Is there a difference between overtraining and burnout?

Yes there is, but there are some overlapping signs and symptoms that may make the differences confusing to both athletes and parents. 

Another situation where the lack of or fear of communication is the culprit to catching early signs and symptoms before both issues become detrimental both physically and mentally.

The prevention of overtraining and burnout is prevented mostly from the education of the risk factors. These are of high priority in our Olympian RISE Mentor/ Youth Athlete mentorship program and the open lines of safe, honest communication allows for a safe place for your athletes to open up in all areas.

To be a high-performing athlete, commitment and motivation levels are high. Athletes tend to have a level of “ tunnel vision” where they are able to keep grinding every day. Something that can be considered an individual super power. This same super power can then become their own worst enemy when frustration and setbacks come into the equation. 

Overtraining is more associated with neuromuscular challenges, especially recovery. Whereas, burnout has more to do with the overall complex construct associated with mental or psychosocial overloading.

Intense amounts of mental and physical output for prolonged amounts of time is not sustainable. Although, don’t we wish this wasn't the case. It's so easy to approach any goal as a highly motivated individual with high expectations of yourself.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we were invincible to the impact those accumulated internal and external pressures put on our mind and body?

Mental fortitude is a commonly discussed factor in the differences between overtraining and burnout. When experiencing overtraining, the athlete still has the mental toughness to push through the training, however, they are not reaping the benefits. Rather they are not recovering as quickly as they should, experiencing mineral deficiencies, become more vulnerable to injuries, loss of sleep, appetite, and several more negative impacts.

Burnout is the loss of that mental toughness. It is a response to chronic stress and overload all around with continued demands of sport without adequate time to rest the mind and body. It is very typical that the more highly motivated individuals experience burnout to the most extreme extent. According to the European Journal of Sport Science, it is said that the “only highly motivated individuals can burn out. In other words, in order to burn out, one has to first be ‘on fire’. A person with no such initial motivation can experience stress, alienation, depression, an existential crisis, or fatigue, but not burnout.”

With scholarships, starting positions, and team dynamic at stake, athletes will typically ignore the beginning signs and symptoms of overtraining and continue to push through without letting their coaches or parents know how they are feeling. This is something to be aware of with your athlete. Especially those who have lofty goals of playing sports in college and desire receiving some type of academic and athletic scholarship.

Are you familiar with the term overreaching? This is not overtraining.

Overreaching is a strategic part of developing high performance fitness in athletes. This is a phase where training is overloaded for a specific training block in order to allow important body adaptation to stress. The key is overloading the body and then allowing adequate recovery time to benefit from this phase of training. It is temporary. It is not overtraining and it is  short term.

If you and your athletes are concerned. Speak to the coach about their training regimine and be aware of the training cycle your athlete is in. This should be a phase of training that the coaches educate their athletes about, so they are aware of the physical and mental fatigue they will experience. 

Motivation and self-determination are also a widely discussed contributor to burnout. 

There is a theory of self-determination dictating the likelihood of an athlete encountering burnout. To summarize a complex study on the self-determination theory, the more intrinsically self motivated an individual is and the less they are influenced by external factors are less likely to experience burnout, whereas the externally motivated individual, that does not have a good grip on the control of their own motivation and allow it to come mostly from outer sources are more likely to experience burnout. 


  • lack of motivation or desire 

  • desire to discontinue sport participation

  • views the demands of sport too demanding

  • having a higher resting heart rate and blood pressure

  • illnesses as a result of suppressed immune system

  • Emotional issues such as disinterest, moodiness, irritability

  • Low self-esteem, increased anxiety and depression as a result of falling short of sport    demands


  • Prolonged fatigue

  • Performance decrement

  • Decreased training adaptation

  • Disturbed sleep

  • Irritability

  • Awakening unrefreshed

  • Injury

  • Reduced sport sense of accomplishment

  • Devaluation of sport participation

  • Most clinical problems of overtraining have been observed in athletes training with a    metabolic load of more than 4000 kcal

There are several important questions to think about regarding your athlete when encountering the state of being overtrained or experiencing burnout. As said above, it is typical for a youth athlete to ignore the early signs and symptoms with the fear of disappointing you as a parent or a coach. 

“ I realized now that I don’t need to train harder, I need to train smarter. Rebecca taught me to focus on what I do well and make that even better.”

-RISE Athlete

Our team of RISE Olympian Mentors are experts in this field and know all the right answers. Schedule a free call with us and let’s see how we can help!

ResilienceRISE Athletes