By Yeshwini Shetty FitnessOvertraining Syndrome and Burnout in Athletes

The Overtraining Syndrome & Burnout in Athletes

Not enough attention is given to the mental health of athletes; although athletes are at the peak of their physical health, they certainly do not escape facing mental health challenges. They too struggle to find the right balance between training, switching off, and taking mental breaks.

According to Athletes for Hope, a non-profit helping athletes reach their potential, as many as 35% of Elite Athletes experience mental health challenges. Athletes most often tend to shy away from addressing it; hence, the amount of individuals reporting their mental health or seeking support is far less. Only 10% of college-level athletes will report feeling burnout.[1]

This article aims to address the Overtraining Syndrome (OTS) and burnout which is majorly observed in high-performing or professional athletes.

Overtraining Syndrome (OTS)

A widely accepted definition casts athlete burnout as a psychological syndrome of emotional and physical exhaustion, a reduced sense of accomplishment, and sport devaluation.[2] OTS is mostly a result of excessive exercise without adequate rest, which affects multiple body systems: the neurologic, endocrinologic, and immunologic systems.[3] Burnout causes a decline in motivation and interest in the sport which may cause an athlete to drop out.

Symptoms that you are overtraining:

  1. Soreness or pain: If every time you start training you are sore, then chances are you are not taking enough rest for your body to recover from your last workout.
  2. Disturbed sleep: Athletes should sleep well in order to perform and train better in the next session. Disturbed sleep breaks the healing cycle, thus causing fatigue.
  3. Persistent injuries: If left unattended, injuries can reappear which means you are not allowing enough time for your injury to heal.
  4. Lack of motivation: Feeling like calling it quits? You are probably overtraining.
  5. Falling ill continuously: Low immunity can be an indicator of burnout. Constantly catching infections could be a result of insufficient recovery between trainings.

How to cope?

Burnout may seem like an endless loop you cannot get out of. But in reality, a little support and relevant resources can help one break free from this phase.

Train differently: Try breaking the monotony in your workouts. Explore different sports while cross-training to recharge. Add new drills to make your training bouts challenging and fun.

Mindful resting: Stop feeling guilty for taking days off and allowing yourself to fully rest. Listen to your body, if it demands a little more rest, then give it some time. This will only help you to bounce back better and stronger.

Treat your injuries: It is important to address the strained and aching muscles or tissues. You can opt for a professional deep-tissue massage that targets the affected muscles and prevents injuries. Incorporate therapies like hot and cold therapy. Hot water baths for aching muscles, and a sauna can help relax the muscles. A cold shower or ice pack should be used to reduce pain and swelling.

Remembering your purpose: There is always a strong reason why you picked the sport you chose. Try reminding yourself of the core purpose of your choosing to engage in the sport and rediscover your love for it.

Set healthy challenges: While planning out your training, be practical and set achievable goals. Plan enough rest days after hard and long hours of training days. Pushing yourself is important, but not at the cost of your performance. Remember to include enough cross-training and recovery days into your plan.

Practice hobbies outside of sport: No matter how much you love your sport, it is important to switch things up and have an alternative to do something fun. Frequently immerse yourself in hobbies outside of your sport.

Nutrition: Getting enough calories pre, during and post workouts is very essential. Do not train while you are starving. Also, making sure that you are having a well-balanced diet with enough carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals even during off-season is important.

Can Recreational Athletes Experience Burnout?

Overtraining is a syndrome that can be seen in athletes training at any level. However, for recreational athletes, burnout may occur when they begin to participate in intense competitive sports, like running. Many tend to skip rest and recover, while aiming to improve their performance and trying to achieve the right work and sports balance.

For any athlete, whether training at a professional or a recreational level, understanding their relationship with the sport is important. Many athletes would agree to the fact that their performance enhanced every time they enjoyed the training or competition rather than focusing on the results and winning.


  1. Mental Health and Athletes Athletes for Hope
  3. Kreher, J. B., & Schwartz, J. B. (2012). Overtraining syndrome: a practical guide. Sports health, 4(2), 128–138.










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