How to Avoid Over-Training

By- PAUL ROBERTS, Founder of Tribal MSP

No one could ever accuse the Tribal athlete of shirking, that is for sure. Our members commit to a process and work hard to achieve their endurance sport goals, for that, we applaud them, but what about when working hard becomes less than beneficial, a state known as over-training,and how do you recognise and address this?


What is over-training?

It depends on the individual, but over-training is when you do not give your body enough time to recover between individual and blocks of exercise bouts.

There are different factors that can turn training into over-training – such as a person’s age, the level of training stress, personal resilience and how long they have been training for (called your training age).

It can be tempting to think that if training is good for you, then a lot of training is really good for you – this is not always the case. As in many healthy habits, the benefits lie in the appropriate dose, and the dangers can be realised with overstepping the dose.

At Tribal, we counsel the importance of adequate rest, recovery and sleep – it is the foundation of the Tribal Performance Pyramid and its adequacy drives your decision to train, over-training can lead to injury, poor performance, frustration, agitation, a drop in sleep quality, inability to rest up and the picking up of regular colds and coughs because of the strain on your immune system.

How to re-frame your training to avoid over-training

If you have ticked “yes” to any of the above symptoms, then it is important to raise your perception of your personal resilience and constitutional health before your training choices seriously compromise your health and fitness goals.

First off- instead of being driven by achieving a certain volume of work each week, work with the principle of your rest, recuperation and personal condition driving your choices of training.

When you feel good, train. When you feel really good, train hard.

When you feel compromised by shortened sleep, pain, poor nutrition, dehydration, great life stress or inadequate recovery there is little benefit going to come from pushing, choose to rest up or an activity that boosts you up rather than running you down. It might be a choice to complete a recovery spin on the bike rather than your scheduled interval set, or choosing to complete your daily mobility drills rather than your scheduled strength set.

Build your resilience and respect your constitution

The idea of each of us having a very personal constitution is an old but a valuable principle to understand. Here is the thing; everybody is different- genetics, your parents approach to health, your environment, your lifestyle during your formative years, and your more recent decisions with regard to health are what decide what level of stress you thrive upon.

Here are two tips for you to maximise your resilience and the cards you have been dealt.

Sleeping is when most of our recovery happens, both psychologically and physiologically. I talk about the basic hacks to greater sleep regularly but have you seen the recent research about the benefits of sleeping naked.

Your body temperature in your bedroom should be pleasantly cool rather than hot. Here are some of the benefits of sleeping cool and in the buff-

Regulate Cortisol– A healthy sleep/wake cycle sees your cortisol levels plummet to their lowest levels between 10pm and 2am, but only if you are cool enough. Elevated and uncontrolled cortisol levels lead to stored belly fat and muscle breakdown, also, if your cortisol level fails to drop at night it will not be there when you need the cortisol during the day for training efforts and bouncing out of bed in the morning (1).

Balances Melatonin– Along with growth hormone, melatonin is a major factor in protecting you from ageing, it promotes deep, restful sleep that is essential to health and recovery. When you are too hot during your sleeping hours, melatonin production is shut down (2).

Growth Hormone Production- If you are too hot when you sleep, your production of growth hormone suffers. You need optimal levels of growth hormone to repair all tissues in the body and also to burn fat. Healthy growth hormone production also benefits your immune system, and lowers your risk of infection, diabetes and heart disease.

Maintenance of Healthy Testosterone Levels- Hormonal chaos can lead to impaired function of your valuable adrenal glands, you’ll notice in the diagram below- pregnenolone is a valuable precursor to a number of valuable steroid hormones. Pregnenolone steal is the result of over production of cortisol that leads to a pull on pregnenolone levels leading to among other things, a drop in the amount of sex hormones produced by the adrenal glands- after 35, your adrenal gland become the major contributor of sex hormones and if abused will leave you short on all the benefits of healthy sex hormone production like anabolism- the key to healthy, quick recovery.


Next, look at your nutrition. Here at Tribal, we recommend a Paleo style-eating plan that focuses on whole natural foods such as meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, nuts, some fruit and safe starches. Ensure you eat plentifully to fuel your efforts and always be mindful of the 5 R’s of recovery nutrition.

Tribals’ 5 R’s of recovery nutrition are-

  1. Rehydrate with water and electrolyte.
  2. Reduce inflammation with healthful fats.
  3. Rebuild with quality protein.
  4. Replenish glycogen with safe starches.
  5. Rebalance blood pH with alkalising plant foods.

I’m not sure on the exact percentages of endurance athletes that are suffering with the affects of over-training and not prioritising health first as all athletes should, but, my suspicions from experience are that most are in some way feeling the affect of an out of control stress load- even if it is as simple as not being able to attain a pre-conceived level of training volume, regular muscle aches and pains or frustration via a lack of day-to-day vitality.


(1)   Cortisol

(2) Melatonin

Paul Roberts