How Much Is Too Much?

So you joined a new workout class or started a new fitness plan. You’re going 100% all in, pushing to your limits and feeling excited about the progress you’ll make.

But how do you know if what you’re doing is actually too much? How do you know if this new plan may end up hurting you rather than helping you in the long run?

Today’s post is actually inspired by a conversation I recently had with a friend of mine. She had started at a new group fitness class, which she loves. We spoke about how much she has been going (5-6 times per week, which is great and she enjoys it, it just struck me as a lot for high intensity classes!). At this point, she’s feeling great, but is starting to notice some aches and pains in places she hasn’t had before. Also, and more importantly, she remarked to me that on the days they do more strength based workouts (ie not just high intensity exercises), she worries that she doesn’t burn enough calories.

And I know without a doubt that a lot of you out there can relate to that feeling. I have had variations of this same conversation with so many people over time — from clients to friends to blog readers and more. If you’re not pushing to your limit, are you doing enough? If you’re able to walk out of class/the gym and you’re not lying in a puddle of your own sweat, was it even a real workout? But the real question here is are those types of workouts too much, or conversely, are you giving yourself the proper time to recover between these balls-to-the-wall high intensity workouts?

The recovery piece is key here. Our bodies are not meant to go, go, go– there is a finite limit to how much stress your body can endure. And yes, even though exercise feels great and is good for you, it is in fact a stressor on the body. Add that to all of the stressors of your daily life, and without giving your body time to recover, piling those types of workouts on top of each other can mean a quick road to burn out, injury, or even metabolic damage.

The truth is, when it comes to the above conversation and in a broader sense as well, those strength based workouts and active recovery days are actually way more important than many people realize. If you were to be doing high intensity, high impact workouts 5-6 (or 7?) days per week, with little recovery time, what starts out as little aches and pains can become even more significant with time. I’ve said it a thousand times before, and I’ll continue preaching this until I die: there is no benefit to training at 100%, 100% of the time.

Your body heals during recovery. Your hormones regulate during recovery. Your body gets stronger during recovery (yes you read that right). Your body needs recovery.

But that nagging feeling of “I didn’t burn enough calories today!” or “I’m not totally sweaty, did I do enough today?” is what keeps pushing people back to the grueling, high intensity workouts day in and day out. High intensity workouts can be almost addicting in that regard. When you head in that direction though, there are a few very specific and damaging results that your body can and will endure, given enough time and repetition:

  • Hormonal Changes: Too much high intensity exercise can lead to a decrease in the hormones that help you to feel energized and to build up your muscles, and an increase in the hormones that leave you feeling tired and that break down muscle tissue. The long term effects of this hormonal shift? Mood changes, energy depletion, and injury. Doesn’t sound too great, does it?
  • Weakness/Lack of Energy: There is only so much stress that your body can handle, and when you pack too much exercise stress on top of the stressors of your daily life (yes all stress is under the same umbrella, whether “good” or bad), things start to break down. The muscle you’ve been working so hard to build can’t physically get stronger because you are not giving it enough recovery time (which as mentioned before, is when strengthening truly happens).
  • Pain and/or Injury: Story time: when I was young and dumb, I had a car that I took very little care of. I drove and drove, mile after mile, but let the gas tank sit on empty all the time and very rarely got an oil change. Do you know what happened to that car? The engine died. Now think of your body that you’re pushing and pushing, never refilling the fuel tank until it’s too late (you’re injured so you have to rest), and not taking the proper general care of it (recovery, rest, etc). Will you die? No, probably not. But your engine (body) will not be able to keep this up forever without a little TLC.

So how much is too much? If you’re feeling pain on a daily basis (not just specific soreness after a new muscle group is worked, for example), you’re probably doing a little bit too much. If you’re not sleeping as well or feeling like you need sleep all the time, you might need a little bit of a break. If you are having a hard time working up the energy to even start your workouts, or if each and every workout leaves you feeling depleted, rather than energized, say it with me:

You. Are. Doing. Too. Much.

Maximum calorie burn through super high intensity exercise will not get you to your goals (and keep you there long term), I can promise you that. Rest and recovery days are essential not only to your success long term, but to your overall health right now.

So next time your coach or your favorite class turns to a strength or “active recovery” day instead of your normal, high intensity workout? Say thank you and know that they’re doing what is absolutely best for your body and your health. Listen to your coaches and trainers, but also listen to your body. And if one of those strength or low impact days does come around, and even that feels like too much, take the day to fully rest and recover.

Then give it your all in your next workout– your engine will thank you.

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