Why You Might Be Overtraining (And How to Recover Quickly)

If you love to work out a lot, there may be times that you go a little too hard and forget to pay attention to your body.

You may have been feeling super strong, then all of a sudden, you feel exhausted, have low energy, and want to skip your workouts. Did you overtrain?

We’ve talked about how to read signs that may tell you that you’re overtraining and what to do if you need to cut back on exercising. But what do you do when you’ve gone further than just being a little bit tired and when just a few rest days don’t fix the issue?

If you did happen to overtrain, there are two major things that will help you to get back to your workout routine: rest and food.

Sleep—A Lot

Enough sleep doesn’t only give your muscles rest, it also balances your hormones. When you overtrain, your hormones can get messed up as well.

Good sleep is one of the first things that helps you to fix it.

When you don’t get enough sleep, levels of growth hormone decrease, and cortisol, the stress hormone, will increase. Elevated cortisol levels make the body hold on to fat, weaken your immunity, and make you more prone to pick up colds and infections.

Sleep also plays a huge role in your mood, which is more important than you might realize when it comes to recovery! The more sleep you get, the better you feel. And the less cranky you are the easier it is to deal with overtraining.

It takes quite a bit of mental toughness, especially if you’re used to working out five or six days a week and you need to take off a full week…

Take a Full Week Off

When you overtrain and cause more serious damage to your body, a few days of rest probably won’t make much—or any—difference in terms of recovery. At this point, you should go ahead and take a full week off.

It may seem scary at first. A whole seven days without working out! People who are having hard time getting out there and moving consistently probably can’t relate too much to this sentiment, but I have a feeling that there are bunch of you that know exactly what I mean.

Think about it this way: you’ve worked out consistently for months and even years, can one week really set you back that far? After all, you won’t forget how to do burpees or pull ups, and you can still take walks, ride your bike, and do things around the house so you can still keep moving.

That one week off may be all you need to get back to where you left off.

Don’t Skip Your Meals

You may be tempted to skip your meals to consume less calories because, well—you’re not training and you may be afraid of weight gain.

Sure, you definitely burn a little less calories every day when you don’t train as much and sleep more. But even if you overtrain and can’t workout as much as you used to, going too extremes in cutting calories may not be a good idea either, because feeding your tired body properly is extremely important for faster recovery.

As a matter of fact, undereating may be the reason why overtraining happened at first place. If you’re putting your body through extremely vigorous workouts on a regular basis, you need to eat accordingly.

If you want to shed fat and lose weight, don’t aim for an extremely big caloric deficit while doing really hard HIIT workouts.

That doesn’t mean that you should be downing pints of ice cream and cookies while waiting your body to heal and recover. Your food should still come from whole, real food sources–just like when you’re working out.

Get All Your Macros In

As you know, protein is important building material for muscles and essential for recovery. Aim to eat a lot of protein, even if you can’t work out, to make sure and get all the essential nutrients and amino acids that your body needs for muscle repair.

Of course, don’t forget about fats too. They’re what actually keep you full.

There’s no reason to cut out fat from your diet even if you’re not exercising. Dietary fat and body fat are two different things, and all dietary fat that you consume doesn’t magically turn into fat on your belly.

It’s also important to pay close attention to carb intake also while recovering from serious overtraining. Before you ask… yes, a low carb diet may be a good weight loss strategy for sedentary people. But the majority of 12 Minute Athlete readers are really athletes, many of whom are working out 4-6 days a week, and for these people, we recommend to keep carbs in their menu.

There’s a link between carbohydrate intake and the levels of cortisol, the “stress hormone.” Depletion in carb storages may raise cortisol levels, which in turn lowers the body’s ability to fight infections and weakens the immune system.

You don’t want to catch a cold and put your overtrained body through even more!

Don’t Overtrain Again

If you’ve ever overtrained, you know how bad it feels. Even if staying in bed and watching Netflix may be fun for a few days, you probably get sick of it pretty quick.

