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Are You Overtrained? How Do You Know? What Do You Do?

Are You Overtrained? How Do You Know? What Do You Do?

Written by
May 7, 2015
Updated April 11, 2018
Category: Fitness

You can ask yourself cliché questions like has your performance stayed the same or decreased over a long period of time? Has your motivation to work out plummeted? Is your libido shot? Do you wake up tired no matter how much you sleep? Do you get dizzy when standing suddenly? Are you lethargic throughout the day, but prop yourself up with caffeine?

These are good and free places to start, but they are all subjective., You can trick yourself into ill-advised thinking, such as – I’m not that tired, and/or I don’t drink that much coffee, I mean, plus… I don’t really need it. Or, I have sex sometimes when I’m not thinking about my training plateau.

What I see most often is people find a way to convince themselves to slave away in a new normal that is a far less than an optimal state. Remember, the body is great at adapting and protecting itself. Famine = Storage. Over-training? Shuts off the bells and whistles of your vehicle, like growth and reproduction, and straps us in for the long haul.

Questions are powerful, and I ask a ton when someone comes in for an evaluation, but, they usually revolve around non-subjective data points like an OmegaWave assessment and/or a complete blood/saliva/urine panel.

Numbers and biological rhythms don’t lie, and people will have less of a tendency to sugar coat things if they see the dismantling right before their eyes. In other words, I put a mirror of data in front of them and ask them what they see and how they feel. The response is generally very different and cuts through the bullshit.

Honestly, identifying over-training, adrenal insufficiency, and hormonal imbalance is not that difficult or costly. However, just like anything, if anyone looks deep enough into your closet, they are going to find some items you don’t want people to know about. If you live in this world, you are not perfect and that is ok. We have to face and respect the fact that we enter this world broken.

Over-training and/or adrenal fatigue are not a death sentence, nor do they signify anything intrinsically wrong with you as a person. It just means you likely need to dial down your training and work on some aspects of your life that you have probably been sliding under the rug, possibly for a long time. Now the real question isn’t “Does this situation exist?”, it is “Do you have the courage to get the job done?”

The hardest part of dealing with athletes or people who are in a state of over-training, adrenal fatigue, and/or hormonal imbalance is that they didn’t get there by eating organic celery and frolicking on a beach in Fiji. They got there because they love weights and the feel of exhaustion. They love working f$cking hard in all aspects of life, and they are generally proud of it.

Yet, they also may have gotten there because they have an ex- or current husband who is a never-ending emotional hurricane, or they have screaming toddlers racing cocker spaniels across the kitchen floor.

DRESS for Health Success

This is where we get into what we can call the Wheel of Life, which is a simplified version of the FDN principle – DRESS for Health Success. I know… both make me want to puke in my mouth a little, but they help get the point across.


OOOoooOoo shiny picture.

Most of the people I find in a burnt out state have a very unbalanced wheel, and the lifestyle portion is squeakier than dirty sixth and getting little attention, if any. It is fueled by the pervasive mentality of life is short, I will sleep when I die approach. These people tend to jump around from workout program to workout program, diet to diet – an annoying pinball machine of excited and apathetic Facebook posts. The canvas is ripped, and they need to put their effort into rebuilding the system instead of constantly tearing it down.

Now, let’s dig a little bit deeper into the wheel with the DRESS for Health principle.

DRESS stands for:

  • Diet (Nutrition)
  • Rest/Recovery
  • Exercise (Movement)
  • Stress Reduction
  • Supplements

Let’s face it. When most people are in this type of a hole, they try to dig themselves out. But that ain’t gonna work. Now that they are in the hole – regardless of how they got there – all lifestyle factors need to be on be table.

Over-training, under-recovering – it’s real, but it’s all bullshit, and what matters more than anything is the individual. Time to clear out the closets or else, like it or not, you are gonna stay in the hole. This is really, really hard.

Probably the hardest thing ever. It involves scrutinizing and changing habits and a lot of addition by subtraction. People don’t like that type of heresy. They want more; a fancy supplement or novel exercise program that will fix everything. Those are crucial aspects that have to be in place, but they aren’t going to make a lick of a difference if things like proper sleep, relaxation, work stress, environmental detoxification, and blood brain barrier and gut health aren’t in line.

Enough Talk. Time For Some Case Studies

Let’s be very clear. I have failed at getting people out of this over-trained state because I didn’t have all the tools, data, and knowledge to get the job done. But most importantly, I didn’t focus on the number 1 factor of success –> Client Buy In. They have to do this. Not you.

“As a practitioner, it’s your job to reach down and help everyone, but it’s not your job to pull them all up.”
Chris Turnpaugh DC, DACNB

I figured out this client, let’s call him Larry, was up shit’s creek without a paddle about a month into getting his BioForce Data. His data didn’t match up with what I knew about his life. Construction job, loves to workout and party. Sleep? Not so much. Gluten? Alcohol? Plenty.


