Burnout and Overtraining

Give me a few moments to indulge my sport science and exercise science background. It isn’t everyday I get to thoroughly use my college degree and I share the wonderful information I learned there. So on I go….


Overtrain (overtrained, overtraining): “a sudden decline in performance and physiological function that cannot be remedied by a few days or reduced training, rest, or dietary manipulation…also called overtraining syndrome. It is subjective and identifiable only after the individual’s performance and physiological function have suffered. Due to the highly individualization of overtraining syndrome, it is difficult for athletes, trainers, and coaches to recognize overtraining.  Some of the symptoms include,  but not limited to: loss of muscular strength, lack of coordination, extreme fatigue, inability to work at full capacity, change in appetite, weight loss, sleep disturbances (lack of sleep, trouble resting/going to sleep), irritability, restlessness, anxiety, decrease immunity, lack of motivation, decrease mental coordination and concentration, lack of appreciation of things once found enjoyable.” (Wilmore, Jack et. al, Physiology of Sport and Exercise, 301-302).  Any type of athlete be it strength or endurance can be subjected to overtraining.

On a similar but different note we have burnout,

Burnout as defined by Gould and Whitley in 2009: “it is a physical, emotional, and social withdrawal from a formerly enjoyable sport activity. This withdrawal is characterized by emotional and physical exhaustion, reduced sense of accomplishments, and sport devaluation. Moreover, a burnout occurs as a result of chronic stress (a perceived or actual imbalance between what is expected of an athlete physically, psychologically, and socially and his or her response capabilities) and motivational orientations and changes in an athlete…the following are some some characteristics of burnout: physical and emotional exhaustion, depression, feelings of low accomplishment, low self esteem, depersonalization.” (Gould, Daniel et. al, Foundations of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 495-496).

You may be thinking, “what does this have to do with anything?” or “I thought this was an eating disorder recovery blog and we are talking about sport psychology?”. There is a method to my madness. If you didn’t know because you haven’t read previous entries, I am a dancer. I also suffered and in recovery from not only an eating disorder, but exercise addiction.  Dancers are athletes. We train long and hard. When in college it was everyday for hours, especially in performance season. And if you have experienced run through’s and late tech nights, you can relate. On top of this rigorous schedule, I also have found myself battling exercise addiction. As an individual addicted to exercise, I never let myself rest.  This has caught up to me more than once and that is what I want to write about today. My experiences in being overtrained and burnt out.  Especially because at this present moment I am experiencing burn out.

While I was pursuing my undergraduate in Exercise Science, these two topics were of big discussion. There was a point early in my college career that when we were studying the aforementioned topics I realized that I was overtrained. “So this is why I can’t sleep at night and I feel like shit” I would think to myself. Yet, hearing all the factual evidence, I did nothing to remedy it. I also thought, “this doesn’t apply to me” or “I am too strong for overtraining”. What a fool I was. What a slave to Melvin (my ED) and my exercise addiction I was. During this point in time I was doing the following: dance technique classes 3 hrs/wk, rehearsals 5-10 hrs/wk, taught 3 group fitness classes/wk, run anywhere from 3-5 miles/wk, and weight lift (modeled after bodybuilding high volume training) about two hours  3 days/wk. No rest days. I went 7 days a week. Some days I would run, lift, and then dance. Crazy I know. Looking back on it I honestly don’t know how I did that.  And to top it off, I barely consumed 1,500 calories. That would be a high intake day. Yes, again, I don’t know how I did that.

That was my schedule for about the first two years of college till I got anterior knee pain syndrome and some other overuse injuries. I had to stop running all together, which I still miss to this day, running was the only thing that could allow me to fully decompress and escape my negative thoughts. There were moments I couldn’t dance due to my injuries. Despite the injuries, I kept going and going and going (like the Energizer Bunny, in case you missed the reference).

The whole time I kept this routine I had the symptoms of overtraining. I couldn’t rest at night, I had to sleep with the TV on to calm myself. I always was in a fog. I never had enough energy to be my very best or at least pay attention. There were moments I couldn’t concentrate at the task at hand. There would be moments I couldn’t execute the simplest exercises be it dance or lifting. My body ached all the time. I was just tired.  Yet I never did much about it. Even with injuries and removing stuff from my workout routine, an addict will find a way around it. And I did.  All of this eventually led me to burnout. But I never realized I was affected by burnout until now.

I am a performance artist. I love performing. Get me up on stage and I am home. I am free from my ED and I get the attention that I crave. I had a dance instructor say all dancers are selfish because when we perform it is always about us and how good we did we want to hear. He had a very true point. But yet, even through all the compliments and scouting, it was never enough. Well it was enough, but Melvin and my obsession with perfection always thought otherwise. Other athletes can relate, I’m sure. When you are in season it is go time. Long practices, for me rehearsals, no days off. Even weekends see your face more than others. And with every game, for me, performance, you give so much of yourself away that it just wears you out. Thank God for adrenaline, because honestly, with an ED and doing two shows a day I don’t know how I made it through some performances. It can be rough, and this is when I get burnt out. But once a show has closed and I take time for myself, my burn out disappears. Only when do I get in “show mode” does it come back.

Every time I am in “show mode” I get so tired and worn out that I can’t differentiate between my dysthymia (short bouts of depression) and burnout tendencies. It wasn’t till Saturday night after rehearsals for Nutcracker that while talking to my husband I realized I am burned out. And that I hadn’t “felt this way since college”. He pointed out that all those times I get burnt out. He was right. I get tired, fatigued. I end up hating rehearsing and performing. I am unhappy. I put myself under so much stress. Especially this performance because I am a rehearsal director, soloist, and ballet isn’t my first medium (I am a modern, contemporary dancer first) so I have to work that much harder. It is a lot of pressure, and I already have issues with perfectionism.  Every performance I have been in I fall into this rut. I want to quit the show, I can’t wait for it to be over. I hate everybody and everything. I get preoccupied with food and costumes (though I am trying super hard to eat enough and tell myself “I will look good in my costume”). THIS, NOT MY PHYSICAL IMPAIRMENTS IS WHY I THINK THE LORD DIDN’T PUT ME IN COMPANY WORK. How can I be in a professional company when I am prone to overuse injuries and burnout? I am sure if I wasn’t in recovery and didn’t care, I would not have known any difference and a company gig could possibly await me. But, I am in recovery and I do care.

Hopefully, I can learn from this experience as well as past ones to help me avoid burnout in the future. I am already avoiding overtraining, now to just avoid burnout. I believe this may be a future therapy topic….



Foundations of Sport and Exercise Psychology, Daniel Gould and Robert Weinberg

Physiology of Sport and Exercise, Jack H. Wilmore





  1. Your post is so relevant. I am a dancer too, and although I have always been lucky enough to be healthy and aware of what my body can and cannot handle, I have a friend who is very much like you! Her passion for dance is remarkable, but she is prone to both burnout and over-training. She did her final dance show as part of her undergrad with a torn calf muscle! Perhaps this is indeed a topic for dance or even drama therapy. It’s relevant on so many levels. Thank you for sharing!*

    1. Not a problem. Yes it is a big thing. And not only can you get it with physical activities or sports, but even jobs. I know after teach a lot of group fitness during college I had to take a break because I was just so worn out from it. I felt drained and had trouble coming up with new ideas for classes. But, after taking a break I came back fresh. All of this is a good reason to take vacations!

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