Menu Close

Overtraining – The warning signs, training modifications and recovery

How do you know if you or your clients are overtraining? Are you push too hard, or just enough. What are the warning signs and how do you recover optimally? This article explains how.
How do you know if you or your clients are overtraining? Are you pushing too hard, or just enough. What are the warning signs and how do you recover optimally? This article explains how.

It’s not unusual for clients to push and to train according to the slogan “no pain, no gain.” Indeed, this could be a worthy idea for a competitive athlete but for our normal everyday client, it tends to lead to overtraining. Overtraining can be defined as an exercise program that leads to “an undesired outcome of fatigue and performance decrements.” We know from the GAS that this is very real. Now we also know it may have psychological or mental consequences.

The easiest way to see if your client is experiencing overtraining is by assessment – such as taking their resting heart rate after a full nights rest, upon waking up. Some trainers also encourage this practice to be done before the client retires to bed in the evening. Usually, a well-conditioned client will see resting heart rates decrease through positive adaptations to training, but if your program design is overly intense, your client may actually experience an increase in their resting heart rate. Not only would this have a physiological effect, but it most certainly would affect the client’s mental states as well.

Most clients don’t enjoy (or even feel like themselves) when taking excessive days off from PA, as some believe that it detracts from their ultimate goal. The best feature 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 is generally considered to be the easy part of an exercise program design. Try promoting practicing relaxation techniques such as progressive relaxation, autogenic relaxation, or guided imagery.

Think of recovery as just one supporting factor to reduce stress in all areas of your client’s life. For example, if your client is overwhelmed with work life being too challenging or certain relationships are causing them undue stress, try to encourage the client to lessen or alleviate those stressors during those times when they are not working with you. Without this, clients may see stress as a significant barrier. In most cases, this is a contraindication in terms of their goals.

Recovery has three levels: physical, social, and environmental. Eating right, practicing yoga or taking a hike on days off are all practical suggestions for your client to use physically-based strategies in order to better recover. Consider social recovery – meaning that one will participate with people that they like in social activities that are relaxing and rejuvenating. This is often overlooked by trainers because it occurs outside of the environment where work with your client is done.

Environmental recovery can be as simple as changing your training locale. This can also include where the time spent in session with the trainer occurs. A trainer in tune to the needs of his or her client should monitor client reactions and responses to training variables to ensure that the client is not overtraining. This will help to prevent burn-out. The trainer should also try to understand their client’s needs as completely as possible.

Focus, from a client’s perspective, helps concentration and hopefully, competency. The term “attentional field” is used to describe the thoughts, emotions, and physical responses coming from within the client as well as the outside sights and sounds that they are focusing on. Trainers could view this as the ability for your client to attend to internal and external cues in your attentional field at the same time. This will also require practice and cueing from the trainer. When attentional focus decreases, so does the risk of injury or at the very least, poor performance.

A well-coached client knows where to focus their attention for the best results while training. Some people find success through an internal focus style; they will concentrate on their form and technique while training, while being comfortable knowing that there may be distractions or activity in their immediate surroundings.

Other clients who lack this experience of feeling comfortable are far more likely to be distracted and thus, injured. In terms of personality traits, those who are more competitive tend do best with an external focus style, focusing on outside sights and sounds right up until the moment of exercise execution. During training, they are also aware that if they over-thinking about anything, they may be misdirecting their focus or concentrating too much.

What type of focus works best for your client? Trainers should be able to analyze past exercise experiences with their client and contemplate the techniques used successfully with them, in order to have a repeat performance. This should seem fairly logical.

One of the simplest ways to improve focus in your client is to instruct them to place their eyes where you want them to focus. To eliminate external distractions a trainer might encourage a client to keep the eyes averted during the time used under load or during a particular activity.

The topic of focus is sometimes viewed as similar to mindfulness, or the complete attention on the present. The current body of scientific evidence suggests that the effects of mindfulness impacts the thoughts, emotions and performance of the client.

Focus also reaches into other areas of the dynamics between a trainer and client, including mental toughness, imagery, relaxation and self-talk. For some activities, the exerciser’s thought processes must be congruent with their ecology and environment.   Having clients mentally ‘psyche up’ might include challenging some clients with more demanding tasks, while meaning that you may find it necessary to hold others back from levels of progression until you feel that their attentional focus is acceptable.

Focus may seem simple, but developing the right type of concentration to facilitate focus is vital for each client. A trainer who is fully engaged with their client can create the focus needed to exercise safely and to optimize client outcomes or results.


You will learn about all these types of stretching and flexibility techniques and methods in the NESTA Personal Fitness Trainer Certification, Wexford University Personal Training Certification, the MMA Conditioning Coach Certification and the ITCA Triathlon Coach Certification programs.

Recent Blogs