Functional and Nonfunctional Overreaching and Overtraining

by NSCA Guide to Program Design
Kinetic Select June 2017


If manipulation of the training variables is not tailored correctly to the desired adaptations and specific training goals, an athlete can experience symptoms of nonfunctional overreach. If this process continues, the athlete can develop overtraining syndrome.

The following is an exclusive excerpt from the book NSCA's Guide to Program Design, published by Human Kinetics. All text and images provided by Human Kinetics.

Strength and conditioning professionals must manipulate exercise selection and tailor training stimuli to attain the desired adaptations for a particular sport (9, 23). When training variables and exercise selection are manipulated, a stimulus is created that varies based on the goal of training (i.e., hypertrophy, power, strength, local muscular endurance, or capacity for cardiorespiratory endurance of the musculoskeletal system). This forces the athlete to adapt in response to the training program through neurological, structural, and hormonal changes. These changes are only achieved by stressing the athlete beyond comfort levels (typically called overload).

By providing overload in the training program, strength and conditioning professionals ensure that the athlete will functionally overreach within the training program and progress as expected (11, 12, 14). Thus, a staircase effect results. The athlete experiences acute fatigue and a temporary reduction in performance, but quickly returns to normal or even slightly increased function (9). With long-term overreaching, the body’s functional capabilities may be suppressed for several days. However, they rebound (i.e., increase beyond pretraining values) dramatically when the overreaching stimulus is removed (31). Here, the strength and conditioning professional is in control of this positive adaptation, or the structural and functional differences that occur with training (37).

The manipulation of training variables is a delicate balancing act. Close monitoring of both workout logs and testing is required. If manipulation of the training variables is not tailored correctly to the desired adaptations and specific training goals, the athlete will experience symptoms of nonfunctional overreach. In this scenario, the athlete’s body will have the same neurological, structural, and hormonal responses to exercise as with functional overreach, but he will be unable to positively adapt without rest. Performance will begin to suffer and some training adaptations may be lost. This means that the total conditioning program is flawed and that the athlete is not successfully adapting or maintaining functional capabilities or body composition (22). If this process continues, the athlete can enter into an overtraining syndrome, and may need months to recover performance capabilities (11) (see figure 1.5).


Developed by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), this text offers strength and conditioning professionals a scientific basis for developing training programs for specific athletes at specific times of year. The book is available in bookstores everywhere, as well as online at the NSCA Store.

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