Overtraining in athletes. An update

Sports Med. 1991 Jul;12(1):32-65. doi: 10.2165/00007256-199112010-00004.


Overtraining appears to be caused by too much high intensity training and/or too little regeneration (recovery) time often combined with other training and nontraining stressors. There are a multitude of symptoms of overtraining, the expression of which vary depending upon the athlete's physical and physiological makeup, type of exercise undertaken and other factors. The aetiology of overtraining may therefore be different in different people suggesting the need to be aware of a wide variety of parameters as markers of overtraining. At present there is no one single diagnostic test that can define overtraining. The recognition of overtraining requires the identification of stress indicators which do not return to baseline following a period of regeneration. Possible indicators include an imbalance of the neuroendocrine system, suppression of the immune system, indicators of muscle damage, depressed muscle glycogen reserves, deteriorating aerobic, ventilatory and cardiac efficiency, a depressed psychological profile, and poor performance in sport specific tests, e.g. time trials. Screening for changes in parameters indicative of overtraining needs to be a routine component of the training programme and must be incorporated into the programme in such a way that the short term fatigue associated with overload training is not confused with the chronic fatigue characteristic of overtraining. An in-depth knowledge of periodisation of training theory may be necessary to promote optimal performance improvements, prevent overtraining, and develop a system for incorporating a screening system into the training programme. Screening for overtraining and performance improvements must occur at the culmination of regeneration periods.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Athletic Injuries / etiology
  • Depression
  • Disease Susceptibility
  • Endocrine Glands / physiology
  • Humans
  • Immunity
  • Parasympathetic Nervous System / physiology
  • Physical Education and Training*
  • Physical Exertion / physiology*
  • Sports*
  • Sympathetic Nervous System / physiology