Burnout and Overtraining - Warning Signs, Symptoms, and Strategies for How to Avoid It

mom burnout
by megan dahlman
November 15, 2022

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If you want to be healthy woman, with strength and energy for years to come, then you and I need to huddle up and talk about burnout and overtraining. Whether you think you’re at risk for this right now or not, you need to hear this, because I want to be able to check in on your when you’re 80 years old and see that you’re still crushing it.

A quick story…

There is one story that stands out vividly in my mind as the first time I was introduced to the idea of overtraining.

In college, as a senior in the Exercise Science department, we got to do site visits of places like sports performance facilities, cardiac rehab centers, PT offices, and super clinical places that were doing applied exercise physiology. And one facility worked with high-end athletes, mostly endurance athletes. Being in Seattle, running, cycling, and triathlons were extremely popular, so they did a lot of metabolic testing and VO2 max testing. Fancy stuff.

When we visited, there was one woman in there that was perhaps 35 years old, but she looked really odd because she was moving like an 80 year old. Very fragile, very careful, slow movements, and she was constantly being monitored.

She explained to us that she was in the process of rehabbing her body from overtraining syndrome. And it had taken her a year to get to where she was at now. She had been an elite marathoner. And unfortunately, pushed her body way past all the warning signals and well beyond the point of no return. And her body was so stressed it simply shut down. And the process of returning to a normal, healthy individual was going to take years of careful monitoring by rehab professionals, gentle coaxing, and hyper-focused diligent effort - just so she could function like a normal human being again.

Now, my guess is that you’re not an elite marathoner. But even still, you could be pushing your body in ways that are ignoring all the warning signals, and you’re on the verge of burning out or even worse, overtraining.

My mission, always, is to help you love your body and to steward it well so that you’re strong, healthy and effective in life for years to come. I want to make sure that every single day you have BALANCE and MODERATION so that you’re not underdoing it and getting unhealthy, and also that you’re not overdoing it and getting unhealthy.

Today I’m going to teach you the signs and symptoms of overtraining and burnout, and how to avoid it so that you have a sustainable health journey.

Superwoman Status

Through all my years coaching women, I’ve seen (and often admired) the superwoman status.

  • Having a go-getter spirit, the “hold-my-beer” attitude
  • Deeply knowing that you’re capable of so much and to work hard and push yourself

This spirit in women is amazing, but it can lean over the edge and eventually cause you to fall off the cliff

  • This spirit of being a Superwoman that does it all and tries to do it perfectly compels you to do more, to take on more, and to push harder.
  • Especially in workouts: “If I’m going to carve out time to train, it needs to leave me feeling sore, sweaty and blasted”. Crossfit culture has fostered this attitude of go hard or go home. And you’re not good enough if you don’t leave it all on the floor when you walk away from that workout.
  • Even in nutrition: “If I’m going to eat better and clean up my eating habits, it needs to involve cutting out everything bad, dialing in my macros, experiementing with intermittent fasting and piling in all the supplements.” Good nutrition is “next level nutrition”.

We have to recognize when the desire to do things well and to challenge ourselves and push ourselves to be better is simply going too far. There’s a line that gets crossed where you’re no longer satisfied or content with the simple joys of the habit itself, and it turns into greed and pride.

So, like all things in your health and fitness journey, your actions are governed by your heart and your mindset.

What is burnout? And what is overtraining?

Burnout is more of an emotional state, and it impacts your mood, your desires and your drive. When you burnout you don’t care and you don’t want to care.

Overtraining is a physical state, so this is how all of your body’s systems responding to too much stress. There are two main mechanisms in play:

There’s a really great article from Precision Nutrition that I’ll link to in the show notes that has a great analogy for understanding overtraining by picturing the way a car works.

  • Central nervous system: this is like the electrical system in the car that regulates your engine and all of the main functions of the car. If the engine on the car revs too high for too long, it triggers the sensors and it shuts it all down. We have a truck that literally calls it “limp mode” - it will shut down pretty much everything so you can only drive 20 mph.
  • This is what your CNS does with overtraining. It dramatically reduces the nerve impulses throughout your body so you can’t move much. It’s like going into limp mode.
  • Local fatigue: with the car analogy, this is kind of like running out of gas. Your systems are so depleted of energy and fuel and your muscles can’t heal, so that you feel tired, lethargic, weak and constantly sore.

Burnout and overtraining very often go hand in hand, but not necessarily.

  • You can be mentally and emotionally burnt out, but still have a well running engine. Your body is doing ok.
  • You can be physically overtrained, but still have the mental and emotional drive to get after it. You’re not emotionally burnt out. (This might be the most dangerous, because you don’t have a mental check on how hard you continue to push yourself.)

What are some signs and symptoms?

