The Difference Between Chronically Overloaded Muscles and Overtraining, Part III

TAGS: tools for recovery, overloaded muscles, Christopher Wolff, massage, foam roller, overtraining, recovery

Tools and measures to track recovery and progression

As part of your training, you should include some tools and measures to make sure that you're on the right track. Make it a habit to take your resting heart rate lying supine in bed after taking your first pee in the morning and before you have your first meal. This has shown to be unreliable to detect overtraining but can give you an indication of your general health and stress. Note how many hours you slept and how the quality of the sleep was. Weigh yourself regularly and note how you feel emotionally and physically. Watch out for inflammations and tendinitis. In addition to this, you should also perform the orthostatic test regularly. If positive, it indicates a stressed system that lacks rest. Too much stress will affect the nervous system, controlling your heart rate and blood pressure (4). However, in some people, it may always be positive due to other reasons such as diabetes, a fast metabolism, or low blood pressure. It's smart to do this test in a healthy state several times so that you have a base line for what is normal for you (4).

Perform submaximal testing at regular frequencies. Over time, your heart rate should decrease while the intensity and duration stay the same. In the case of overtraining, this won't be the case. Your heart rate will be higher at the same intensity or maybe even at a lower intensity. This shows a negative development of fitness and should be taken as a warning sign.

Be aware that the settings must be similar to use this procedure. Heat, humidity, excitement, dehydration, and so on will influence the results, making them unreliable. So to perform the submaximal test with the intention of checking for overtraining, the procedure must be done in the same precise fashion every time (4).

Submaximal testing won’t necessarily detect overloaded muscles, as it doesn't appear to have any influence in the aerobic training at the early stage. However, the opposite is true for overtraining, where there has been evidence of performing anaerobically in competition but with a lack of aerobic capacity in training (6). Overloaded muscles are more prone to underperform during high intensity, which can predict overload in an early stage, but a lot of the damage has already been done at that point.

Track all your trainings. Track your heart rate during workouts and, even more importantly, how your heart rate drops after training. The faster it drops back to normal, the fitter you are and the less toll the training took on your system. This might seem a bit excessive if you haven’t experienced overtraining or overloaded muscles, but if you have, these are good tools to make sure that you aren't getting back to it.


By studying the differences in athletes who underperform in sports, studies have shown different reasons as to why they underperform. There can be demonstrated characteristic differences in athletes suffering from pure overtraining, overloaded muscles, or both. Pure overtraining will show the classic, discrete signs and symptoms and won't interfere with the symptoms that alone classify overloaded muscles. In pure overtraining, there won’t be detected muscle dysfunction, and, in most cases, it will be cured within twelve weeks with rest and sufficient nutrition.

Rest alone won’t cure overloaded muscles or overtraining in combination with overloaded muscles. The athlete will test positive on hyper-tone muscles in the initial phase or hypo-tone/atonic tone in the following phase. There will also be reports of early production of lactic acid that won’t disappear when first accumulated. By looking at an athlete's training journal, we can tell these two apart, provided they don’t come in combination. While the typical overtrained athlete has trained too much or has too much stress, the athlete with the overloaded muscles may not have trained too much, but there was too much high intensity with too little structure, periodization, and variation. Unfortunately, if the muscles are overloaded and the athlete keeps on training, it’s likely the athlete will become overtrained as well, as it is a huge toll on the body when the muscles have a dysfunction. Always diagnose by examining the athlete's history, response during training, and the progression of the underperforming together with the clinical findings in the muscles. These two forms of underperforming can be separated, although they can appear in combination. If the diagnosis is pure overtraining, rest and easy activity together with adequate nutrition and information about the topic will be the way to recover. On the other hand, if the diagnosis is overloaded muscles or a combination, the treatment is massage, rest, smart activity, and information about the topic.

Note that the signs and symptoms in these two tables only work in the cases of pure overtraining or pure overloaded muscles. Don’t forget that they often occur in combination.


Even though there have been very good results with this treatment and training procedure, there haven't been enough scientific studies on a grand scale to verify the treatment procedure of athletes that underperform due to overloaded muscles (7). We still lack scientific evidence that can explain the cause of the muscular findings described to the underperformance of the athletes who are affected by overloaded muscles or 'feiltrening.' Literature indicates that these two reasons for underperforming in sports can be separated and that there are tests available to detect both and prevent both and procedures to treat both. Present knowledge is still insufficient to completely understand the mechanisms behind it. Extended scientific evidence is required to explain the cause of the muscular findings described in the athletes who underperform due to overloaded muscles (7).


1. Budgett R (1998)Fatigue and underperformance in athletes: the overtrining syndrome. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 32:107-10.

2. Lescaudron L, E Peltékian, J Fontaine-Pérus, D Paulin, M Zampieri, L Garcia and E Parrish. (1999). Blood borne macrophages are essential for the triggering of muscle re- generation following muscle transplant. Neuromuscul Disord 9:72–80.

3. Sato K, Y Li, W Foster, K Fukushima, N Badlani, N Adachi, A Usas, FH Fu and J Huard. (2003). Improve- ment of muscle healing through enhancement of muscle regeneration and prevention of fibrosis. Muscle Nerve 28:365–372.

4. Overtraining Effects on Hormonal and Autonomic Regulation in Young Cross-Country Skiers,' Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, vol. 26(5), p. S65, 1994

5. Asker E.Jeukendrup MSc  and Matthijs K.C. Hesselink MSc Department of Human Biology, University of Maastricht, The Netherlands

6. Dr. Phillip Maffetone (2010). The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing.

7. Sandvand Omfjord C. Muskulære funn ved feiltrening (Hovedfagsoppgave i idrett). Norges idrettshøgskole: Oslo 2003

8. Collins M, Renault V, Grobler LA, St Clair Gibson A, Lambert MI, Derman EW, Butler-Browne GS, Noakes TD, Mouly V. Athletes with Exercise-Assosiated Fatigue Have Abnormally Short Muscle DNA Telomeres. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2003; 35(9): 1524-1528.

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