Avoiding overtraining syndrome: tips for the fitness professional

Overtraining syndrome –  

a physical, behavioral, and emotional condition that occurs when the volume and intensity of an individual’s exercise exceeds their recovery capacity. They cease making progress, and can even begin to lose strength and fitness. Overtraining is a common problem in weight training, but it can also be experienced by runners and other athletes. ~ Wikipedia

Recently, my friend and fellow fitness professional Suzanne (of WorkoutNirvana fame!) asked me a question on Twitter;

overtraining symptoms

Personal trainers and group fitness instructors frequently suffer from overtraining. They teach a lot of classes. They repeatedly demonstrate the same exercises. They insist on fitting in their own training (like they’re not already working out enough!).

Typical overtraining syndrome symptoms include (but are not limited to); weight loss or gain, fatigue, plateaus or loss of strength gains, persistent muscle soreness, joint aches and pains, elevated resting heart rate, sleep difficulties, depression, suppressed immunity and an increased incidence of illness and injury.

avoiding overtraining syndrome

overtraining injuries

Danny-J, of The SweatyBetties joined in the conversation;

overtraining prevention

overtraining symptoms

overtraining symptoms

symptoms of overtraining

Our conversation got me thinking about how fitness professionals might reduce their risk of developing overtraining syndrome. Of course, the following suggestions are also relevant to those of you who aren’t fitness professionals, but spend a lot of time at the gym… (you know who you are!);

  1. Limit the number of classes you teach (or attend). In the summer time, this is particularly difficult. Many of your colleagues will be taking time off for vacation and looking for subs to cover their classes. Don’t over-volunteer.
  2. If you do agree to sub extra classes, don’t participate fully in each one. Remember, when you’re teaching, it’s not your workout (unless you’re spinning; it’s really hard to fake your participation on a spinning bike!). I know that participants like to see their instructors participating, but it doesn’t need to be at your highest intensity.
  3. If you do consider some of your classes to be a ‘personal workout’, make sure you count them in your weekly workout schedule. I know many instructors who teach 6-8 classes each week and still feel the need to get another 3 or 4 of ‘their own’ workouts in.
  4. Choose lighter weights when teaching a class than you would when doing your own workout.
  5. Same with demonstrating exercises for your personal training clients. Many movements can be demonstrated without any added weight at all.
  6. Make sure you’re not always demonstrating exercises with the same side of your body. When I teach group fitness, I face my class and always ‘concede the dominant’ to them. That means that I start unilateral exercises with my left arm or leg. Because I usually put my weights down after 5 or 6 reps and walk around the class coaching, my left side gets over-used relative to my right.
  7. Plan at least 1 day away from the gym or studio each week. It not only aids your physical health, it’s good for you psychologically as well.
  8. Treat your body well. Get lots of sleep and pay attention to nutrition.
  9. Branched chain amino acids (BCAA’s) and glucosamine may speed up muscle recovery between classes and reduce joint pain and inflammation.
  10. See your doctor or physiotherapist at the first sign of an injury. Ignore little pains and clicks at your peril…
  11. Plan on a rest week every 3 months or so. No teaching, no clients, no working out. (This is probably the most difficult suggestion of all!).

symptoms of overtraining

Make sure to follow us all on Twitter (fitknitchick_1, WorkoutNirvana and SweatyBetties) and join in with your thoughts next time you see us conversing!

Have you ever experienced the symptoms of overtraining?

How do you avoid overtraining?


  1. I never overtrained when I was a trainer because I didnt teach classes etc then at all.
    I only trained and I NEVER TRAINED with my clients.
    I have been a mess otherwise 🙂
    MIzMiz recently posted…Teva Fuse-Ion shoes. (Ren Man review)My Profile

    • I never train with my clients, either. Not just because it can lead to over training, because it’s unprofessional! They’re paying me to train them, not vice versa!
      Can’t wait to read Ren Man’s review!

  2. GREAT POST & love the 3 people banter! 😉 I am a classic overtrainer – LOVE to work out & with those weights.. although for me – I seem to not have too many issues & don’t lose size & all that. In fact, I just think I am one that needs more & stays leaner that way based on my own personal experiences. We are all different BUT I do have to learn to take more days off even though I take 2 per week. My workouts are pretty intense! 🙂
    Jody – Fit at 54 recently posted…Gratitude Monday & Family Fun Time!My Profile

    • You’re lucky not to have had too many injuries given your training volume Jody. I really think it’s the excessive teaching that gets a lot of fitness professionals. It’s really hard not to go all out in your classes; I get energized by my peeps and don’t feel the pain until later : (

  3. Great post! I’ve never had the problem, especially as I’ve gotten older (maybe wiser?). I don’t teach too many classes, and tend to do lighter weights, few reps. Basically just demo, then move around the class to check them. And I don’t train with my clients.

