Work smarter, not harder.
There’s an attitude pervading the fitness world that no amount of exercise is ever enough. People want to be seen or see themselves as “hardcore”, and they strive for it. Take a look at the hashtags on Instagram posts and you’ll see it: #norestdays, #gymaddict, #liftheavy, #gymalldayeveryday, #riseandgrind, #workoutobsessed, #livetorun... the list goes on.
While it’s great to be enthusiastic and consistent about your workouts, there is a level at which this becomes not only toxic for your mental health, but detrimental to your physical fitness, health, and strength. Seeing results is exciting, and it’s easy to fall into the obsession with HARDER workouts, LONGER runs, HEAVIER weights, or whatever it is that’s your exercise of choice. There’s never enough of a good thing, right? When it comes to fitness, that’s not always true.
The following three points are intended to give you an idea of why less is sometimes more.
1.The time commitment may not be sustainable.
Adding more and more time to your workout sessions has many effects on your body, but it also affects your schedule. Anyone who has trained for a marathon will know that towards the end, when training runs become several hours long, a lot of time is spent on exercise. And while training for a specific event has an end date, over exercising for the sake of it can be a slippery slope of more and more time consumed.
What is sustainable now may become less so as your training ramps up. When your schedule is filled with workouts, there is no room for new opportunities, hobbies, and time spent nurturing friendships and relationships.
3. You risk injury
It’s quite simple. High-intensity exercise on a daily basis puts you at risk of injury. There is only so much stretching or rolling you can do to prevent the soreness, joint pain, and tight muscles which are all too commonly a result of a gruelling workout schedule.
There are several reasons for this. Firstly, you can get an overuse injury simply from using your muscles too much and too often. This is tissue damage resulting from repetitive demand. Secondly, the fatigue that comes with overexercising can cause you to lose form, slip, and even fall.
Getting injured due to overuse of your muscles is not good news for any health or fitness goals. So take rests where you need them!
2. Your body may go into conservation mode
For many clients, weight loss makes up at least part of the ultimate goal. And it’s easy to see why we often push so hard in physical activities as well as diet—the more you do, the faster you will get the results, right? Unfortunately, science says no.
Studies such as this one theories that when the body is using too much energy and not taking enough in, causing significant deficits, there can be as a result “metabolic adaptations aimed at decreasing energy expenditure, improving metabolic efficiency, and increasing cues for energy intake.” Essentially this means that metabolism can slow down significantly as an endocrine response to an energy deficit. Therefore, working out too much in conjunction with excessive dieting may set you back in the long term.
Where to from here?
The question begged by all of this, of course, is: how much exercise should I be doing, then? And unfortunately, there’s no simple answer. It can vary from person to person, and even for one individual it may vary over time. To find your “optimum effective dose” of exercise, you must consider your goals, your schedule, your resources, and how well you can fit it around the other important parts of your life.
Most importantly, you should pay attention to how your workouts are making you feel. Good, strong, and fulfilled? Continue as is. Tired, overwhelmed, and inadequate? Dial it back. Don’t dismiss lighter workouts as “not good enough”—just taking a walk can be fantastic for your mental and physical health and offer a great change-up from high-intensity exercise.
All of this to say that you shouldn’t exercise too much! What’s important is consistency over quantity. Whether that means just two or three times a week, or taking a walk every day, don’t stress about continually adding time and intensity. Exercise should make you feel good, so let’s work on that and fit your training goals around it.