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In the The Dr. Dean Ornish Program to Reverse Heart Disease, we promote regular exercise and activity. When you combine exercise with proper nutrition, social connection and stress management techniques, your overall health and well-being will benefit. There is, however, a point where exercise can become more of a detriment than a benefit. This is when we start to overtrain, which is a physical, behavioral, and emotional condition that occurs when the volume or intensity of an individual’s exercise exceeds their capacity to recover.

Many components of the Ornish Spectrum will work great as recovery tools. These include gentle yoga, massage, meditation and healthy nutrition.

The Symptoms

Overtraining is not a regular occurrence in the average exerciser, but for those people who are driven to achieve or who are very dedicated to their workouts, it can be a serious concern. When overtraining occurs, we find ourselves slowing down and even ceasing to make progress in our training. We may even lose strength or endurance. While overtraining is more common in strength training, it is also prevalent in runners, cyclists, swimmers and other exercises that include long duration endurance training.

Our bodies’ adaptation to the stress of exercise takes place during recovery or rest periods. Biologically, our body changes to better tolerate the exercise stress and over time this adaptation allows us to perform better. When the exercise stress is too great, or our recovery time too short, or both, our bodies response to training will be negative.

Currently there are no clear tests to diagnose overtraining. Identifying this syndrome should be handled on an individual basis. Evaluating one’s performance, response to exercise, and psychosocial interest in normal activities should all be taken into account.

Some of the signs that your body is nearing or in a state of overtraining may be fatigue, excessive muscular soreness, poor sleep, lack of interest, poor performance or endurance and lack of intensity. Even signs like emotional sensitivity, social withdrawal, and heightened stress levels have been associated with overtraining. Being aware of these signs of overtraining can go a long way to prevent illness, injury or even withdrawal from exercise all together.


Early detection and treatment of overtraining is crucial for our health and well-being. Once overtraining is identified, the only treatment in most cases is to rest. The signs of overtraining are telling your body to rest, recover and heal. The more significant the signs or symptoms are of overtraining, the longer the rest period should be. The rest period can be days or weeks depending on the severity of symptoms. A common approach to recovery can be several days of rest without any exercise followed by alternating days of exercise. The goal here is to limit the stress on the body without losing the fitness you have developed, or the desire to exercise.

Many components of the Ornish Program will work great as recovery tools. These include gentle yoga, massage, meditation and healthy nutrition. Since overtraining affects both the physical and neurological systems of the body, meditation, yoga and massage have a specific ability to both calm and balance both systems.

In what ways do you monitor your exercise for signs of overtraining?


Contributed by

Phil Hardesty
Exercise Physiologist

Have a healthy, happy and fit week!!

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