It’s not unusual for athletes to train according to the slogan “no pain, no gain.” Indeed, this is a worthy idea, unless it leads to overtraining. Sport Psychologist Kirsten Peterson, Ph.D., addresses overtraining in The Sports Psych Handbook (edited by Shane Murphy). She defines overtraining as an exercise program that leads to “an undesired outcome of fatigue and performance decrements.”

In other words, over-trained athletes are not completely burned out, but their bodies aren’t experiencing enough recovery time. Physical and psychological symptoms, writes Peterson, include (partial list):

  • Muscle pain or soreness
  • Weight loss
  • Gastrointestinal disturbance
  • Overuse injuries
  • Loss of self-confidence
  • Anxiety
  • Emotional/motivational changes

The easiest way to see if you are experiencing overtraining is by taking your resting heart rate after you wake up and before you go to bed. Usually, athletes resting heart rates decrease through training, but if your training load is overly intense, your resting heart rate will increase.

Most athletes don’t enjoy (or even feel like themselves) taking days off, they believe it detracts from their ultimate goal. The beauty of recovery, though, is that it can take many forms and giving the body proper time to recover is essential to regenerate emotional and physical energy. Start practicing relaxation techniques such as progressive relaxation, autogenic relaxation, or guided imagery. Think of recovery as reducing stress in all areas of your life. For example, if your work life is too taxing or certain relationships are causing undue stress, try to alleviate those stressors. Peterson writes that recovery has three levels: physical, social, and environmental. Eating right, practicing yoga, or taking a hike on your day off are all physical ways to recover. Social recovery means participating with people you like in “social activities that are relaxing and rejuvenating.” And environmental recovery can be as simple as changing your training locale. A sport psychologist can help monitor training to see if you are overtraining and help you learn and uncover optimal recovery techniques for you.