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  • Writer's pictureIwona Zieba

Fatigue, Exhaustion, Overtraining

Fatigue is a physiological state aimed at preventing overactivity that would ruin a person's health and lead to their death. It is a very common condition, which, like it or not, accompanies us every day. Fatigue can be either physical or mental. It is a very extensive topic, which is why today, I will only focus on fatigue in the aspect of physical activity.

In the context of the definition of fatigue, it can be said to be a normal phenomenon; one could even go as far as to say that fatigue has a positive effect on the body, as it signals that we need to rest. After a period of physical effort, the body's capabilities decrease. Fewer and fewer motor units are being stimulated; the reserves of glycogen are running out. Our moves are no longer as fast and precise, and we become unable to generate as strong of a force as at the start of the training session.

This is perfectly normal; “our body is not an endless source and just needs to replenish its fuel.” This kind of fatigue causes no negative changes in the nervous system and does not affect one's ability to think logically; on the contrary – it makes one feel good. It is functional fatigue, which we cause to our body during a training session, and following properly planned regeneration, it leads to super-compensation, which is actually a desirable phenomenon. If we make sure that we eat appropriate food, for example, food that helps rebuild our muscle glycogen, and gives our muscles some time to rebuild their muscle fibres, we can expect positive results.

It is worth noting here that people who used to avoid physical activity like the plague are going to feel like they have been hit by a tank after their first few training sessions. They may feel DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). This phenomenon is quite common and poses no danger to one's health, although it may be quite bothersome for beginners.

Things will be a bit different if we bite off more than we can chew and expose our body to enormous effort for which it has not been prepared. This state of fatigue can be called overworking and entails numerous inflammatory conditions within the body. After such effort, we must give ourselves a few days to regenerate.

Exhaustion is a phenomenon resulting from overlapping of states of fatigue in the absence of sufficient rest. It makes one feel bad, get tired easily, feel depressed and have trouble sleeping. In the case of exhaustion, one must ensure proper regeneration and rest. It is worth reducing our physical and professional activity for about a week or two.

Overtraining is the most severe of the states listed above. It can be defined as a state in which the previously used training stimuli become too strong for the body. The most common cause is the lack of proper regeneration. Contrary to what one might expect, it is not easy to put one's body in this state, and this ailment chiefly afflicts professional athletes, although anything is possible, and even when we train as a form of recreation, we can still cause significant damage to our body.

There are two types of overexertion: short-term (overreaching) and long-term (overtraining). Overreaching is a physiological phenomenon resulting from the intensification of training and appears to improve one's sports performance. The symptoms appear after approx. 3 weeks of intense training and cease after approx. 1–2 weeks of rest. Overtraining does not occur after a single or even several training sessions but is an accumulation of systematically repeating training overload beyond our capabilities.

If we do not regenerate and eat properly, we can expect our body to fail us after a while. It is also worth noting that overexertion has serious consequences not only for our musculoskeletal system but also for our nervous system, which causes many problems, such as hormonal, immunological and mental disorders.

The physical symptoms of overtraining are: · muscle pains · joint pains · decreased bodily functions · frequent tiredness · exhaustion of the body · weariness of the body · headaches and vertigo · breathlessness · increased susceptibility to infections

Mental symptoms of overtraining: · decrease in motivation for training · concentration problems · lack of appetite · trouble falling asleep and sleeping

It is crucial that we pay attention to the signals that our body sends us. If you feel reluctant to train (not to be confused with laziness) and notice a lack of progress in spite of having put enormous effort into your training, that should be a warning signal.

Getting your body out of overexertion takes weeks or even months, and often requires the assistance of a specialist, so do not underestimate the problem.

How to prevent overtraining?

- Proper regeneration is a must. Remember that it is not during training, but during rest when the positive changes occur in our body. Muscle fibres require time to rebuild, so do not torture the same muscle group day after day.

- It is worth periodising your training; to put it briefly, after several weeks of intense training, take a one- or two-week long break for deload.

- Do not forget to eat properly either; your body needs its ‘fuel and building blocks’.

To summarise, there is a very fine line between the physiological condition of functional fatigue, which usually causes super-compensation, and exhaustion; as well as between overreaching, which has a positive effect on sports performance and overtraining. The important thing is to learn to ‘listen’ to your body and not to ignore even the slightest warning signals.

Reference list:




- Zespół przewlekłego zmęczenia a zespół przetrenowania Dominika Zielińska, Sebastian

Szmit Katedra i Klinika Rehabilitacji, Gdański Uniwersytet Medyczny I Katedra i Klinika

Kardiologii, Warszawski Uniwersytet Medyczn

- Zmęczenie jako współczesne zagrożenie cywilizacyjne. Marlena Duda, „Edukacja –

Technika – Informatyka” nr 1/19/2017

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