    When I was younger and more serious about running, I was closer to the line, but never really crossed into over-training.
    Debbie @ Live from La Quinta recently posted…Resources For New (or Wannabe) Vegans. And a RecipeMy Profile

    • I’ve had several over training injuries; mainly when I first started teaching classes and was super gung ho (and not very smart 🙂 )

      Right now, I’m suffering from an injury that’s probably got it’s roots in over training; the whole body is one big kinetic chain…

  4. It’s definitely tough when teaching a class! I’m teaching a boot camp class here next month, and I need to remember to count it – esp. since it’s 3 x’s/week.
    Paige @ Your Trainer Paige recently posted…Move it Monday: Sexy Back WorkoutMy Profile

    • For lots of people, 3 bootcamp classes a week would be their whole training routine…
      Gotta remember we aren’t superhuman!

  5. That one day of rest is really important. Still, I hate even taking a day off from exercise, so it’s my yoga day. I still get a work-out but without the high intensity or aggresive cardio, giving my body a day to heal and relax.
    crubin recently posted…Calories, Sugar, and Fat, Oh My!My Profile

  6. Thanks so much for the shout out and great article Tamara. I’ve only been a trainer for eight months and since then have noticed more and more joint issues, including tennis elbow and a knee that acts up more. I really think it’s overtraining – especially because it all acts up worse when I’m busy at work. I already use no weights when demonstrating as we discussed and only sub for a class once in awhile, so I need to fundamentally how I train. Maybe more rest or maybe less intense workouts on my own. At any rate, your input is much appreciated!
    Suzanne @WorkoutNirvana recently posted…Restaurant Recipes Exposed: Healthier and Tastier Versions of Your Favorite MealsMy Profile

    • Thanks for stimulating discussion Suzanne! I definitely noticed more little, nagging injuries when I started teaching and training clients. Of course, there’s always the additional problem of age…

  7. Wow – I can’t believe I never thought of this with fitness pros, I can imagine this would be a tough one! Your tips are great! I’ve just discovered the wonders of BCAAs, which I was happy to see are also in my protein powder, but I love the Fitmixer Aminos for a great pre-workout snack.
    Heather @ Better With Veggies recently posted…5280: A Week of Altitude Behind Me + Underwearness 5KMy Profile

    • Heather, most fitness pros don’t think of it either; until it happens to them!
      It’s one of the reasons I hate to read other bloggers criticize instructors who don’t fully participate in the class they teach. Hopefully, this post will also open the eyes of participants…

  8. Right now I’m struggling to fit in 1/2 marathon training on top of my teaching schedule. I teach 4-5 spin classes a week and it’s just hard to find the time to run. I do pretty well when I teach strength training classes. I rarely use weights an do more walking around then participating. So mostly it’s just my legs that get fatigued. I have started to take glucosamine. Do you have a brand of BCAA’s you recommend?

    • Kristen, I’m just using a no-name brand of BCAA’s from my local pharmacy. I haven’t invested much time in figuring out whether there’s a difference in quality between brands.
      You are doing a LOT of volume on lower body; make sure you’re doing the stretching and foam rolling your legs need to keep it up!

  9. Great post, Tamara! I only teach two spin classes a week currently, but I’ve wondered about that with group instructors who teach 2-3 a day sometimes, (or more!) Thanks for putting this together.
    Laura @ Mommy Run Fast recently posted…A running break and my fall race calendarMy Profile

    • Thanks for your comments Laura. I’ve never taught more than 10 classes in a week (and that almost killed me!). I’m amazed at the instructors that regularly teach 12 or more!

  10. This is a great post that has advice I know I could/should take to heart! An entire rest WEEK?! Seems insane to me right now yet I have definitely heard this before; my guy friends who are serious about weight training look forward to their rest weeks in their schedules but then always dread it when it actually comes because they feel like they’re “losing it all”. The whole dominant side thing in #6 is super interesting to me because it’s something I never thought of. I see instructors at my gym literally teach 3 or 4 classes a day and partake the whole time. I do NOT know how they do it! My mom used to but she had one knee scare and stopped right away. She knew she needed to invest in her health long term.
    Caitlin recently posted…Active Rest Day: How I DidMy Profile

    • I know what you mean about feeling horrified at the thought of an entire week of rest! But really, it takes longer than that to lose muscle mass 🙂
      Cardio, on the other hand….
      A week without cardio and I’m huffing and puffing into the microphone all over again!

  11. I’ll add my bit too, as I have this preventive chat with my interns every quarter – 1. Go around the room and correct form. This is another way of saying “don’t teach every rep,” but as a group fitness instructor, it’s important to remember that you can coach rather than lead sometimes; 2. Get more sleep. 3. Be sure to drink enough water. Very interesting topic and discussion.
    AlexandraFunFit recently posted…Fun Summertime Fitness Activities & Their Calorie CountsMy Profile

    • Thanks Alexandra! You are so right. I do spend a lot of time ‘walking’ around my class, but a common complaint from participants is that they ‘need’ the instructor to do the workout with them for inspiration. I try to meet them partway, although when injured, I can’t do much but coach!

