Overtraining can take a toll on your mind and body. Learn some simple ways to ward off its effects.

By Ryan Halvorson

You love climbing, but if you do it too much, there will come a point of diminishing returns. That point is known as overtraining (read about that here) and it can result in insomnia, injury, excessive soreness, performance plateaus and more. If you think you’ve crossed over into overtraining territory, all is not lost. Here are five things you can do to return to a healthier state of being.


De-stress. Training too much causes the sympathetic nervous system (the one associated with “fight or flight”) to go into overdrive. In order to return balance, the focus should be to show love to the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps to slow the heart rate and help the body enter a state of relaxation. Some common ways to do that are to meditate, do some foam rolling or get a massage, take a hot bath, spend time in nature (NOT climbing!), practice some form of restorative yoga, play with children or animals or other similar activity.

Regular foam rolling can help improve recovery, mobility and stress levels. Photo by Jen Gold.

Focus on Good Food. As the popular saying goes, food is fuel. If you’re feeling the effects of overtraining, you might be due for a nutritional revamp. In some cases, overtraining can be a product of inadequate or faulty food choices. If your body isn’t getting the right kind of nutrition then it cannot recover optimally. To address the issue, reach out to a qualified nutrition counselor or dietitian to learn about how to beef up your food plan.

Make Sleep a Priority. This is sort of a chicken-and-egg paradox because if you read the article on overtraining you learned that it can cause insomnia. But how do you get more sleep when you have trouble sleeping? Here or five things you can do to increase your likelihood of getting your nightly 8 hours:

  • Set a bedtime and stick to it. The body likes to keep a tight schedule and can get thrown off when that schedule constantly changes. Just like you train your fingers to grip a crimper with regular practice, you have to train your body to fall asleep. The best way to do that is to hit the sack and wake up at the same time every day. Once your body recognizes a pattern, it will be easier to fall—and stay—asleep.
  • Ditch the Tech. It’s almost become common practice to use a tablet or Smartphone to catch up with the day’s goings-on before shutting down for the night. However, the lights emitted from those devices may delay the body’s ability to release melatonin—aka the sleep hormone—making it more difficult to drift off. Instead, choose a book or magazine to read before bed. While we’re on the subject of light, sleep experts also suggest hitting the dimmer a few hours before bed to help set the stage for a good night’s rest.
  • Stay cool. A room temperature of about 60 to 67 degrees has been shown to help people fall asleep more easily. If possible, set your thermostat to 65 before you head to bed.
  • Inhale. Try spending time breathing slowly and deeply. Science shows that concentrated breath work induces the body’s relaxation response.
  • Stretch It Out. Like deep breathing, a 10-minute, full-body stretch session also signals the body to release relaxation hormones.

Dial Back the Intensity. If you spend 3 hours a day climbing, perhaps you might cut that time in half or by a third for a few weeks. Decreasing training volume will reduce the amount of stress placed on your body, giving it a better chance to recover. Also, you might opt to train easier problems that allow you to focus on technique and other climbing fundamentals. Who knows, you may come across some faulty patterns that you’ve gone unaware of that will make you a better climber!

Changing up your training program can reduce the potential for overtraining. Photo by Jen Gold.

Gimme a Break.
Taking a break from your favorite activity might be a difficult pill to swallow, but when it comes down to it, a temporary, self-induced break is far more appealing than a long-term one forced on you by injury or overwhelming fatigue. If the thought of all that free time gives you the heebie-jeebies, then replace it with some relaxing yoga, nature walks, low-intensity cross training, hikes or other similar activity.

The bottom line is that if you enjoy climbing then chances are you want to continue to do it for a long time. Employing tactics to minimize the potential for overtraining will keep you on the walls and doing what you love for the long haul.


Ryan Halvorson is an award-winning author, editor and content specialist for Mesa Rim.