Physical exercise is one of the most underutilized and cheapest forms of physical and mental therapy. You don’t need a thousand studies to prove this. Go for a brisk walk and you’ll feel better within minutes. However, some of us like to take our physical activity to the extreme and push our limits every time we train. This is known as “overtraining” and can lead to a host of issues if we never take time off, or ‘deload’, our workouts. How do we know if we’re overtraining? The answer lies in our stress hormones called cortisol.


Cortisol is typically high in the morning and tapers off by evening. This is good as it helps regulate other hormones such as testosterone, estrogen, serotonin, etc. When we train intensely our cortisol levels rise. Again, this is a good thing. It increases our strength, speed, heart and lung capacity. However, if it is prolonged, such as working out more than 1 hr, or if you don’t allow adequate rest in your training program, then you put your body in a consistent catabolic state (a common occurrence from overtraining).


This can lead to:

  • Lingering muscle soreness
  • Lack of energy (both in workouts and daily activities)
  • Loss of strength
  • Weak immune system
  • Injuries
  • Insomnia
  • Sudden weight loss*
  • Lower testosterone
  • Diarrhea or Constipation


*While the initial weight loss will come from fat, your body will begin using muscle tissue for energy. This it NOT good….ever!


Use these symptoms as a ‘self diagnosing’ tool to help you spot the signs of overtraining in yourself and your clients (if you’re a trainer). Do NOT be afraid of going easier on your workouts. Spend the training session stretching, using a foam roller, or just going for an easy walk. These are some of the things you can do in place of hard training when you’ve hit a wall.


In our next article we’re going to talk about how to combat the effects of overtraining. Stay tuned!



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