  12. I’m not a fitness instructor, but I’ve definitely had my share of overtraining close calls – mainly in that my normally excellent immune system got all out of whack recently. I took yesterday and today completely off from any type of physical activity just because I felt the need to, and even thought I’m sorta panicking on the inside about not working out, I know to listen to my body and force myself to embrace the down time!
    Viane recently posted…My First NPC Bikini CompetitionMy Profile

    • That’s great that you’re listening to your body. I definitely know that feeling of being tired and more susceptible to getting sick.
      Try not to panic when you take a day off; it takes much longer than that to de-condition! (I KNOW you know that, but sometimes we have to hear it from someone else for it to stick!)

  13. Awesome post, Tamara! 😉

    I suffered from overtraining from ages 15-20 when I was suffering from anorexia nervosa. Now, three years later, I have the utmost respect for my body and honor it with 1-2 rest days per week, depending on how my body is feeling. I always think about the increased injury risk, which isn’t worth it to me, especially having wreaked havoc on my body for so long in the past. I’d rather take a rest day or two instead of risking weeks of no exercise in the future.
    Heather @ For the Love of Kale recently posted…Baked Apples with Peanutty Walnut CrumbleMy Profile

    • That’s how I think of it too Heather. It’s either a few days of rest this week or a month or more of forced rest.
      Glad to hear you’ve overcome your eating disorder…

  14. I’ve gone through this several times. To the point where i took 6 months off to recoup, regain health, and am just now feeling back to myself. It was worth it. and a whole new perspective was gained. Less is more!

  15. How funny you would post this the same day I post about cutting back my class load due to over training!

    Most of the participants I’ve spoken to about cutting classes back have been understanding but there are some who still just don’t get it. They seem to think if I’m awake and not booked to teach a class I should be able to take on another class (or keep the ones I’m doing) despite how many times I tell them I can’t handle it.

    Last year I didn’t take any time off the whole year (while teaching 19 classes/week and dealing with my fibromyalgia). It nearly killed me – but I needed to do it financially. Now I can afford to slow down a bit and took 5 days off in April, a week of two weeks ago, and am taking next week off to go to BlogHer (which is arguably not really a “vacation”). I likely won’t get another week off until Christmas, but with a reduced teaching schedule hopefully I won’t *need* one until then anyway!

    P.S. I rarely workout outside of my class schedule – I’m not purposely trying to kill myself 😉
    Suzi @ Confessions of a Fitness Instructor recently posted…5 YearsMy Profile

    • Thanks for your comment Suzi. I’m glad I checked my spam folder today; you were languishing there!
      Must be tough to work in fitness with fibromyalgia…

  16. Wow, great tips! I will definitely listen to your advice when I get my CPT cert.
    hikermom recently posted…I Found Me!My Profile

  17. My name is victor include me in your conversation I teach 17 classes a week and train 30 clients a week. Grrrrr I would love to be part of your group contact me through email devitofitness@yahoo.com you can also search me on Facebook trough my email!! Please need some feedback

    • Victor, click on the Facebook link at the top right corner of the page. That will take you to my FB fan page!

  18. I have been working as a group exercise instructor for 4 months. Since then I have had injury to my hip, injury to my chest muscles and now an injury to my neck.
    I almost constantly feel sore.
    I train daily sometimes twice a day at high intensities (mostly spin classes).
    Are my injuries likely related to overtraining?

    • Rachel, it’s quite possible especially if all of these injuries coincide with you starting to teach. Can you coach more than do? That’s been my saving strategy!

  19. Allison Snow says:

    I teach 18 classes a week at my current job. Boot Camp, Cardio Blast, Aqua Aerobics, Barefoot Barre, Matt Pilates, TRX, & a Weight training class. Everything I’m my body hurts. I’m starting to see my body shutting down on me & I’m getting a lot of inflammation in my muscles & I look “puffy”! Lol. I know I’m overtraining, but I don’t have a choice to do less classes and I work 6 days/week with only one day to rest. What are your suggestions? I have to do most of my classes because there is a routine to them, and it’s at a retirement community so if I don’t do it with them-they WILL NOT participate. I’ve tried. Haha.

    • Allison, I’m assuming that you can’t simply teach fewer classes? 🙂 If you’re in this profession for the long haul you need to be pro-active about your future.

      I know that’s not a possibility for many fitness instructors, although I think it should be; we owe it to ourselves to be healthy and pain-free too…

      How about creating an environment where they’re less dependent on you? Circuit training classes, where they work with a small group of other participants? Partner exercises, where somebody else is still working with them.

      In weight training classes you could definitely choose very light weights (or no weights at all to demonstrate).

      And why not try educating your participants about over-training syndrome? I often tell my classes that my job is NOT to do the workout with them. It’s THEIR workout. I can’t be an effective coach if I’m giving it my all as a participant in class. You might be surprised how understanding they are.


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