Overtraining in endurance athletes: a brief review

Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1993 Jul;25(7):854-62. doi: 10.1249/00005768-199307000-00015.


Overtraining is an imbalance between training and recovery, exercise and exercise capacity, stress and stress tolerance. Stress is the sum of training and nontraining stress factors. Peripheral (short-term overtraining, STO) or peripheral and central fatigue may result (long-term overtraining, LTO). STO lasting a few days up to 2 wk is termed overreaching. STO is associated with fatigue, reduction, or stagnation of the 4 LT performance capacity (performance at 4 mmol lactate or comparable criterion), reduction of maximum performance capacity, and brief competitive incompetence. Recovery is achieved within days, so the prognosis is favorable. LTO lasting weeks or months causes overtraining syndrome or staleness. The symptomatology associated with overtraining syndrome has changed over the last 50 yr from excitation and restlessness (so-called sympathetic form) to phlegmatic behavior and inhibition (so-called parasympathetic form). Increased volume of training at a high-intensity level is likely the culprit. The parasympathetic form of overtraining syndrome dominates in endurance sports. Accumulation of exercise and nonexercise fatigue, stagnation, or reduction of the 4 LT performance capacity, reduction in maximum performance capacity, mood state disturbances, muscle soreness/stiffness, and long-term competitive incompetence can be expected. Complete recovery requires weeks and months, so the prognosis is unfavorable. Other optional or further confirmation requiring findings include changes in blood chemistry variables, hormone levels, and nocturnal urinary catecholamine excretion. Based on the findings reported, recommendations for training monitoring can be made, but their relevance in the practice must still be clarified.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Physical Endurance / physiology*
  • Physical Fitness
  • Sports / physiology*
  • Stress, Physiological / physiopathology