So try and learn from your mistakes. Here’s what you can do to prevent overtraining again:

  • Keep a workout diary. Whether you use a fitness tracker, type things up on your computer, or use an old school pen and paper, it’s always a good idea to keep your eye on your workouts. Fitness trackers can show you exact numbers on how much you worked out, how much energy you spent, and what your heart rate was like. If you notice that you’re getting back to numbers that were clearly too much for you and lead you to overtrain last time, slow down.
  • Be cautious about the first signs of overtraining. You probably remember what the first signs of overtraining were last time you experienced it. Were you irritable, was it hard to sleep, did your heart keep beating faster than normal, or could you barely finish your planned workout? If any of those signs make a comeback, it’s probably time to take a step back.
  • Stress less. If your life gets stressful, you don’t have to push through every situation and do your workout no matter what. Yes, we always say here that there are no excuses, but there are times that can get so stressful that it’s wiser to cut the exercise down a bit. Mental stress affects body very similarly to physical stress, so if you’re having really tough times but you still keep pushing through your workouts no matter what, you may overtrain again.

Take Care of Your Body

If you realize you’ve overtrained, make sure to take really good care of your body!

Keep your diet solid and nutritious, and sleep, sleep, sleep. Use this time to analyze where things went wrong and think what you can do better next time not to overtrain again.

And most of all, don’t beat yourself up too much about it—overtraining happens to athletes of all levels, so if you experience it, don’t get too discouraged. Just take a deep breath, be kind to yourself, and start taking care of your body. You’ll get back to 100% in no time!


Kersten Kimura is a NASM PT, kettlebell enthusiast and a fan of HIIT workouts. After relocating from chilly Estonia to California, she has taken full advantage of the area and works out outdoors whenever possible. You can find her throwing around her sandbag or swinging kettlebells at local parks, or sprinting along the gorgeous Bay Trail.

Find out more about Kersten here and sign up for her newsletter to get her one week equipment free workout plan and seven simple dinner recipes.

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10 thoughts on “Why You Might Be Overtraining (And How to Recover Quickly)”

  1. I love this post! One question. How long and how often do you train? Is 16 minute athlete 5 days a week too much? I’m 49, train hard 3 days a week and run the other two. I’m always sore. I had to take a week off and feel much better! Maybe I overtrain?

    • Hi Jeff, thanks for your question! It’s very individual and how much training is good for you depends on you and only you.

      Here are some signs that tell you that you’re probably over training: Feeling exhausted more often than usually, you can’t finish your workouts, you cut your workouts shorter, feel the lack of energy and motivation, need to sleep more OR you have hard time sleeping, and your muscles get sore very easily and don’t recover as quickly as they used to.

      If you took a week off and feel better, then yes, you probably overtrained. I would probably cut down to 4x a week and see how you feel!

  2. Very helpful article. I definitely had symptoms of overtraining from skipping a rest day, having two back-to-back workouts the next day, and only eating 1200 calories daily. I was still exhausted by Wednesday, but I pushed myself one last time to do a high intensity, high volume, full body workout. For the next few days, I was exhausted and irritable to the point of almost having a meltdown. I couldn’t sleep no matter how tired I was and when I did sleep, I didn’t feel recovered. Today is my 4th rest day. I plan on getting back to the gym on Monday, but only keeping it to 1 full body workout and skipping my second workout. This is the 2nd time I’ve overtrained, but now I know how to recognize the symptoms before I push myself too hard.

  3. My daughter is mid teens and is a distance runner. All of last term, she has been struggling with speed and with her training sessions, and suffering from sore muscles. It got too much and she rested buy has lost a lot of strength. Should she keep resting and hope to get some strength back, or can she do strengthening exercises? We’re not really sure when she can start adding the load again. Could you give some advice?

  4. Thanks for the article, some useful takeaways. I have been hammering myself for months/years. Couldn’t understand why progress has halted. I’m blatantly overtrained/under recovered. Will dial it way back for a while and see if I improve


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