The In's and Out's of Overtraining Syndrome

Updated: Jul 27

We spoke with Alicja Konieczek about her experience with Overtraining Syndrome.

Even the pros struggle. They get tired and drained. Sometimes burnt out. But how does one get tired of doing what they love? Today we would like to explore something not talked about enough, Overtraining (OT) Syndrome and its prevalence in sports.

Below we will talk about what OT syndrome is.

How it happens.

Finding a return to health.

Methods of prevention.

And the personal experience of our friend Alicja.

Alicja Konieczek

Alicja is an elite athlete for On Running and a Chaski Coach. Recently she brought this topic to the forefront of our mind because of her own experience with OT syndrome.

Many of us have found the COVID pandemic to be more stressful than we ever could have predicted. This led to a slow and steady change in balance for Alicja. Eventually, this imbalance of stress and rest peaked.

“After a bad tempo run, I took a day off and then suddenly, for ten consecutive days felt terrible. I slept for 12 hours every night and even took 1-2 hour naps. My appetite was gone and replaced with nausea. No matter the time of day or how much I slept I was always tired. When trying to train, my HR would go up to 180+ BPM in the first minute of running and refused to decrease no matter how slow I went. Muscles and joints throbbed, and I began feeling depressed finding it impossible to be motivated for anything.”

What exactly is Overtraining Syndrome?

Overtraining syndrome has been traditionally defined as a diminished athletic performance from increased volume or intensity of training. Traditional definitions aside OT syndrome is the result of pushing too hard too quickly (or for too long) without adequate recovery. It’s our bodies’ way of telling us to pull off the throttle and to slow down -- way down.

While the basic concept of overtraining as an imbalance appears simple, its complexity and lack of a single-test diagnosis also contributes to the lack of consensus among athletes, coaches, health practitioners, and scientists on its definition. Thus making it difficult to prevent and treat. Though OT is used in reverence to those engaged in exercise it is nearly identical to burnout which affects over 23% of American professions on a consistent basis.

OT syndrome can look differently for everyone. Everyone experiences different variations and with different timing, however, below are some of the symptoms, specifically for runners:

  • Waking up tired with fatigue continuing throughout the day

  • Lack of appetite

  • Nausea

  • Muscle and joint pain

  • Bodyweight fluctuation (lost or gain)

  • No motivation for everyday tasks

  • Impairment of any human performance including the enjoyment of sport

  • Elevated heart rate in the morning and during any physical activity

  • Loss of menstruation cycle

  • Depression

  • Inability to turn over during longer runs

  • Feeling bad at the beginning of a workout

  • Mood changes

How does it get to this point?

OT syndrome is the result of an imbalance. Every kind of training is made up of two parts: the workout (the practice of pushing past current boundaries which in exercise is the breaking down of muscle) and recovery (or the rest which is the foundation for growth). The imbalance that leads to OT syndrome can come from either of these two variables: too much stress or too little recovery.

For runners, it often begins with too many changes in training at once (i.e. mileage, workouts, attitude, weights). Though it can also develop from a lack of rest between workouts or recovery days not taken seriously. For those experiencing burn out this lack of balance also applies.

Returning to “healthy”.

If you’re reading and find yourself experiencing these symptoms and lacking the performance you desire this is the section you’re most excited for. “How do I get back to feeling fit and powerful?”