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Overtraining with Weights - Signs and Symptoms

Are you lifting too much or too often?


Updated July 06, 2004

Numerous signs and symptoms of overtraining have been suggested. It should be noted that not all of these symptoms will be present, and that the presence of some of these symptoms does not automatically mean an individual is overtrained. The ultimate determination of overtraining is whether performance is impaired or plateaued. Listed below are some frequently cited signs of overtraining:


  • Decreased performance (strength, power, muscle endurance, cardiovascular endurance)
  • Decreased training tolerance and increased recovery requirements
  • Decreased motor coordination
  • Increased technical faults


  • Altered resting heart rate (HR), blood pressure and respiration patterns
  • Decreased body fat and post-exercise body weight
  • Increased VO2, VE , and HR during submaximal work
  • Decreased lactate response
  • Increased basal metabolic rate
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Sleep and eating disorders
  • Menstrual disruptions
  • Headaches, gastrointestinal distress
  • Muscle soreness and damage
  • Joint aches and pains


  • Depression and apathy
  • Decreased self-esteem
  • Decreased ability to concentrate
  • Decreased self-efficacy
  • Sensitive to stress


  • Increased occurrence of illness
  • Decreased rate of healing
  • Impaired immune function (neutrophils, lymphocytes, mitogen responses, eosinophils)


  • Hypothalamic dysfunction
  • Increased serum cortisol and SHBG
  • Decreased serum total and free testosterone, testosterone/cortisol ratio
  • Decreased muscle glycogen
  • Decreased serum hemoglobin, iron, and ferritin
  • Negative N2 balance

The majority of these signs and symptoms are derived from endurance exercise overtraining research. Not all of these signs and symptoms have been linked with resistance exercise overtraining, due partly to a lack of relevant research on the topic, and to the fact that resistance exercise presents different physiological stress compared to endurance exercise.

If overtraining from resistance exercise has occurred, several simple steps can be taken, including:

  • One or more recovery days should be added to each training week.
  • Periodized training programs can provide the necessary training variety to avoid overtraining.
  • Avoid monotonous training.
  • Check that training volume and training intensity are inversely related.
  • Avoid too great a relative intensity (percent 1RM) for extended periods.
  • Avoid too great a training volume (number of sessions, exercises, sets and reps) for extended periods.
  • Avoid performing every set of every exercise of every session to absolute failure, with no variation.
  • Avoid incorrect exercise selection (overuse of certain muscles or joints).
  • Avoid excessive use of eccentric muscle actions.
  • Take into account the cumulative training stresses from other forms of exercise (i.e., cardiovascular training, sport-specific training, etc.)

Overtraining is of growing concern; more research is necessary for full understanding. It is clear that the exercise prescription is critically important to avoid a problem. Periodized training allows variation and is important for best results. Periodization includes phases of high training stress and planned periods for recovery and restoration. This applies to elite athletes well as to individuals exercising for general health and fitness.

Reprinted with permission of the American College of Sports Medicine, "Overtraining with Resistance Exercise," www.acsm.org.

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