaged. In my opinion, the most important damage to know about is that the brain’s ability to tell the heart to pump harder, or to tell the muscles to contract more quickly, becomes damaged. So a big part of healing the body from overtraining is to let the nervous system rest quite completely and for a relatively long time. Afterwards, it’s necessary to build it back up to strength before it will safely tolerate even something as “low-intensity” as MAF training.

  • Peter says:

    I am amazed and relieved that the symptoms I have been getting recently are more than likely due to overtraining. I am so glad that I came across this particular website as now I can practice some of the advice given on this site, such as as reduce training by around 50 percent, look closer at my diet and adjust accordingly. The two main problems for me have been fatigue and anxiety, these two symptoms I find have a really negative effect on my day to day living and relationships.
    Thank you again.

  • Mateusz says:

    “Overtraining is a serious problem”- while others think that OTS don’t exist. 2 years out in life, muscle pains, depressed, fatigue, brainfog, headaches, high cortisol which causes feeling somehow after 5 cups of energized drinks on one time and others, I very slow come out, its light in tunnel. I can say that one stage of overtraining is alomost non-signed And we must very listen to our bodies.

    • Aaron Asphar says:

      I’ve only to spend the past 9 days weight training daily, done plenty of walking and rushing around, no relaxing, one body pump class in those 9 Days, and this morning I knew it had to be the last training session before a rest. Waking up at 5 a.m. every morning and not managing to go to bed as early as I’m trying to I think has been significant in what happened today. Just like you, after some heavy squats and lunges at the beginning of my session, I was jittery like I’d had 10 cups of coffee. I guessed it was cortisol, but had had an adequate breakfast, a little lower in carbs in usual, so I carried on.

      I entered my training session with deadlifts – the first time I might introduce them into my training plan. I knew it was important to start low so I did 25 reps of 25kg weights, just to try try and get the former right. That was easy so I picked up 30 kg and on my twelfth lift, I pulled a muscle in my lower back and had to stop immediately.

      Still jittery as Nobody’s Business I slammed my post workout fast carbs and protein, and soon the jittery diminished; but I felt strange, worried, at times anxious, was really restless despite trying to rest, and when I went for a walk I developed the same jitteriness like 10 coffees I had in the gym which gave way to anxiety, something which I never feel these days.

      I started to feel depersonalized, or things became the derealised, and was verging on a panic attack. Luckily I had just the medication I needed; lorazepam, a strong benzodiazepine in the Valium family, and I felt hypoglycemic so I had a few sweets to see if that made me feel better. All this indicates to me hormonal disturbances but probably even the 1st stage of overtraining. I will have to reduce my scope of exercises because of my back, and I will need to rest more, but I know I’m going to just try and push it to as much as I can with a probable risk of making things worse. It’s too much to ask of me to stop exercising completely.

      Any words of advice or Wisdom or encouragement would be well appreciated.

      Many thanks and kind regards,

  • Jana says:

    Could overtraining syndrome be linked to fluoroquinolone use? (ie the use of Levaquin, Avelox or Cipro) Has anyone every done a retrospective study on this? Striking similarities to fluoroquinolone toxicity.

    • Jana:

      It could, but generally the cause is chronic stress. (One of the mechanisms for stress could be fluoroquinolone use, although I’m not aware of any studies). However, OTS happens in otherwise perfectly fit and healthy athletes who aren’t taking any medication and have exemplary diet habits.

      • Jana says:

        Thank you for your response, just seeing it now. It is noteworthy that fluoroquinolone toxicity can have a delayed onset. It did in my case. The listed side effects include all of the symptoms described in OTS. Being a mountaineer in the past, I noted that I started struggling about a year after with poorer performance. It was two years later that everything hit the fan. It is known that these drugs cause mitochondrial and collagen damage, in addition to cardiac, neuro and CNS issues like sleep,, temperature regulation etc. UC San Diego is currently doing research on FQs.

  • Hi Chloe!

    We work with athletes (male and female) to overcome overtraining syndrome. If interested feel free to contact us at 937-350-5527. Initial consultation by phone/skype is free, please fax or scan all labs/testing prior. At that time we can discuss the details of our 2 week program.

    All the Best in Health and Wellness!

    Dr. Rob

  • Rafael says:

    Is it possible to get overtrainined by running exclusively aerobic? I’ve been following the Maffetone method by 3 weeks (after 3 months without any training) and get stressed out waking up at 4pm, very irritated on mornings after the workouts and poor performance.
    I follow the LCHF diet and just incorporated coffee in it.

    • Rafael:

      If you’re irritated and stressed out while waking, then you are most certainly not exercising aerobically. You’ve probably been exercising too much, not letting your body recover, and turning what should be an aerobic workout into an anaerobic one. Check your resting heart rate. What you’ll probably find is that it’s very high, leaving very little room between your RHR and your MAF HR. This means that it takes a very small increase in intensity for you to reach your MAF HR, meaning that there’s very little room for your speed to pick up.

  • Chloe says:

    I became overtrained 3 years ago. Although I have taken numerous steps to remedy the problem and I’ve made improvement, I’m still suffering. I can’t find a doctor who really understands what I’m going through or how to help. I feel like I’ve done some kind of permanent damage. I’ve been to 3 different physiatrists who supposedly specialize in sports medicine. I’ve also been to 2 orthopedist and 2 physical therapists. Oddly enough a personal trainer that I went to ended up helping me the most. I would like to find a medical specialist to help me address these unresolved issues though. I live in the Boston area. How do I find a doctor who specializes in overtraining ?

    • Chloe:

      We currently don’t have a list of health practitioners that are familiar to the MAF Method or that specialize in overtraining. It’s very difficult to find even a lot of research articles on the matter. What I would do is follow the MAF principles. Do the two-week test and make sure that your diet is appropriate, then use the 180-Formula and train according to the MAF test. These principles really do work.

      You know, I had a botany professor once who told me that 99% of people came to her wondering if it was lack of some obscure micronutrient that was causing their plants not to grow. But what she said was that in 99% of cases, the problem was the wrong amount of sunlight, or the wrong amount of water. When you are having chronic health problems (including overtraining) it is overwhelmingly likely that some basic component of your health is deficient, as opposed to some obscure or complex component. The two-week test and the 180-Formula are designed to help you tackle the basics.

      Do them diligently, and make sure that you learn about your body in the process. You’ll probably end up solving the majority of your health problems.

  • Eric Fisak says:

    Great article on over training. I found it very helpful. I have been suffering from overtraining for several years. I think my biggest problem is that once I start feeling better, I begin introducing intensity or volume before I am ready. I then find myself right back where I started. Would training with a heart monitor help to evaluate my training threshold?

    • Ivan Rivera says:


      I’m an editor on the site.

      The answer to your question is: absolutely. Training with a heart rate monitor is essential to maintain the proper training intensity. For more guidance on this you can go to The 180-Formula.

      Hope this helps.


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