If you read interviews with top athletes, especially powerlifters and bodybuilders, a favorite question seems to be whether or not they made any mistakes in their early training. Most will say that they spent too much time overtraining early in their careers. Many of these athletes feel that if they hadn’t overtrained, they could’ve reached their current levels more quickly or maybe they could’ve been even better than they already are.

Overtraining is a result of training stress in addition to the rest of life’s stresses exceeding an athlete’s ability to recover. This results in stagnation or even injury. At a minimum, it’s inefficient, meaning the athlete won’t improve at his optimal rate. If overtraining is so bad and it’s easy enough to fall into, what can you do about it? Well I’m glad you asked!

Below are five practical tips that you can use to prevent and/or treat overtraining. They aren’t in a particular order, nor are they all inclusive. However, they are effective. So without further delay, let’s jump right in.

Stress Management
Overtraining is an overstress condition. This means that there is simply too much stress on the body. If you find yourself in an overreached or overtrained state, take some additional measures to reduce the stress on your body. Some things will be beyond your control, but you can affect other things. Get to bed early, stop worrying about stuff and don’t get into arguments with your spouse. You can also reduce your training stress. All stressors affect your body similarly. They all require your body to expend energy to “fix” it. So if you’re in an overreached state, it’s a great idea to take measures to avoid excess training stress. This brings me to my next tip.

Volume Control

When it comes time to reduce training stress, I like to start by reducing the volume. If you were to separate the roles of volume and intensity, most of your training effect will be determined by the intensity. Volume will determine the magnitude of that effect. If an athlete is having trouble recovering from training, reduce the volume of his training. This preserves the training effects intended by the program but allows for better recovery. It’s kind of like turning down the volume on a stereo. It’s the same music, just not as loud.

However, in more severe or chronic cases of overtraining, a more significant stress reduction may need to take place. At this point, it’s necessary to reduce the intensity. Yes, this will change the training effects of the program, but if you’re overtraining, you won’t get any of those effects anyway.

Monitor Your Status

As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The best way to prevent overtraining is to recognize the warning signs and react to them accordingly—before they get to be a problem.

Recognizing symptoms of overtraining has always been a difficult task for coaches and athletes. Most go by feel while others use any of several various tests as a barometer for overtraining. If you’re really lucky, you might have a much more complicated (and expensive) piece of equipment that can measure the status of various body systems.

Personally, I’m not a fan of “going by feel.” I like to be a bit more objective with my training. Over time, I’ve found that “going by feel” can lead to inefficiency in training—something my athletes and I can’t afford to have. This is why we developed the training recovery assessment computer (TRAC). The TRAC contains three tests that are performed first thing in the morning. These tests take about ten minutes and may seem rather ordinary. However, it’s the specially developed methods for assessing those tests that really supercharges the TRAC system. It gives the user a report every morning that tells him the status of his bodily stress, central nervous system functionality, autonomic nervous system (ANS) balance, and adaptive reserves. The TRAC is surprisingly accurate, doesn’t require any special equipment, and is very affordable. If you’d like more information on the TRAC, please see the Team RTS section of my website at www.ReactiveTrainingSystems.com.

However you choose to do it, monitor yourself for overtraining indications. If you see them starting to occur, don’t just treat it with wishful thinking.

Passive Recovery
Passive recovery is another great way to improve recovery. Passive recovery methods (such as contrast showers and massage) can work through a couple of mechanisms. They can affect the muscle itself by inducing additional blood flow to bring in nutrients and remove metabolic by-products. Passive methods can also affect you on a systemic level. In this sense, they help your entire body recover at a faster rate mostly by encouraging balance in the autonomic nervous system (ANS).

Here’s a crash course in the ANS. It’s a part of the nervous system that controls automatic processes (hormones, digestion, heart rate, blood flow). The ANS is composed of two sides—the sympathetic (fight or flight) and the parasympathetic (rest and digest).

Without going into a large amount of detail regarding the ANS, suffice it to say that we generally want our ANS to be balanced or slightly parasympathetic (unless we’re getting ready for training or a competition). This is better for overall recovery. Overtraining often results in the ANS being shifted to the sympathetic side. If this is the case, we want to choose passive recovery methods that promote the parasympathetic side. This helps bring our ANS back into balance and results in a faster recovery rate.

Some methods that can shift you back toward parasympathetic are hot bathing/hot whirlpool for 15–20 minutes, relaxation massage, stretching, and even meditation. Although some of these methods are foreign to some, they do work.

Sometimes overtraining can push the ANS the opposite way and leave you parasympathetic dominant. In this case, you still show impaired recovery. The above methods won’t help either. This time you’ll need to employ methods intended to strengthen the sympathetic side of the ANS. Some examples of these methods are contrast showers, hot-cold therapy, and vigorous massage.

In general, the first set of methods tends to be more relaxing while the second set of methods tends to be more invigorating. The key to knowing which set to use is to know the state of your ANS. For some additional information on this, please refer to the above section.


The last tip is to simply relax. Most people miss this one because we get so caught up in always doing more. Not getting stronger? Do more work. Not recovering enough? Use more recovery methods. You get the picture. But this isn’t always the best or most efficient course of action. Sometimes the best thing to do is just relax a bit and take some time to do nothing training related.

Now remember — I said relax. I mean actually relax, not watch television or play video games. Often those two activities are used during the evening hours before bed. They are also stimulatory in nature, which can disrupt sleep patterns and also push that sympathetic imbalance I was talking about earlier. It is far better to spend some time in quiet conversation or reading to help prepare you for sleep. If that doesn’t sound like your “thing,” that’s fine. Do what you want, but realize the decision you’re making will affect your recovery and ultimately how you achieve your goals.

By now, you understand a little more about overtraining, how to avoid it, and what to do if it happens. If you put at least a few of these methods into practice, you’re sure to improve your training efficiency, which will result in bigger gains over the long term. Thanks for reading!