I’ve gotten this question a lot lately.
Is there such thing as too much exercise? How much is too much? What’s the right amount then? Do these workout pants make my legs look skinny? (me at Dick’s Sporting Goods the other day).
To answer these questions succinctly:
Absolutely. Put them back on the rack
Let’s get into it.
Even Shakespeare said you can have too much of a good thing. Turns out science backs him up.
While the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services suggests at least 150 minutes of exercise per week for adults 18–64, you can push things too hard. You can redline it for too long. This is known as overtraining and regardless of what crap comes out of the fitness industry, overtraining is definitely a real thing.
All workout junkies encounter symptoms of overtraining at some point. Your mood sours. Your sleep sucks. Your muscles never seem to not be sore. You’re tired. All. The. Time.
Think of overtraining as an equation: lots of exercise + not enough fuel + insufficient rest → too much stress = overtraining.
I’ve experienced full-blown overtraining twice in my nearly 20-year fitness career. It’s not fun. It’s debilitating. It’s as if a sumo wrestler is sitting on every muscle in your body. It takes you out of the game for weeks (nearly 6 weeks during my second stint).
Thankfully there are ways to avoid overtraining before it rears it’s ugly head.
So how much is too much? How do I avoid overtraining?
It depends on the individual. A bummer answer I know. I wish I could just give you a number and be done with it.
The only way to find your threshold is trial and error. Here a few considerations as you navigate your fitness over time:
Plateaus. Oftentimes progress stalls if you’re pushing too hard. This is a sign of inadequate recovery. Scale back the intensity and add in a couple more recovery sessions over the next two weeks.
Your heart rate is sky high. If your body is working overtime to bring you back to equilibrium you might be overtraining. If you’d describe your resting heart rate as “hammering” or “pounding” instead of “beating” you might be overtraining.
If you’re sitting on your couch sweating six hours post-workout while the thermostat reads 62 (true story) you might be overtraining.
Something (or everything) hurts. As you approach an overtrained state your ability to heal becomes severely compromised. If you’re finding little aches and pains aren’t so little anymore you’re flying too close to the sun. Back off a bit. You don’t want an injury to take you out for weeks or months.
Weight gain. How on earth can exercising too much lead to weight gain? When your body is in a chronic state of stress your stress hormone, cortisol, tends to be elevated. Elevated levels of cortisol are correlated to weight gain.
This may seem like a lot to consider but I promise it’s not. Take stock of your body every morning. How do I feel? Is something off? Is something not right? Taking your fitness “temperature” provides a quick assessment of what’s going on. Go from there.
On to the million dollar question: what’s the right amount of exercise to lead a long, healthy life?
Simply put, whatever your body determines it to be. There are a thousand and one ways your body provides feedback from training, some of which have been mentioned in this article, most of which have not.
Listen to your body. If it tells you to back off, back off. If it clears the runway for takeoff, go for it. It’s not rocket science — it’s 2nd grade listening skills.
There are some studies that suggest long bouts of endurance training lead to heart issues later in life. While this is true for some individuals, they constitute a very small minority. And you have to exercise A LOT to be at risk — I’m talking multiple ultra-marathon type efforts.
Again, listen to your body. If something seems out of whack, get checked out. Simple as that.
Absolutely. Put them back on the rack
I agree with your answer "it depends" to the question of "what is too much exercise"? I have read many articles that try to quantify the answer as if there is one answer for everyone. I am 67 years old and workout 90 minutes every day except Sunday, which is a lighter day. I do equal amounts of cardio, weight training and yoga (2 modalities, 6 days a week). This is what my body needs to maintain my current level of fitness. I feel great and am not over-training, despite what some pundits might say.