Symptoms of Exercise Overexertion

Pay attention to your body to avoid exercise overexertion.
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You can easily experience work or exercise overexertion. Dealing with an extreme form of this condition — exertional rhabdomyolysis — can threaten your life. Learning about ergonomic injury statistics and exercise overexertion can help you stay safe both at work and in the gym.


Overexertion Signs and Symptoms

The symptoms of excessive body exertion will likely appear soon after an intense bout of exercise. It can also happen to you at work, according to a 2019 report from the National Safety Council. In fact, ergonomic injury statistics suggest that overexertion causes 35 percent of all work-related injuries.

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During overexertion, your muscles will feel weak and sore and your urine will darken. These symptoms could result from drug toxicity, muscle injury or heat stress. They can also result from change in the balance between how your body produces energy and uses it.


The muscles break down when you develop rhabdomyolysis. This change triggers the release of several chemicals, including lactate dehydrogenase, creatine kinase and aldolase, according to a paper published in Cureus in March 2019.

Rhabdomyolysis is not a self-limiting condition — it can continue to the point of kidney failure. If you have any of these symptoms, immediately seek medical attention.


Fewer than 10 percent of people show all the signs of exercise overexertion, according to a report published in the spring 2015 issue of the Ochsner Journal. For example, more than 50 percent don't experience muscle weakness and pain. You might need a blood draw to get a diagnosis of rhabdomyolysis.

Having high creatine kinase gives doctors the best diagnostic marker. Normal creatine kinase levels are around 100 IU/L, and levels above 5,000 IU/L indicate muscle damage.


Many psychological warning signs for intense body exertion exist as well. These symptoms include confusion, agitation and delirium, according to a paper featured in the August 2014 issue of the journal Neuromuscular Disorders. Feeling unusually fatigued day after day might also indicate rhabdomyolysis.

Read more: How to Know if I'm Overworking Muscles

Prevention and Treatment

Prevention of exercise overexertion should focus on identifying your risk factors. The authors of a review in the October 2013 issue of the Muscles, Ligaments and Tendons Journal listed several factors, including exercising in an unfavorable environment. Extreme humidity and heat can cause excessive sweating, which may lower potassium levels. Being unusually tired or having asthma can also play a role.



Some people have a greater susceptibility to exercise exertion. Those with a history of rhabdomyolysis have a greater chance of experiencing it again. Sedentary people and older adults are also at risk. Having a muscle disease like muscular dystrophy increases the risk too.

Working with a personal trainer or coach can help prevent harm from extreme body exertion. A fitness expert should take into account your risk factors during each workout. They should also know the symptoms and signs of exercise overexertion. Finally, they should also have an emergency response plan in place and be prepared to act.


Read more: Side Effects of Excessive Exercise

Overexertion: Demographics and Causes

Exertional rhabdomyolysis typically occurs in younger adults doing extreme workouts like those associated with summer football training and military boot camps. Interestingly, it only happens to some of these people. The authors of a paper published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology in August 2013 referred to such subjects as "high responders" since they have raised levels of creatine kinase.


The exact mechanism underlying this sensitivity remains unknown, but genetics seems to play a role. People with the sickle cell trait have a greater risk of developing rhabdomyolysis, according to a paper in the August 2016 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

This research team made several other interesting discoveries while studying their sample of nearly 50,000 soldiers. Older adults also had a greater risk of developing rhabdomyolysis than younger adults and men had a greater risk than women.


You body composition matters too. The authors of a paper in the June 2015 issue of the Journal of Exercise Nutrition and Biochemistry showed that high responders have a higher level of body fat.




Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.

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