Overtraining - How Do You Know if You're Working Out Too Much?

Woman recovering after hard workout
Getty Images/Yuri_Arcurs

While there are those of us who wish we had the problem of doing too much exercise, overtraining really can be a problem for some exercisers.  The question is, how much is too much?

The short answer?  Well, it depends.

How Much is Too Much?

Yes, they say you can never be too rich or too thin, but you can exercise too much and, if you do, it can actually sabotage your fitness goals.  I know we sometimes think more exercise is better, but not if it's taxing your body to a point of diminishing returns.

Our bodies need a certain amount of rest and recovery to grow stronger, fitter and to lose weight, believe it or not.

How You Know

  • You feel tired, fatigued and out of sorts - Yes, this can be caused by other things, but if you don't have any medical conditions and you've been exercising a lot, it may be due to too many workouts
  • You have an elevated resting heart rate (RHR)- You can monitor this by checking your RHR on a regular basis.  The best time to do this is first thing in the morning before you get out of bed.  If you can do this without falling asleep, take your pulse for one full minute.  Do this for about 3 days and take the average, which will give you a general RHR.  If this number gets higher and you're having other symptoms, you may be overtraining.
  • Your performance is in the toilet - We all have our foundation workouts, the ones that feel a certain way or tax us in a certain way.  If that workout feels way harder than usual, you might be overtraining.
  • You feel down and/or depressed - Believe it or not, when your body doesn't have enough recovery, you can actually feel depressed.  Our minds and bodies are connected and if one isn't working right, it often effects the other.
  • More stress hormones in the body - Stress hormones mean you're stressed, of course, but guess what else this means?  That it will be harder to manage your weight since these hormones can cause weight gain.
  • Lowered immune system - When your immune system is on the blink, you're much more susceptible to catching a cold, the flu or some other illness.

What Causes Overtraining?


  • Exercising too frequently - How much you're supposed to exercise and how much your body can handle are often two different things.  Plus, we all handle exercise in a different way.  Some can exercise every day for an hour or more while, for others, that might be too much.  If you do have symptoms, looking at your schedule should be your first step.
  • Too much high intensity exercise - HIIT is the big thing these days but, what a lot of people don't realize is that you don't want to do those high intensity workouts every single day.  They're very taxing the body and you need some recovery in between.  Try working a variety of intensities into your workout routine.
  • Not enough rest and recovery days - And if you're worried about losing fitness, it actually takes much longer than a few days to lose any fitness, endurance or strength
  • Increasing your exercise too quickly - We've probably all done the weekend warrior thing and done too much, but do that regularly and you could set yourself up for overtraining.  In general, start with a level of exercise your body can handle  - say 2-3 days at a moderate intensity and gradually build on that.

What To Do if You're Overtraining?

Stop.  That's about as simple as it gets, but let me be more specific.  You don't have to stop exercising, but you should probably stop the type of exercise you're doing - That and/or change your schedule.

  • Add more rest days
  • Change your workouts - Try a week of yoga if you usually do a lot of cardio or try lifting weights if you only do yoga
  • Focus on feeling good - Take walks, stretch, do things that feel good to your body
  • Get a massage - It won't cure overtraining, but it feels good!


Smith, L.  "Overtraining, Excessive Exercise, and Altered Immunity."  Sports Med. 2003;33(5):347-64. Ret Oct 5, 2015. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12696983 

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