After intense training sessions, I sometimes have the following symptoms:

  • My mind races. I can still be functional and productive, but getting it to hold still long enough to make a simple decision is harder than it should be. In my journal I've used the word "scattered" to describe this feeling.
  • I have trouble going to sleep, both at night and for naps.

I've read this sort of thing described as "overtraining", or "CNS fatigue", which I put in quotes because they seem to be controversial.

This forum post seems to be describing the same thing, except it has a focus on nutrition and supplements to combat these conditions.

I want to know, in terms of what's going on in the body, what these conditions are. Please include citations (preferably academic) in your answers.

  • The first post in the linked thread is talking about pretty run-of-the-mill symptoms: very heavy squats and deadlifts requiring enormous recovery and, when too heavy, causing symptoms of depression. You're describing other symptoms that seem to be unrelated. Are you experiencing the symptoms from the Sherdog thread as well? (Also, what workouts are causing this?) Aug 23 '11 at 3:38
  • really just the trouble sleeping; mood might be a little off too. the instances i have documented came after heavy squats and heavy benchpress, which might have been preceded by nights of inadequate sleep, but i'm not sure
    Aug 23 '11 at 3:50
  • Check out this Q&A about overtraining. Insomnia and decreased appetite are symptoms. There's a sportsmedicine.about.com link there. Aug 23 '11 at 3:54
  • thanks for the link. i'm more interested in the underlying physiology, so i'm planning to read books.google.com/…. hopefully i'll be able to answer my own question after that
    Aug 23 '11 at 4:25
  • 2
    Would you please start using capitalization in your posts? I'd hate to go through every one of your posts to correct it.
    – Ivo Flipse
    Aug 23 '11 at 9:06

Overtraining is a very real thing. In a nutshell:

"Overtraining is the cumulative result of relentless high-volume or high-intensity training, or both, without adequate recovery, that results in the exhaustion of the body's ability to compensate for training stress and adapt to it." (Practical Programming--Rippetoe and Dr. Kilgore)

According to the Practical Programming book, symptoms that accompany overtraining include:

  • Primary indicator is a loss of performance capacity
  • Disrupted sleep
  • Increased chronic pain
  • Abnormal mood swings
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Change in appetite
  • Other physical and mental abnormalities--can look like depression in severe cases.

Correcting Overtraining

There are several factors that affect recovery, including:

  • Rest (this is priority 1 if you are overtrained)
  • Sleep
  • Nutrition--both macro nutrients and micronutrients need to be right
  • Stress--life stress can compound training stress

You can choose to take one of two approaches:

  • Reduce your work load so that it is about 50-60% of what you were doing until the symptoms are relieved.
  • Take a break until you really feel the need to get back in the gym.

Paul Carter calls it "feeling crispy", and his recommendation is to just take time off until the gym is calling you. The reason being that sometimes you need a complete mental break from the stress of even going to the gym. Once your body is ready for more work, it will want to go back to the gym.

  • Do you have an approximate idea of how long it may take to heal? Like maybe 1-4 week depending on the severity? It's been 3 weeks for me, and I haven't recovered, but I had push myself in the gym despite feeling out of it and although there was no injury, I seem to have destroyed my own body so it's taking quite a while to heal. Dec 11 '18 at 2:06
  • 1
    Roughly as long as it took to get into that state. If you've been pushing yourself for a couple months into that state, don't expect to get out of it any sooner. This article might have some good tips: jasonstake.com/recover-from-overtraining.html Dec 11 '18 at 13:34

Overtraining is a chronic problem. The best indicator for overtraining is your progress in the gym. It's not possible to be overtrained while making good progress. The first symptom you describe is perfectly normal after an intense workout. Just make sure to hydrate, drink a post-workout shake (Protein + Carbs), rest and you should feel fine within an hour or so.

Your second symptom doesn't seem connected to training. A lot of people have trouble sleeping for a variety of reasons. Just because you can't sleep doesn't mean it's a direct symptom of overtraining.

Overtraining isn't a specific medical condition, instead it's an umbrella term that describes various symptoms related to exercising too much -in relation to other factors like calorie, protein, sleep, stress levels etc.

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