Am I working out too much? Too little? What should I being doing more/less of to get the results I want? I don’t want to push too hard, but I also don’t want to go too easy on myself and not progress. Does any of that sound familiar? At some point in our fitness journeys, most of us will second-guess our workout plan (or lack thereof). Exercising too much can result in chronic fatigue (feeling tired), injury, and a host of other issues. Conversely, exercising too little can mean we don’t see the physical changes we’re after. Progress can literally grind to a halt!
Which begs the question, how often should I work out?
You don’t have to be a personal trainer to figure out how often you need to work out. By keeping these 3 simple ideas in mind, you should be able to determine if your work out plan is too much, too little, or just right!
- Am I making measurable progress week-to-week?
Getting faster, getting stronger, building endurance, losing weight, and most other fitness goals have something in common: they can be measured and tracked. No matter your specific goal for exercising, it’s highly likely there is a way to record your progress from week to week. Whether you use a fitness app like FitBit to monitor your endurance, or you keep a paper workout log to track your bench-pressing strength, most goals can and should be tracked.
The reason we monitor our progress from week to week is simple. If you’re not working out enough, you’ll likely notice your performance, weight, or strength staying stagnant. Likewise, if you find you’re digressing (getting worse) week-to-week, that can be a sign you’re working out too much!
Example: Rachel Armstrong is a cyclist who exercises in order to get faster on her bicycle. Currently, she cycles 3 times per week, for 30 minutes at a time. She logs her work outs in a journal, to record how far she goes in each 30 minute workout. For the past 3 weeks, she notices she’s gone 2.1 miles each time. So, over the course of 3 weeks, in 3 workouts per week, Rachel has gone the exact same distance. That lack of improvement means Rachel is probably not working out enough, and her body has adjusted to her current routine. In order to start progressing again, Rachel might add a 4th 30 minute workout to her week, or she could add another 10 minutes onto each of her 3 work outs.
- Am I consistently sore when I start my workouts?
Not being able to detect progress can mean you’re not working out enough. Similarly, being sore and feeling taxed before you even begin your workout, may mean you’re exercising too much.
Don’t misunderstand me, soreness is a natural part of exercise. When we exercise, we create microscopic tears in our muscle fibers, which leads to a dull pain, also known as muscle soreness. But, if a muscle or group of muscles is still hurting when you go to exercise it again, that’s a sign that you either need to rest, or work on a different body part.
Example: Johnny Weightlifter works out 6 times per week, doing a combination of weight training and cardiovascular exercise. Johnny’s goal is to get stronger, and gain muscular size. Over the course of a month, Johnny notices he feels beat-up and sore all the time. It’s getting hard to do certain exercises, it takes him a long time to get warmed up, and he isn’t getting any stronger from week to week.
Johnny is experiencing the effects of too much exercise. He constantly feels sore because his intense, 6-day per week routine is more than his body can recover from. He’ll need to rest more, and reduce his number of workouts to a point where he doesn’t have chronic soreness every day.
- How do I feel day-to-day?
Feeling run-down over the course of a normal day can have many culprits (poor nutrition, lack of sleep, hydration, and stress among others) but for some, it can be caused by too much working out and not enough rest.
Our bodies can only recover from so much exercise. If we consistently perform more exercise than our bodies can handle, we start to develop physical symptoms such as feeling tired, unfocused, unable to fall or stay asleep, and loss of appetite among others.
Exercise is supposed to make us feel good! So it’s important to get enough sleep, eat a balanced diet, and take days off from working out as needed, so that our bodies can recoup from everything we’re doing!