by Ninja Master, Mark Fisher
Recently a beloved Ninja brought this article to my attention that ran in the NY Times. In a nutshell, the article addresses this question as it relates to the heart. Since the heart is a muscle, and muscles can get beat up with overuse… can you do cardiovascular training to the point where the heart is negatively impacted?
And to the larger question at hand, can you do too much exercise?
The answer is a whopping “maybe.” And the answer is also a big fat “it depends,” both on the goal of the trainee and what bodily system we’re discussing.
Let’s break this down shall we?
Effects on the Cardiovascular System
This is really what the above article addresses. Although the evidence is far from conclusive, it does seem reasonable to think that there’s an upper limit of cardio before it’s counterproductive.
For one thing, the heart is a muscle. Muscles that get overused tend to get pissed.
Furthermore, there is almost always a tipping point where more is not better for just about anything. CLICK TO TWEET!
That said, I highly doubt this is a concern for most folks. Not only is the current information far from conclusive, at the moment it seems unlikely that this will be a concern for anyone except those who love doing ultra endurance activities.
I would recommend keeping your eyes peeled for any new information about the upper limits of cardio training if you can’t get enough of 56 mile cross-country ski marathons. If you’re just a gym rat who stays active, I wouldn’t spend any time at all worrying about this.
Effects on the Musculoskeletal System
I do think you can make an argument that’s it’s possible to do much exercise, but my concern is more the musculoskeletal system.
Even if you’re really on point with technique and recovery modalities, exercise is still a stress on the body. If you find the sweet spot, it will be a very positive stress and you’ll receive the positive benefits most folks look for when they start training; hotter, healthier, happier.
However, if you start working out constantly and/or your recovery is less than spot on, I do think there’s a point where it’s counterproductive. Most folks have some level of “movement dysfunction,” which means they’re body creates movement in a less than ideal way. And anyone who pushes their limits seeking new heights in sports, training, or sexy dance parties is going to occasionally tweak themselves and get banged up here or there.
If you fucking LOOOVE training, then you just need to listen to your body and do your best to err on the side of safety and make sure you’re recovering (sleep, water, proper nutrition, managing stress, happy thoughts, vacations, etc.).
This also becomes very important with aesthetic goals. Fat loss tends to slow to a crawl when you’re body is flipping the fuck out with stress. The classic fat loss mistake is to cut the shit out of your calories and go nuts with high intensity exercise. Your body can interpret this as “HEY! Motherfucker!!! Not only am I’m starving you…. I’m GONNA FUCKING KILL YOU!!!!” Not ideal to soothe your body into releasing its fat stores.
And the classic truism of putting on muscle is that you grow when you’re resting, NOT when you’re in the gym. Although the muscle gaining process is still poorly understood and we see a wide variety in how folks react to different protocols, it is fair to say a lot guys do too MUCH lifting when trying to add muscle. These gentlemen would be better off with a more minimalist approach focusing on getting stronger over time instead of getting a skin-splitting pump on their 11-inch biceps.
If your goal is just to be healthy and hot, you’ll want to settle on doing the right amount of exercise for your goals, not as much as possible. CLICK TO TWEET! For most folks we love 3 to 6 total hours a week!
Effects on the Nervous System
It’s becoming well known in fitness circles that the true target of training is the brain. In this context, we’re talking about the neurological components of strength.
Once someone reaches an appreciable amount of strength, it can actually tax the nervous system to lift heavy ass weights. And unlike the musculoskeletal and cardiovascular systems, it’s a bit harder to get a read on what’s going on with the nervous system. You’ll notice if your heart is pounding. You’ll feel discomfort or soreness if you’ve wrecked your muscles. But if you’re nervous system is getting fried, it’s a bit harder to find objective measurements outside getting weaker.
Thankfully, we’re probably not too far from more widespread tech solutions for assessing what’s going on here. The advent of affordable devices that measure something called heart rate variability is super promising, and for those training for elite athleticism, this level of awareness becomes key. For folks who want to get their geek on, learn more about heart rate variability here.
If you’re just training for general health and hotness, detailed analysis of your HRV may not be necessary, but do make sure to include periodic deload weeks in your training if you work your ass off. Not only will your joints get pissed if you’re ALWAYS killing it at the gym, but if you’re using heavy ass weights your nervous system will also be displeased. No fun!
I think too much exercise isn’t a practical concern for most people. As long as you’re not working out more than 5 or 6 hours a week, and as long as you’re not training at 110% intensity every time train, you’ll be golden.
Hopefully this article has given you a bit of context and you can get some insight as to your particular situation. But you know I love to hear from you! Are you concerned you’re working out too much? Drop me a comment and let me know about your situation and let’s make sure you’re kicking ass!
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