By Carl Green 
This post is part of my “Running Success” series, so please take a look at other topics covered. Also, the “Musculoskeletal Conditions” series provides lots more free information. 

What is overtraining? 

Overtraining in running refers to the demands of training surpassing the body's capacity to adapt and recover. It can manifest through both acute/short-term and chronic/prolonged or cumulative mechanisms. 

Acute Overtraining 

Acute overtraining happens when sudden, drastic changes in training volume, intensity or frequency overwhelms the body's ability to adapt and recover. This leads to immediate physiological and psychological strain. Factors, such as rapid increases in training load, can strain the body and increase chances of overtraining. This refers to significant mileage increase or high-intensity interval training without enough preparation. 
Inadequate rest between training sessions can lead to cumulative fatigue and impairments in performance. Inadequate rest fails to provide the necessary time for tissue repair and regeneration. 

Chronic Overtraining 

Chronic overtraining develops over time. This is due to consistent excessive training stressors that surpass the body's ability to adapt and recover. Prolonged state of overreaching can lead to physical disruption and persistent performance decline. 
Not including structured periods of reduced training intensity or volume, causes inadequate recovery and maintains a cycle of chronic stress and fatigue. These structured periods can include deload weeks or recovery phases. 
Insufficient nutrients and hydration can impair the body's ability to recover from the stresses of training. The physiological strain of training heightens without proper nutrition and hydration. This increases the risk of overtraining. 

What are the effects of overtraining? 

Overtraining can lead to risks to your performance and well-being both physically and psychologically. 

Physical effects of overtraining 

Hormonal Imbalance: 

Prolonged overtraining disrupts hormonal regulation. This leads to elevated cortisol levels and decreased testosterone levels. Elevated cortisol suppresses immune function and impairs tissue repair. Decreased testosterone contributes to muscle wasting and impaired performance. 

Musculoskeletal Strain: 

Overtraining places a significant burden on the musculoskeletal system. This can result in cumulative microtrauma and structural damage. Alongside inadequate recovery, this can lead to reduced function and an increased risk of traumatic injuries, such as: 
Overuse injuries, such as stress fractures, tendinopathies 
Please see my “Musculoskeletal Conditions” series for more information. 

Cardiovascular Stress: 

Intense training without adequate recovery compromises cardiac function. As a result, there can be an elevated resting heart rate and impaired heart rate variability. Prolonged cardiovascular stress can cause cardiac remodelling and increased risk of cardiovascular complications. 

Effect on Energy Systems and Metabolism: 

Overtraining disrupts energy production and utilisation leading to: 
Glycogen depletion 
Impaired mitochondrial function 
Altered metabolic regulation 
This exacerbates muscle wasting, compromises metabolic efficiency and increases fatigue. 

Pain and Discomfort: 

Overtraining heightens susceptibility to various forms of discomfort. These include persistent muscle soreness, joint stiffness and localised pain. Additionally, overtraining can cause flare ups of existing injuries or musculoskeletal issues, such as: 
Plantar fasciitis 
Flare ups can be identified by sudden spikes in pain intensity and often associated restricted range of motion after rest. These flare ups disrupt training consistency and impede progress. 
I will be covering pain for runners in more detail in a separate post, so stay tuned for that. You may also benefit from reading our previous posts on various musculoskeletal conditions. 

Psychological effects of overtraining 

Overtraining also strains the mind, leading to heightened fatigue and mood disturbances. 
Excessive training depletes energy reserves, causing a perpetual sense of exhaustion. This affects both physical and mental well-being. 
Injuries caused by overtraining can disrupt the usual training routine. This contributes to feelings of loss and frustration. 
Overtrained individuals may experience persistent lethargy, apathy, and irritability. It may be challenging to manage daily stressors and maintain a positive outlook. 
Mood disturbances, such as irritability, anxiety and depression are commonly present when overtraining. The chronic stress from intense training disrupts neurotransmitter balance, particularly serotonin and dopamine. 
This imbalance can result in: 
Heightened emotional reactivity 
Mood swings 
A diminished capacity for pleasure and enjoyment 
As a result, overtraining can impact interpersonal relationships and quality of life. 

Decreased Performance and Plateauing: 

Despite their best efforts, overtrained individuals often encounter diminishing returns in performance. Increased training no longer results in significant more improvements. The body becomes unable to adapt to training stimuli. This is due to insufficient recovery causing plateau or worsening despite physical effort. The psychological impact can affect self-belief and reduce motivation to persist in training. 

