How Do I Know If I’m Working Out Too Much or Too Hard?

You know, turns out you CAN have too much of a good thing…

I want to share some insight on an important — and tricky — fitness question:

How often and how hard should you be working out?

(Psss… If you know you’re predisposed to a weeeeee bit too much zeal, this Bud’s for you.)

For many humans starting a workout regime, fitness is a means to an end. We’re being physically active because we want to create some outcome: lose weight, improve biomarkers like blood pressure or bloodwork, sleep better, increase confidence, etc.

And when that’s the case, our goal is not to work out as much as possible and as hard as possible.

Our goal is to work out at the ideal intensity and ideal weekly volume to create our desired outcomes.

Unfortunately, this isn’t always an obvious bullseye. It’s possible to workout too much and/or too hard. And it’s also possible to workout too infrequently or with too little intensity.

The frequency piece is a bit easier to answer, so we’ll start there.

For most people most of the time, 3-5 times workouts per week is a good target. You can go up to 6 workouts per week if you’re recovering well and you generally enjoy training, but for non-athletes, we’re nearing a point of diminishing returns. You can also get by with 2 workouts per week if intensity is sufficient, but 3 is a better minimum.

(SIDE NOTE: Being active every day is ideal, but you can and should have days of more gentle activity like long walks, mobility drills, and other restorative activities.)

So if that’s a good guideline for intensity, how hard should you be training?

Alas, this question is stickier.

Here’s the challenge of writing an blog post like this:

  • People who don’t like physical exertion can use it as an excuse to go even easier.
  • People who enjoy farting blood while working out dismiss the whole conversation.

Certainly you can use things like heart rate monitors to track your cardiovascular effort. But as of yet, we don’t have a good way of tracking how much your joints can handle before getting sayad.

We’ve seen some improvements in tech that can monitor force output and/or speed of a given lift. And this is a good proxy for when it’s time to end a set or workout for certain fitness goals. But most of these pieces of equipment aren’t available to the normal human just looking to be active.

On the recovery side, things like resting heart rate and heart rate variability scores can be valuable pieces of information to consider. But these don’t always have clear “if-then” ramifications for how to modulate your workout when the goal is general fitness. (Though there are some promising new technologies coming online here.)

This leaves us with the not-completely-satisfying “listen to your body.” While this is good advice in theory, it doesn’t always pan out. Our body can be impacted by our systems of belief. Physical feelings can sometimes be misleading when assessing physiological readiness.

Let me add one more wrinkle to this conversation: some people genuinely, truly, LOVE to feel absolutely smashed.

Particularly in a culture like NYC, there’s a certain kind of Type A New Yorker who finds true exhilaration in pushing it as hard as they can. These hard-charging fitness lovers are always searching for the very toughest workout they can find. Usually while jacked up on heroic doses of caffeine. And sometimes while furiously answering emails and aggressively day trading.

They’re usually not a great fit for MFF’s “Run Your Own Race” credo.

By definition, our classes are built to allow for different fitness levels (and daily recovery states) to modulate intensity. And in fact, to be blunt, I don’t think it’s ethical to create workouts that force participants to work at a high intensity. At least not without an assessment first.

Looking for well-designed workouts that will build you up and not break you down? Get 14 days of access to our at-home, live-coached, bodyweight only workouts HERE.

And if you’re brand new to semi-private training at Mark Fisher Fitness, you can get a totally FREE in-person semi-private training session HERE.

Now there will always be a market for this type of nausea-inducing workout. Because there will always be people who are prioritizing the feeling of the workout over the outcome of the workout.

And honestly? That’s 100% valid!

Obviously we don’t want to smash your joints. And unfortunately, that’s usually part of the price for all but the most gifted and resilient trainees. However, at least in theory, getting after it for its own sake is hardly something we should consider a vice. Particularly if you come into a given high-intensity workout with sufficient conditioning.

So if you’re someone who LOVES pushing it to 110%?

As long as your tissues are conditioned and you spare your joints with solid technique, go forth with my full blessing! (And I wish you all the best with your GameStop stock.)

And we now come back to our question: How do I know if I’m working out too hard?

Here’s a simple decision making tree for normal humans with common fitness goals (i.e. not elite athletic performance):

  • Are your joints feeling good?
    • If yes, keep doing what you’re doing.
    • If not, consider pulling back on intensity and/or review your technique with a qualified coach.
  • Are you seeing objective measurable improvements towards your goals?
    • If yes, keep doing what you’re doing.
    • If not, consider changing your intensity. Based on your sense of how you train, this could be pulling back on intensity, OR going harder. After a couple of weeks, reassess.
  • Are you feeling subjective improvements in your well-being?
    • If yes, keep doing what you’re doing.
    • If not, consider changing your intensity. Based on your sense of how you train, this could be pulling back on intensity, OR going harder. After a couple of weeks, reassess.

Admittedly, this is an imperfect model.

But if you’re simply looking to achieve a reasonable level of health and fitness while balancing out the rest of your life, it will serve you well!

Butterfly kisses on your forehead,

PS Are you titillated by the chance to train with MFF from anywhere in the world?

Check out Sara’s story below. Then get thee to this page HERE to book your absolutely no-risk two weeks of access!

“I joined Mark Fisher Fitness in December of 2019 after an embarrassingly long time paying for a gym that I didn’t go to, which sucked. Actually, you know what? I don’t even think it sucked. It was probably fine. I just had no idea what I was doing. I joined Mark Fisher Fitness and immediately learned so many different amazing things about how to use my body to work out, and it was great.

Whether they are 40 blocks or 100 blocks or 100 miles or even 3000 miles away from you, they can give you individualized adjustments and guidance, and it’s so valuable.

I’ve legitimately done a cheese tasting class via Zoom with people that I’ve never met in real life because it was really fun and because this community of people just wants you everybody to be included.

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