20301 Blog 1200×675

The 4 Signs of Overtraining

BY Jakub  Novak

Overtraining plagues many athletes at some point in the endurance training. Knowing these four signs will help you keep them focused and out of the hole.

As a coach, I’m guessing that you have, at some point, worked with the athlete that just can’t get enough. They execute every workout with impassioned dedication and even add extra training on their own. Although this athlete may sound like many coaches’ dream come true, they commonly fall susceptible to overextending themself to a breaking point. And voila! I’d like to present the concept of overtraining. 

What is Overtraining?

Overtraining happens when an athlete stops making progress and even starts to lose fitness by constantly exposing their body to a training load without sufficient recovery. 

What are the major signs of overtraining? First, it is important to establish the difference between overtraining and overreaching. With overreaching (aka, a natural response to acute heavy training loads), a drop in performance can be resolved in a few days, but overtraining (aka, a natural response to chronic heavy training loads) can take a few weeks to months to restore.

In order to avoid overtraining, a coach should carefully monitor their athlete’s overall health and RPE scores. Today, I’d like to get even more specific and take a look at four major signs of overtraining, which include 1. change in resting heart rate (RHR), 2. change in blood count levels, 3. reduced heart rate variability (HRV), and 4. hitting a training plateau.  

1. Increase in Resting Heart Rate

Experiencing an elevated resting heart rate (RHR) for an extended period of time is a good indicator of fatigue. Generally speaking, an athlete’s resting heart rate will become lower as their fitness level increases, indicating more efficient heart function and better cardiovascular fitness. 

On the other hand, if your athletes are regularly tracking their resting heart rate and see an unusual increase, then this may mean they’re too fatigued and need rest. It is completely normal to have an elevated heart rate after a hard training day. Usually, an RHR 5 bpm above their average indicates they need more recovery time. However, if their resting heart rate doesn’t stabilize and remains elevated for multiple weeks, then it could mean they’re overtrained or even developing an illness or medical condition. 

Make sure to have your athletes consistently track their resting heart rate every morning. This will give you an indication of whether or not they need more rest.

2. Reduced Blood Count Levels

A blood count can tell us a lot about our well-being. An overtrained athlete will find a decreased count of red blood cells, hemoglobin and hematocrit. In contrast, a well-rested and prepared athlete, with a combination of altitude, may find their count higher than usual. 

Red blood cells play a vital role in exercise, as their main function is to transport oxygen throughout the body. Hemoglobin is the essential protein inside red blood cells that transports oxygen. Hematocrit is a test that measures the ratio of red blood cell volume to the volume of all other components combined, called whole blood.

Make sure your athletes keep track of other elements such as iron levels, B1, B2 and other vitamins. It’s important to take blood tests at least twice per year to identify your usual numbers. It’s not recommended to compare blood count numbers between athletes, as every athlete is unique. 

3. Lower Heart Rate Variability

Heart rate variability (HRV) is another important metric every athlete should measure on a regular basis. HRV is the variance in time between the beats of your heart. So, if your heart rate is 60 beats per minute, it’s certainly not beating once every second. Within that minute, there may be 0.8 seconds between two beats, for example, and 1.10 seconds between two others. The greater this variability is, the more ready you are to perform at a high level. You can measure your HRV with most devices that use heart rate straps, such as Garmin. Read more here on how to measure your HRV. 

If your HRV is lower than usual, for a longer period of time, despite taking recovery days, then you may be overly fatigued, stressed, sick or even overtrained and need to recover. It’s worth noting normal HRV varies widely for each individual and goes down dramatically as athletes age. 

4. Hitting a Training Plateau

A fourth solid indication of overtraining is when an athlete stops improving, despite keeping training hard. This is often referred to as hitting a “training plateau.” An athlete should not train hard year-round without taking regular periods of reduced volume and intensity

In TrainingPeaks, the metric CTL (chronic training load) can help you track how close you are to your peak training load or the point at which further training won’t lead to improvements. For most amateur athletes, this point starts around 110 CTL. So pay close attention to your athletes’ CTL and notice how much long-term training load capacity they have.


Hemoglobin. Health Encyclopedia. University of Rochester Medical Center. Retrieved from https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=167&contentid=hemoglobin

Mairbäurl, H. (2013, November 12). Red blood cells in sports: effects of exercise and training on oxygen supply by red blood cells. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3824146/

A Coach Using Trainingpeaks On Her Laptop In Her Home Office

Start Your 7-Day Free Trial

Explore all TrainingPeaks features and more with a free 7-day trial for coaches. Tools built by coaches to make coaching easier.

Unnamed (7) (1)
About Jakub  Novak

Jakub Novak is a head coach at ProCyclingCoaching and a former World Tour cyclist. As a pro cyclist, Jakub rode for BMC Pro Racing Team, alongside Tour de France winner Cadel Evans or World Champion Philipe Gilbert. Jakub is a qualified coach and delivers remote coaching programs and training plans to all levels of cyclists. Follow his website for more information.

Related Articles