Setbacks, Flare-Ups and Enjoyment: 

Overtraining heightens the risk of setbacks and flare ups due to: 
The cumulative strain on the body 
Exacerbating pre-existing vulnerabilities 
Susceptibility to injury and illness 
These setbacks disrupt training continuity, intensifying the psychological burden of overtraining. 
Flare ups serve as stark reminders of the body's limits. Some may push even harder out of frustration, whereas others scale back their training too much for fear of harming themselves. In either case, this disrupts training consistency and appropriate progression. This hinders the development of endurance, speed, and performance. It also reduces enjoyment and appropriate readiness for further training. 

Recovering from and Preventing Overtraining in Running 

Adopting a balanced training regime that emphasises both exertion and recovery is essential when addressing risks caused by overtraining. Here are some key strategies to reduce the likelihood and impact of overtraining: 

Prioritise Recovery 

Recognise the significance of rest and recovery in preventing overtraining. Ensure that you have enough time between similar and more intense training sessions. Integrating rest days into your training schedule allows your body to repair and regenerate. This helps you to be ready for the next challenge. 

Follow a Structured Training Plan 

Consider well-designed training programs that include periods of rest and varying intensity levels. Balancing high-intensity workouts with lower-intensity sessions is crucial for sustained progress. 
Ensure the plans you select are realistic for your lifestyle, fitness level and experience, time and environment. This makes adhering to a structured training promotes more likely to be consistent. It allows for more control over all aspects of your running and strength and conditioning training, as well as rest and recovery. 
Remember generic training plans downloaded off apps and the Internet are exactly that, generic. Unless an expert has assessed your body, history, lifestyle goals in detail, please amend and adapt these plans to your needs. Alternatively, get booked in with me or my colleagues to support this. 

Listen to Your Body 

Develop a reliable and purposeful awareness of your body's responses to training stimuli. Monitoring this in a simple repeatable way between sessions helps you notice signs of fatigue, soreness or declining performance. You can then use this information to adjust your training. Again, this is something we can support you with. 

Build Mental Resilience and Reliability 

Acknowledge the importance of mental strength in navigating training challenges and overcoming setbacks. This is different to pushing through pain and adversity. Instead this is the mental resilience and realistic self assessment of accepting changes when needed. You will become comfortable with coping and managing setbacks or unforeseen challenges. Building mental strength, focus and self-compassion will help you to maintain motivation and focus toward your long-term goals. 


Overtraining in running encompasses both acute and chronic mechanisms. Both of these pose significant risks to athletes' performance and wellbeing. 
Acute overtraining arises from sudden changes in training volume or intensity. Chronic overtraining results from sustained exposure to excessive stressors. 
The factors contribute to both forms of overtraining: 
Rapid increases in training load 
Insufficient recovery 
Lack of periodisation 
Poor nutrition 
Psychological effects involve: 
Increased fatigue 
Mood disturbances 
Decreased performance 
Diminished enjoyment of running 
Physiological effects include: 
Hormonal imbalances 
Musculoskeletal strain 
Cardiovascular stress, 
Disruptions to energy systems and metabolism 
Strategies to reduce the risk and impact of overtraining include: 
Prioritising recovery 
Adhering to structured training plans 
Listening to the body 
Cultivating mental resilience 
By adopting a balanced approach to training, athletes can optimise performance while safeguarding against the detrimental effects of overtraining. This promotes long-term success and well-being in the sport of running. 

What’s next? 

The next post in this “Running Success Series” I will cover “Misinterpreting Pain”. 
As always please get in touch with us at Colchester Physiotherapy and Sports Injuries Clinic if you have any training, health or injury needs. We can support you in your running progress, or life in general. 


Carl Green 

Carl is a Specialist Musculoskeletal Physiotherapist, Sports Science and Human Biology graduate, former Lecturer in Sport and Exercise, Personal Trainer, and Sports Massage Therapist. 
He has worked as a Physio within the NHS at a senior level, sports injury clinics, his own practice, stroke rehabilitation, occupational health and chronic pain. Carl also has first hand experience of acute and chronic injuries, pain, surgery, and disability, giving him a deeper understanding how these can affect us both physically and psychologically. 
He started his career in health and fitness in 2002. Empowering people to achieve their goals, overcome challenges, and reduce future problems through lifestyle/behaviour change and exercise has continued to be a big part of his approach as a Physio. 
Carl has tried many sports, but mainly focused on rugby, gym training, running (5k to half marathon), and Muay Thai Boxing. He also enjoys snowboarding, home gym training, teaching his dog tricks and playing fetch, covering songs on his guitar, and has recently taken up archery. 
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