You want to be healthy and look sizzling hot in that new bathing suit you just bought. That’s why you hit the trails every weekend for a long jog and spend your weeknights at the gym sweating through elliptical workouts and torching your quads with killer cycling classes. You’re doing everything right, so why do you feel more tired than ever, and why isn’t the number on the scale budging? The unhappy truth is that you might be doing too much cardio!
How Much Cardio is Too Much?
You’ve heard the saying “too much of a good thing,” right? That can apply even to cardio! Don’t get us wrong. Cardiovascular exercise is incredibly important to improving your overall health. As the Mayo Clinic reports, regular aerobic exercise, like walking, jogging, cycling, and swimming improves your heart and respiratory health and revs up your metabolism. In the right dosage, it can make you feel good and even possibly help you live longer!
That’s all great, but at some point, putting your body through too much cardio tips from being a net positive to causing its own problems. Additionally, if you focus your exercise routine exclusively on cardio and ignore strength training, you’ll miss out on some really important health benefits. It’ll also be much harder—maybe impossible—to get that toned, tight body you want.
Weight Loss Backtrack
Many exercisers initially pick up cardio in order to lose weight. It can be so motivating to see that calorie counter tick up on your treadmill, rower, or pedometer app as you push yourself through a long workout. There’s just one little problem. Cardio is often not the best way for you to lose weight.
In fact, too much cardio can actually slow down your weight loss progress. While cardio does burn calories, it also stimulates your appetite. Your body wants to hang onto its fat reserves and will send signals for you to eat more after a long workout. That three-mile run probably burned around 300 calories, but a single scoop of ice cream will wipe out half that calorie deficit.
An even bigger issue is the fact that cardio doesn’t increase your resting metabolic rate (the amount of calories you burn at rest), so any metabolic bump after your tough workout is short-lived.
In fact, if you only engage in cardio while also restricting your calories, your body could respond by slowing your metabolism, making it even harder for you to lose weight in the long run. (For example, research has found that many contestants on The Biggest Loser showed dramatically slower metabolisms as a result of being on the show!)
You know what does increase your resting metabolic rate? Adding muscles onto your frame. It takes a lot of energy to feed and maintain muscles, so the more you have, the more calories your body burns throughout the day, even when you’re binge-watching the newest season of Stranger Things.
Unfortunately, when you do a heavy amount of cardio, your body could actually lose muscle. During those long runs or bike rides, your cells will gobble up your glucose (sugar) stores first to produce the energy your body needs to keep going. Once it runs out of glucose, it will start to burn fat and muscle. That’s why most professional marathoners look like slender gazelles. They have very little muscle mass.
That’s a good look if you’re gunning for a two-and-a-half-hour marathon time, but it’s not so great for us normal folks who just want to lose weight and feel confident at the beach.
Speaking of the beach, your muscles provide another important service other than increasing your overall strength and fitness. Muscles make your body look great. They fill you out so that you get those shapely legs, six pack abs, and toned arms you’ve always wanted. (Bye, bye flabby bat wings.)
Cardio does help you burn fat but not as much as you think, as we just learned. However, it can’t give you that taut, tight frame that you’ve been dreaming of. Only strength training can do that. As we just discussed, too much cardio can actually cause you to lose muscle, which may leave you looking more like a string bean than a toned god or goddess.
Exhaustion and Injuries
In a sad twist of irony, pushing yourself too far in your cardio training can actually leave you fatigued, mentally exhausted, and more prone to injuries. Exercise is supposed to make you feel great and boost your energy, but if you push your body too hard, it will begin to break down.
Your body only has so much energy it can give, and if you overtrain, you’ll start experiencing severe fatigue. According to ACE, one of the most popular fitness certification organizations, the signs of overtraining are:
- Decreased performance
- Difficulty completing workouts
- Agitation, mood swings, and difficulty concentrating
- Restlessness and insomnia
- Medical complications
- Depression and anxiety
All that work doesn’t do your body any favors, and you may also begin to suffer from chronic joint pain and ongoing injuries, such as inflamed tendinitis, shin splints, or even stress fractures.
The best solution for overtraining and for doing too much cardio in general is to scale back your cardio load and add strength training into your exercise routine.
Why Strength Training Is the Peanut Butter to Your Cardio Jelly
How much cardio is too much cardio? That’s a difficult question to answer, because every person is different and so are their fitness goals. If you want that toned look, you may wonder how much cardio is too much for building muscle? If you want to complete a marathon, then you may only want to do enough strength training to prevent injury and overtraining.
It’s best to identify your personal goals and exercise capacity before determining how much cardio and strength training to add into your exercise regimen. What we can say with authority is that both cardio and resistance training (another term for strength training) should both be a part of your fitness plan.
There are so many reasons to step off the treadmill and pick up some dumbbells. As we’ve already discussed, strength training can help fill out your body, giving you that nice, toned look that projects confidence and strength. Adding muscle also increases your resting metabolic rate, which helps you burn more calories even at rest.
Additionally, strength training keeps your bones strong, which is especially important for older adults. Many strength training exercises also promote balance and coordination, something we all need to keep working on, especially as we age.
How to Find the Right Balance Between Cardio and Strength Training
Don’t let this article scare you away from cardio exercise. In moderation and in conjunction with strength training, cardio is an excellent way to stay in shape, feel good, and look good. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends that all adults try to get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise a week or 75 minutes of vigorous cardio a week. That’s definitely a good goal for beginning exercisers.
If you worry that you are doing too much cardio, try switching out one or two cardio workouts a week for strength training instead. That could entail doing bodyweight exercises like pushups and planks, or using dumbbells or barbells. Most gyms also offer a wide range of resistance machines that allow you to easily and safely isolate and work specific muscle groups.
If you aren’t sure how to develop a safe and effective strength training routine, check out our great EōS Fitness blog for some helpful tips. You may also want to consider investing in a personal trainer who can discuss your fitness goals and develop a customized plan that will balance strength and cardio exercise for you.