Signs and symptoms of burnout:

  • Depressed
  • Lacking passion and your original desire to do the thing
  • Forgetful - simple tasks and responsibilities start falling through the cracks
  • Irritable and overwhelmed

One question I always ask clients when I help them put together a routine is, “How does this feel? Does this feel doable? Does it overwhelm you?” I want to make sure that even if it looks just fine and balanced on paper, I don’t want it to overwhelm you. Because you could have a lot of other stressful things going on in your life to the point that doing one workout a week could put you into burnout mode.

Signs and symptoms of overtraining:

  • Blood sugar ups and downs.
  • Depression, anxiety, and/or racing thoughts.
  • Trouble sleeping or early wakeups.
  • Food cravings, maybe even trouble controlling your eating.
  • Lower metabolism because your thyroid hormones are getting messed up
  • Disrupted sex hormones (which means less mojo overall, and in women, irregular or missing menstrual cycles).
  • More inflammation
  • More chronic pain in your joints and a feeling that things aren’t being lubricated well
  • Constantly catching colds and getting sick
  • Constantly getting injured

How can you avoid it?

Wisely manage the stresses in your life:


  • Exercise is a stressor. It’s usually a good one, but you still need to help your body recover from it because it is a stressor.
  • If you exercise intensely and/or often, you add stress to a body that may already be stressed from other life stuff like work, relationships, travel, late nights, etc. A really simple way to know if a workout was intense is if you need to take a shower afterward. (Sweat, heat, heavy breathing, quivering muscles.)
  • Whenever you do exercise intensely, create as many buffers and utilize as many recovery tactics as possible
  • Proper warm-up and cool down
  • Proper workout nutrition
  • Balance out your workout throughout the week
  • Full active recovery workouts - bodyweight only, dynamic stretching that encourages good mobility through full range of motion of all of your joints
  • Passive recovery - complete days off (at lease one every week)
  • Balance out your workouts throughout the month
  • Easy, moderate, moderate, hard


  • Undereating and food restriction of any kind is a stressor, whether it’s calorie restriction, meal restriction or macro restriction
  • Start to train your brain to think MORE - eat more protein, more produce, more variety, more meals, more of the good stuff
  • Make sure you’re eating enough, especially protein (minimum 100g/day)
  • Eat to 80% fullness
  • Limit your junk food (which does nothing to fuel and heal your body and in fact creates more inflammation), but don’t be intense about it.
  • Usually having one intentional splurge a day is still going to keep you on track with your body comp goals
  • Once again, pay attention to your workout nutrition, especially on high intensity workout days
  • Eat a full meal with protein, protein and some grains or other starchy carbs in the hour or so following your workout. If you can’t, at least have a protein shake with a banana.

Other things to consider

  • Get enough sleep
  • Play give and take with other stressors in life. If it was a really stressful day, maybe a super hard, intense workout is not the best idea.
  • Make sure you’re having fun and have the ability to drop it, take a few days off, and not feel so obsessive.

A quick example

A really good example of all of this in action is how I design every workout program I create. I’ll use the Strong Mommas Coaching Program as the perfect example. Every month, I gives the members in my program a new set of workouts. And everything is intentional - it’s NOT just a group of hard, random HIIT workouts designed to burn the most fat or whatever.

  • Weeks 1, 2, 3, 4
  • Workout A & B, then C, then D

Your big takeaways

The big idea here is that I want you to still be Superwoman, but be wise and remember that your body, and even your mind, is not a machine. Don’t forget that God intentionally designed an OFF DAY for us humans in the form of Sabbath. Does He need it? No, but we do. Because with days off, with intentional rest, you can operate at your best and be highly productive and effective for a long time.

Your action steps now are to:

  • Think through that list of the signs and symptoms of burnout and overtraining.
  • And if you can check off a bunch of those things, figure out all the ways that you’ve been overdoing it.
  • Get a better workout plan that has intentional rest and recovery built in.
  • Get on a better nutrition plan that’s not restrictive.
  • And be a Superwoman that takes naps.

More Resources

Find out your body type! Take the FREE Body Type Quiz now!

Precision Nutrition Article: How Intense Workouts (and Overtraining) Can Ruin Your Results

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Trainer, nutrition coach, and Christian mom — in a culture that’s obsessed with “gym-selfies” and a number on the scale, I’m passionate about helping moms discover what it feels like to actually love their bodies and thrive in them.
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Self-Care Simplified is for Christian moms that want to be equipped and encouraged to take simple steps towards the healthy life you want for yourself and the people you love.
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Trainer, nutrition coach, and Christian mom — in a culture that’s obsessed with “gym-selfies” and a number on the scale, I’m passionate about helping moms discover what it feels like to actually love their bodies and thrive in them.
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Hi! I’m Megan.
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Self-Care Simplified is for Christian moms that want to be equipped and encouraged to take simple steps towards the healthy life you want for yourself and the people you love.
Be sure to subscribe to Self-Care Simplified wherever you listen to your favorite podcast.
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