QT: Is Overtraining a Real Thing or a Myth?

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There’s an adage I’ve heard several times in running circles that says it’s better to be undertrained than overtrained on race day.

I’ve always agreed with this philosophy, and have tried to err on the side of caution when putting training plans together for myself and for the runners I coach.

But recently I’ve started to hear a lot of people talking about overtraining as something that isn’t really a thing.

And I think I agree with their logic…

What is Overtraining?

First things first, what do we mean by overtraining?

Great Questions

The most commonly accepted definition of overtraining is the point where more activity actually inhibits progress/growth instead of encouraging it.

So for us as runners, that means that overtraining would be the point where more (volume, intensity, or both) is going to lead to worse performance on race day.

How is this possible?

Every time you’re training, you’re causing damage to the cells in your body.

As your body repairs those cells and tissues, that’s how you get stronger and improve your fitness.

Once overtraining comes into play, you’re doing more damage to your body than it’s capable of repairing before your next run or workout.

In isolation?

But when that continues to happen, run after run, week after week, your body is breaking down instead of building itself up and your performance suffers.

With that in mind, it’s probably easy to see why it’s better to be a bit undertrained with a race approaching than being overtrained.

The Myth of Overtraining

This overtraining process/phenomenon is pretty well established in the exercise science world.

For most of my professional life, I’ve never questioned whether or not overtraining was a thing.

Until recently.

There’s no such thing as overtraining, just under recovering.

What Does This Mean?

Let’s unpack that a bit, shall we.

Building your fitness, whether we are talking about running or not, is an ebb and flow of work and recover.

Tissue damage done by running or other physical activity, and the body’s repairing of the tissue making it stronger and more resilient.

As long as this balance is more or less maintained, overtraining is more or less an impossibility.

Maintaining this balance of work and recovery can happen a couple of different ways.

Doing more work in training, invest more time/effort into your recovery.

Decrease training load? Not as much recovery is needed.

Basic algebra, really.

Is It All Semantics Then?

Is there really a difference between overtraining and under recovering? Or is it all just semantics?

It’s mostly just semantics, honestly.

But whether you want to call it overtraining or under recovering, it’s still a very real thing.

And in the next couple of weeks, we will dig a little deeper into both sides of the equation: training load and recovery.

Is overtraining a myth? Perhaps. #runchat Share on X

Have You Ever Struggled with Overtraining/Under Recovery?

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3 replies
  1. Ryan
    Ryan says:

    I first came across this concept via Jason Koop. I’d always wanted to try higher mileage but was worried about blowing up from overtraining. But after reading Koop’s statements saying essentially the same as your post- along with some good advice from experienced friends- I bumped my mileage way up (for me)- from averaging 45-60 mpw to averaging 75-90 mpw, with a few 100 miles weeks peppered in at peak training. I also slept more, ate better, cut back on alcohol, drank way more water, etc. Unsurprisingly, my running improved; surprisingly (to me at least) I did not get injured at all. In fact, I felt more resilient. It’s amazing what our bodies and brains are capable of if we give them a chance!

  2. Ryan
    Ryan says:

    I first came across this idea via Jason Koop, who said basically the same thing as your post. I’d always wanted to try high mileage, but as afraid I’d blow up. But after reading Koop’s take, and getting advice from experienced friends, I decided to try it. I went from averaging 45-60 mpw to averaging 75-90 with a few 100 miles weeks at peak training. Of course I slept more, ate better, cut back on alcohol, drank more water, etc. And, unsurprisingly, my running improved. I was surprised though at how good I felt and that I never got injured (knock on wood…). It’s amazing what our bodies (and minds) can do if we give them a chance. My only regret is that I didn’t train this way when I was younger.


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