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Stress and Overtraining Syndrome: A Two-Edged Sword

Training to Death

stressed woman
Fitness training of all types can lead to better health and overall wellbeing. However, when intensity, duration and frequency of training are excessive, it can lead to overtraining syndrome marked by fatigue, muscle and joint pain, sleep disorders, low sex drive and chronic upper respiratory distress. Over time, overtraining can compromise your immune system and lead to adrenal fatigue. When combined with stress and sleep deprivation, overtraining can even lead to death.

Adrenaline Rush

In stressful situations, your body goes into fight or flight mode, wherein adrenaline and other hormones are released to put you on high alert. Once the danger or stress has abated, the circulating hormones are restored to pre-stress levels. However, under conditions of chronic overtraining coupled with chronic stress, your adrenal glands can become fatigued and unable to produce sufficient amounts of hormones. Called adrenal insufficiency, this condition can undermine performance and lead to undesirable and biological and behavioral changes.

Failure to Thrive

Symptoms of adrenal depletion include ongoing fatigue, unrestful sleep, difficulty concentrating, short temper, low ambition, sugar cravings, slow recovery from illness and chronic pain. At risk are people who are under chronic pressure to perform, perfectionists, those who do shift work and people with high carbohydrate diets. Coupled with low adrenaline are low circulating levels of cortisol, another hormone associated with fight or flight. Elite athletes performing for high stakes are especially vulnerable to overtraining syndrome coupled with stress.

Trainer Danger

Fitness practitioners are also often victims of stress and overtraining syndrome. Working early mornings and late nights with less than optimal sleep, training multiple clients back-to-back, teaching numerous group exercise classes and setting high standards for your personal fitness can add up to more stress than your body can handle. If you find yourself tired, achy, sick and unmotivated, you should take steps to turn things around. Adrenal fatigue can be reversed, but it may take months of self-nurturing to fully recover.


Understanding more about how stress and other factors affect health will help you become a better fitness practitioner. W.I.T.S. offers solutions to the problems posed by your clients. Lifestyle Fitness Coaching and Certified Personal Trainer are two online courses that will equip you to meet your clients’ needs head-on.

References and Credits

Brooks, KA and Carter, JG (2013). Overtraining, Exercise and Adrenal Insufficiency. Journal of Novel Physiotherapies, 3(125): 117.

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