When is exercise too much?

As a trainer I spend most of my time trying to motivate people to engage in a more active lifestyle by implementing an exercise program into their life. For about 90 percent of my clients I have to push them to get in at least three hours of exercise a week.

On the flip side, there are some over achievers and “go getters” that can’t wait for the next workout. Man, do I love those clients! You can tell them to do any exercise protocol and they will attack it with a vengeance! They never let down, and always give it their all. While I can appreciate that attitude of bring it on, there is a time when exercise can be too much. Exercising too much comes in all shapes and forms and effects men, women, athletes, non-athlete, runner and weight lifter. I don’t come across this very often, but there are times when serious overtraining can occur.

I don’t totally agree with this definition but Exercise bulimia is a newly recognized eating disorder, characterized by a compulsion to purge calories through excessive. It is also known as “compulsive exercise” or “exercise addiction.”

Bulimia Nervosa is traditionally identified by the purging of calories through vomiting after eating. With Exercise Bulimia, sufferers feel a similar desire to purge calories, but use rigorous exercise as their method.

The reason I don’t totally agree with the definition is because it only focuses on the body image and caloric burn portion of the disorder. I actually have come across more people doing it for the mental aspect such as reducing stress, and blocking out tough situations going on in their lives than the caloric burn and body image portion.

Yes, most people exercise to look great, but there also is extensive research that shows exercise can release a significant amount of endorphins that can cause the so called “exercise high” making people feel much better psychologically. Feeling good mentally can sometimes trump how we feel body image wise. I personally workout these days to reduce stress, get that “exercise high”, and feel great mentally.

I specifically like to wake up at 4am to workout before my first client because I know it makes me feel good, and it puts me in a better mood. Some say that I am crazy for waking up that early just to workout. Does that make me have a problem even though I am not doing it to burn excessive calories? Let’s take a look at some common side affects and warning sign to excessive overtraining.

  • Missing work, parties, or other appointments in order to workout
  • Working out with an injury or sick, and the doctor recommends you rest
  • Becoming injured or sick because of working out too much with not enough rest
  • Becoming unusually depressed if unable to exercise
  • Working out for many hours at a time each day, everyday
  • Not taking any rest or recovery days
  • Defining self worth in terms of performance
  • Excessive weight loss
  • Refusal to eat if unable to exercise
  • Justifies excessive behavior by defining self as a “special” elite athlete

If you or someone you know exercise some of these symptoms, there is a possibility that you are exercising too much.  Always consult with a doctor for a proper diagnosis.

I feel that if someone is working out at a moderate to high intensity they should exercise no more than 90 minutes a day. If you are exercising for 60-90 minutes a day at a moderate to high intensity, 5 days a week should be plenty. There is a lot of research showing that overtraining for more than 90-120 minutes a day, 6-7 days per week, can actually decrease progress in the form of fat loss, muscle and bone growth, decrease strength and endurance, and decrease overall physical performance.


After about 90 minutes of exercise your testosterone and growth hormone responses start to decrease significantly. These hormone responses to exercise are arguably the reason why we make positive gains from exercise. Too much Cortisol, a hormone released during stress, can cause the reverse response, and decreases muscle gain, increases fat gain, and reduce strength and endurance. Top too much exercise off with inadequate nutrition and sleep, and you have a recipe for overtraining.

-What You Should Do-

Below is a recommendation for someone who gets adequate sleep (7-9 hours a day), and eats 5-7 times a day of mainly whole foods, and drinks enough water. Sleep and nutrition are two of the main factors in determining recovery. This would not be considered a beginners workout. It is a high volume workout.

  • Monday: Metabolic Strength Training (45-60 minutes)
  • Tuesday: High Intensity Aerobic Interval Training (25-40 minutes)
  • Wednesday: Metabolic Strength Training (45-60 minutes)
  • *Thursday: Aerobic Interval Training and Yoga Class (90-120 minutes)
  • Friday: Metabolic Strength Training (45-60 minutes)
  • Saturday: light activity or rest

Sunday: rest

*Higher volume of time due to lower intensity. Can be done on Saturday OR Sunday instead.

Make sure to stretch and foam roll for 10-15 minutes each day to improve recover and reduce injury.

If you are a runner, biker, swimmer etc., you can substitute 3-4 of those days for their specific training. Time should stay consistent as well as frequency, unless exercise is low intensity.

There are harmful affects to engaging in too much exercise. A well-balanced workout routine combined with proper rest and recovery and nutrition is always the key.

written by Justin Grinnell.



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