Overwork and Fatigue in Sports

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Almost any athlete can tell you about the importance of rest and how crucial it is to take care of your body. Yet many athletes push themselves too hard, often leading to overwork and fatigue in the sports they play.

While there are times when pushing through the pain is necessary, learning how to listen to your body and taking care of yourself is key to preventing overwork and fatigue from ruining your career or season. 

Understanding the signs and symptoms of overwork and fatigue allows you to seize control of your training before these conditions sideline you. In this post, we’ll explore the causes, signs, and symptoms of overwork and fatigue in sports and offer some tips on how to manage them. Let’s get started!

What is Overtraining?

Overtraining is a training program with insufficient time for recovery, leading to extreme fatigue and potential burnout. When you overwork your body without giving it adequate time to recover, you can quickly reach a point where your body and mind slow down. When this happens, the risk of injury or illness increases dramatically.

Overtraining is most common in sports that involve frequent and intense training, such as swimming, long-distance running, and basketball. While it can happen to anyone who doesn’t give themselves adequate time for rest and recovery, overtraining tends to be more common among elite athletes.

What Causes Overtraining?

Overtraining occurs when the physical stress on your body is more significant than what your body can handle. For some athletes, the physical stress of training may be too much to handle without proper rest. However, sometimes it’s mental or emotional stress that causes overtraining.

This means if you aren’t getting enough emotional or psychological recovery (meaning you’re overworked), you could be putting yourself at risk of overtraining. This is especially common in sports like boxing, hockey, and football, where the mental stress of competition can be intense.

Signs and Symptoms of Overtraining

Overtraining has many signs and symptoms that can manifest quickly or take months to develop. Here are some warning signs to watch for:

1. Excessive Fatigue

If you’re feeling extremely tired and continually exhausted, chances are you’ve reached the point of overtraining. While it’s normal to feel tired during training, especially after strenuous workouts or challenging sports matches, it should never be a daily struggle.

If you find that everyday tasks take more effort than they usually do and lifting your arm to your face feels like running a marathon, you could be overtrained.

2. Lack of Progress

Overtraining can quickly lead to stagnation in training. If you hit the same weights or run the exact times for months on end without making significant improvements, chances are you’re not giving yourself adequate time for recovery between training sessions.

If you notice yourself flatlining in training, it’s time to take a deload week (a planned week of reduced training) or decrease your volume.

3. Elevated Resting Heart Rate

If you notice that your resting heart rate has changed, this could indicate that you’re overtrained. While some variability is expected, if your resting heart rate has risen significantly, it could be a sign that your body isn’t recovering properly.

4. Weight Changes

Rapid weight fluctuations are one of the most evident signs of overtraining in many sports. For athletes in sports like wrestling, boxing, and CrossFit competitions, weight management is a critical aspect of training. If you notice yourself losing or gaining excessive weight, you could be suffering from overtraining.

5. Moodiness and Anxiety

If your mood frequently swings between anger and sadness or if you’re feeling unusually anxious, chances are there’s some underlying stress that needs to be addressed.

Overtraining can lead to feelings of depression and anxiety, so if you feel overly stressed or anxious, it’s important to take a step back and evaluate your training program.

6. Reduced Performance

If you’re noticing that your performances in the gym or on the field are decreasing despite repeated efforts to overcome fatigue, chances are you’ve reached the point of overtraining. If your energy levels are low and you continue to struggle with certain exercises or tasks, it’s time to find a way to reduce the stress on your body.

7. Lack of Motivation

If you’re not looking forward to training and finding that daily life interferes with your ability to enjoy exercise, chances are you’re overtrained. Overtraining can lead to a decrease in motivation and interest in working out, so if you’re feeling less enthusiastic about exercise, it’s time to reevaluate your training program.

How Can Trainers Help Athletes Avoid Overtraining & Fatigue?

If you’re a coach, personal trainer, or sports nutritionist, there are many steps you can take to help your athletes avoid overtraining. Read on to learn some helpful tips:

1. Watch For Warning Signs

If you notice that an athlete seems overly fatigued or is showing other signs of overtraining, it’s important to address the issue immediately. Talk to your athletes and let them know that you’re aware of the warning signs and aren’t afraid to address overtraining as a topic.

2. Reduce Training Volume

If you notice an athlete showing signs of overtraining, reduce their training volume by about 30-50% for a few weeks or implement daily undulating periodization.

This training includes low-intensity and high-intensity workouts throughout the week, so athletes benefit from the reduced volume at lower intensities while still frequently training.

3. Increase Recovery

Recovery is an essential component of overtraining prevention, so be sure to implement daily undulating periodization along with active recovery days. Recovery can mean taking extra rest days, foam rolling, massaging your muscles, or drinking more fluids.

4. Implement Deload Training Periods

An important aspect of overtraining prevention is recovery time between intense workouts. Deloading refers to recovery between intense exercise sessions. This means you’re giving yourself enough time to recover between workouts and allowing your body to adapt to the training.

5. Evaluate Sport-Specific Needs

Working with a trainer or coach who has specific experience in your sport can help you address sport-specific needs that could otherwise lead to overtraining.

If core stability, hamstring flexibility, anaerobic power, etc., are problematic for your performance, a trainer who understands your sport can help you develop better training methods to improve those areas.


Athletes often find it difficult to listen to their bodies and take care of themselves. They are so focused on pushing through the pain and doing what they need to do to win that they forget about the importance of rest.

However, learning to take care of yourself is key to preventing overwork and fatigue from ruining your career or season. Take a few minutes every day to relax and rejuvenate; this will help you perform at your best when it matters most.