You Can Do Too Much

The 1,500 Rep WOD...go hard or go home!

No pain no gain

no pain, no gain.

All of the above are some brutally cliche, often overused phrases when it comes to fitness, training, and competition.

A common theory is that if you’re not pushing yourself to your absolute limit; if you’re not pushing yourself to the point that it hurts and you just can’t do any more, than you’re not being effective. In reality though, while pushing to your limits is sometimes necessary to breaking through a plateau, it’s not necessary all the time. In fact, it can be detrimental if you push that hard all the time.

Although this is a concept that I know well, I relearned it recently. If you’ll recall, a couple of weeks ago I had to take a full 10 days off from the gym, because I had just been doing too much for too long, without giving my body the proper recovery. For the past few months I had been lethargic, constantly sore, and had plateaued in almost all of my lifts. I took some time off though, made a new plan, and since then I’ve been making more progress than I had in months!

A few months ago, I was struggling to deadlift 135 consistently for reps.

Just last week, I deadlifted 155 x3 (a new PR!), and felt amazing.

And you know what? I have increased my DL by 20 pounds by doing less. That’s right, doing less. Not by pushing myself so hard so that I can hardly walk, not by lifting every day, and certainly not by doing more cardio. Since I took that time off, I’ve only been training 4 days per week. 3 lifting days, 1 conditioning day (usually stadiums), and I’m making a conscious effort to really rest on my rest days. I mean really rest. None of this “oh, I’m just going to do a light workout” nonsense, because I know myself, and I don’t tone it down very well.


Note to self: You were doing too much.

(5-6 days of training per week, with 4 of those lift days? Yep, too much)

I see this all the time with the athletes that I work with too. They get injured, and of course want to do everything they can to get back out there on the court or field as quickly as possible. They want to push themselves to get as strong as possible so that they can play the sport that they love. For many of them, this means completing a rehab program that will improve their strength, stability, mobility, or functional ability, depending on their injury and sport. However, for many of these athletes, it’s difficult for them to find an off switch and to realize that even though strength is necessary, so is recovery and healing time.  It’s often a big part of my job to prevent an athlete from doing too much.

I have seen athletes who have over-trained so much after an injury that they’ve actually ended up with another injury, because they were simply doing too much. I think many people, athletes especially, underestimate the importance that recovery has in terms of both health and strength.

Whether you’re an injured athlete or a regular old gym fanatic, the premise is the same. Recovery time is not just encouraged, it’s essential to actually building strength and making improvements.  Most people would never think that by doing less (far less) than I had been doing, I would be able to increase my lifts significantly in a short amount of time.  But when you actually take the time to think about the science behind weight lifting and strength gains, it actually makes perfect sense.

I know this post was a little bit of a ramble, but my point is this: You can do too much. More is not always better, and too much can not only stall your progress, but can even be detrimental. Of course, not everyone out there needs to do less, and some people really need to do more! But that’s the beauty of the fitness world. No two people are the same, so follow the plan that’s right for you. Don’t let a trainer tell you that you have to work out 6 days per week or you won’t have 6-pack abs. Don’t let a trainer tell you that you have to push through pain and injuries, because it’s the only way to get better.

Maybe you actually just need to do less in order to do more!

Happy Friday everyone! 

16 thoughts on “You Can Do Too Much

  1. Interesting, I had never thought of taking a long 10 day break from exercise to recover and break plateaus. I think 10 days might be excessive but maybe a 4 or 5 day break could have the same effect.

    1. 10 days definitely can be a little bit excessive, but I wasn’t doing it just to break plateaus. As I mentioned, I had hit a point of exhaustion, pain, and lethargy that had lasted for months, so I needed a little bit of extra time to recover fully. My deload weeks are generally 4-5 days and those work just fine for the normal de-load period!

  2. I can relate to this so much. I used to constantly read about lifting heavy, lifting to and past your limits each time you’re in the gym. I wore myself out lifting this way every single session, so I chalked it up to hitting a plateau and tried incorporating dropsets and other different variations, when really, all I needed was more rest and less stress on my body. Love this post – it’s something we all need to recognize and take seriously.

    1. Thanks so much, and glad you can relate! I did the same thing at first — kept up my insane volume while just changing things up. Did it help at all? Nope! Glad you were able to realize it too!

  3. SIS!!!!!!!! BEST POST EVER!!!!!!

    Did you know I am just doing 4 days/week too!? I’ve never felt better!!!!! I want to talk to you more!!!!! Maybe FaceTime date!? OH MY GOODNESS ME!!!! I MISS YOU!!!!!!!

    Ok, so yes – best post ever and people need to read this!!!!!! DO MORE BY DOING LESS!!!!! LOVE IT

    1. Thanks Meg! Miss you! We definitely do need to talk soon, we can FaceTime for sure! I’m glad to hear how much you’re loving your new training plan and that you’re getting good results already!

  4. p.s. congrats on the PR’S 😀

  5. AWESOME work on the deadlifts. You’re right. I’d also like to add that you can do too much while you’re in the gym those 4x a week too. I mean, that really depends on your goals but it is possible. I’m like you… for a while I was in the gym 4x a week PLUS a day or two of conditioning and trying to get in other forms of cardio/movement. With the start of grad school, I handed my programming off to someone else to get me really strong. I’ve cut it down to 2 strength days, 1 olympic lifting day, and 1 conditioning day. My time in the gym is a lot less too. Guess what? My conventional deadlift has gone up 30 lbs in a month. NUTS!

    1. Thanks Juliet! And I totally agree — I have cut way back on my volume while I’m at the gym… Most of my gym sessions don’t go any longer than 45 minutes these days, and I feel great! And congrats to you on that huge PR, it’s amazing what some good rest and expert programming can get you, huh?

  6. It can be so hard to convince ourselves to tone it down sometimes, especially with all the motivational images and phrases floating around telling us to train hard, push ourselves, etc. But it’s amazing what a bit of rest can do for our bodies. Nice job on your PRs! 😀

    1. So true, and thank you! And the funny thing is, with this decrease in training, while my strength has increased I’ve also seen some great physique improvements… Just goes to show that you don’t have to kill yourself in the gym to get the look you want!

  7. Great post! I see those phrases all over the blog/fitness world, and honestly just try to ignore them because they’re not true. The one that bothers me the most is, “You never regret a workout” – or something like that. I definitely have before.. the workouts I got caught up in loving it and pushed too hard.
    That’s so awesome what you are achieving with a little rest and listening to your body!! Congrats!

    1. Ah yes that one kills me too — I have totally regretted workouts before, especially when I try to push through one when I’m sick! Thanks so much Caroline!

  8. I definitely over trained for a few months this past year. Once I started getting injuries though I backed off, and have been injury free. So glad I wasn’t too stubborn. This is a great post though for all of those that just thinks more more more is better when in most cases it is not.

  9. As you know, things are changing for me. One of the big things is that my excuse of “I have a sniffle, I shouldn’t work out because I have a big event coming up” is gone. So, a week ago I decided that unless I am dying, I am NOT going to skip the gym because of, well, essentially, a lame and fearful excuse. However, I caught myself at the gym today stressfully thinking about my schedule and the gym as I was lifting. This post came at the perfect time. Although I am not a deadlifter (I could have been one day if my gym didn’t say no) I still know I can push myself too hard into certain things. Thanks for this reminder!

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