Pretty much all green and little variability day to day. Albeit it is a relatively low value, but still good to go. So what gives?

I knew in my gut this couldn’t be the case and it wasn’t. BioForce only gives you one value of HRV (RMSSD), which is reflective of the parasympathetic nervous system, and guess what you get in BioForce when someone is in parasympathetic over-training?

You get green lights that never really move and little improvement in performance (to credit Jamieson, he does tell everyone to deload before starting BioForce monitoring, but some people need a hell of a lot bigger deload than others).

I don’t think I ever even told Larry this. I didn’t think he could take it, and he left my programming a short time after because I was telling him things like back off, get more sleep, yada yada. Shit he didn’t really want to hear.

It was a knife to the very essence of who he was. Party, work hard, and relentlessly positive vibes. I failed because I didn’t have client buy-in, and I don’t know that I could have got it in the capacity I was working at and how he saw me as a professional.

He was a friend and presumably was looking for a cheaper option than group classes, and I ended up doing it pro-bono (this almost never works), so at the end of the day, I took the coward’s way out and let him walk. I failed from the start, and I knew it. The only thing I could do was learn from it and respect the power of environment and client buy-in.

About a year and hundreds, possibly thousands of books and research papers later, I took on the same problem. BioForce not moving. OmegaWave hormonal profile in the tank. But this time the client was paying full price, would run through a brick wall if I told him to, and deep inside, he knew he was far from 100%.


Outside of our monitoring tools, we ordered a smorgasbord of testing (hormonal panels, stool tests, etc). The story – Stage 3 Adrenal Fatigue, Leaky Gut, and an Immune System on Red Alert. I immediately brought him down to 2 days a week of strength training sessions and light movement on the other 2-3 days a week. Keep in mind, this dude is not soft.

He’s 6’2″ 215 and can lift. He bought in. But I knew this was far from everything we needed. We needed supplements to support and heal the adrenals, to assist with digestion to give his system a bit of a break, calm his immune system, and detox his liver. I needed to give him a chance to seal up his borders with the right foods for him at this particular time.

But, most importantly I needed him to look deeply at the part of the wheel that no one wants to touch – work stress, life stress, sleep, and alcohol.

He dialed in his sleep and brought the party down to a fraction of what it was. At the time, he was a single guy in downtown Austin. I took what I could get. Boom. He moved back to the land of the living with no caffeine, still low, but he feels great throughout the day.



He hit some PRs in the gym and was recovering way better from harder sessions. We are still building health and have come a really long way, but I am not sure that we can get over the last hurdle just yet because work is a priority for him.

Working long hours and doing what others won’t is an identity for him as a professional, and he is super successful, and honestly, that’s more than ok (I am similar when it comes to my passion for my profession, so I can’t call the kettle black). We got plenty of small and big wins and he has a ton more respect for his body and the training/life process. In other words, he knows the price.

Sometimes you have to wait until the right time to make the right move. My failures have helped me realize that it doesn’t matter how bad I want it. The clients have to want it 10x more because they are the ones who need to be in bed by 10 o’clock every night and start a relaxation practice when their phone is buzzing with pirate hookers and ESPN updates.

It all sounds easy, but the easy things are the easiest not to do.

If you want to optimize or take on over-training, know yourself and realize that we are all broken and it’s ok. Ask if you are really ready. And find a guide; the vast majority won’t be able to go it alone.

Over-training. Under-recovery. Blah Blah. If I hit you with a bat, I cannot go back in time and undo that damage.

We can accelerate the healing process, but at the end of the day you still got hit with a bat. Period. I’d love to get a look at the labs of the people that say there is no such thing as over-training, adrenal fatigue, or global warming. I already know what their wheel and life would look like. You know why?

Because I’ve been there. I know that mind and the excuses, and thankfully someone reached out a hand of knowledge and commonsense and said stop being such a tool. I felt shitty enough to buy in and pull myself out. The journey never ends, so stop digging and start climbing, I promise you won’t regret it.

Ben House, PhD, CN, FDN, fNMT, NCSF, USAW LI SPC has worked as a Strength and Conditioning Coach and Nutritionist since 2006. House is currently the owner and founder of Functional Medicine Costa Rica. House was accepted to medical school without an undergraduate degree, but elected to finish his degree and pursue a career in the health and fitness sector. He is currently practicing Functional Medicine after finishing his PhD and a multi-year metabolic health study within the Nutritional Sciences Department at UT-Austin. House has numerous publications in peer reviewed scientific journals such as The International Journal of Obesity, has presented his work at multiple international conferences, and lectures regularly on health and nutrition at The University of Texas.
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