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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Down Side of Daily Intense Workouts

Everyday in the gym (and on Facebook) you can find comment after comment about people "killing" their workouts. They leave the gym completely exhausted and sweat drenched, legs shaking, positive they got a great workout only to wake up and do it all over again the following day, and the day after that, and the day after that….

True to American fashion, some people think if a little is good then more must be great!  Right?  Well, when it comes to exercise, not exactly.  Despite the popular fitspo mantras like, "sore today, stronger tomorrow" and "better sore than sorry",  pushing your workouts to the absolute max every day may not be your best option.

What?  I know what they're getting after but really?
There is no doubt that an intense workout can mentally leave you feeling like you're on top of the world even if you're toast physically.  Intense workouts have lots of benefits including the ability to torch calories and give a boost to your metabolism but my personal training and self-proclaimed "fitness geek" friend, Amy Dix, notes that, "There is definitely a point of diminishing returns and a point at which overtraining not only makes you feel miserable, it can derail the goals that made you go hard in the first place. We need to remember that a workout that feels hard doesn’t necessarily produce a training effect that is productive." 

Most people are familiar with immediate signs that your overexerting yourself like dizziness, light headed, chills, dehydration, etc but I've found fewer people are unaware of the long term symptoms of overtraining.

Think of working at maximum effort (or beyond) every workout, every day like speeding down the interstate.  Some people can cruise at top speeds with no repercussions but most of us will eventually get caught.  And when you get caught overusing maximum effort expenditures in our workouts it can result in injuries, stunted progress and even upsetting hormonal balance.

Basic science taught us that exercise effects the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord).  While we exercise, our nervous system helps regulate our body temperature, control our reflexes, retain memory of how to execute movements, as well as control over any voluntary movements.  In other words, anytime you exercise, regardless of the type of activity, you're utilizing your central nervous system.

But what happens to our nervous system when we combine high volume, high intensity with minimal rest day after day?  It can become possible to slow or even back track in progress.  Our movements become slower, less powerful, we feel fatigued faster and even clumsy.  This unwelcome combo can often result in injuries and lack of progress.

When it comes to hormone balance and production, generally speaking, most exercise will have a positive impact.  However, with an increase in popularity among endurance events and intense exercise programs it's possible to throw hormones out of whack via overtraining. This disruption of balance can occur in men, but studies have shown the affects of hormonal imbalance from excessive training specifically for women can result in interrupted/absent menstrual cycle, decrease in bone mass and extreme fatigue.

Another, less measurable, downside to participating in intense exercise on a daily basis is the toll it can take on your mental game.  One of the biggest key indicators of long term success in the fitness industry is sustainability.  Is your program sustainable for the long haul?  Can you execute these workouts for three months?  Six months?  A year?  The truth is back to back to back hardcore workouts are not a  sustainable approach for most people.  Despite how you feel physically, mentally it can be hard to keep up the drive and desire needed to complete intense training.  No one speaks to sustainability better then Nia Shanks.  Check out her, in my opinion, wonderful approach here.

For these reasons (and so many more), it's important to plan rest days just as you would any other workout, allow plenty of time for sleep, proper hydration, nutrition and mobility/stretching work.

If you're an experienced lifter you probably know when it comes to resistance training to allow at least a day of rest in between workouts but I'd go a step further to apply that theory to intense workouts regardless if you did a HIIT workout, heavy lifting workout or long run it's all taxing your body.  If hours after a workout you're still feeling exhausted you may need to dial it down.

My friend Amy suggests, "There isn’t a perfect ratio that we prescribe. You need to listen to your body, plan your workouts in a way that serve your training goals, and remember that the well-rounded plan will maintain your health and keep you on the path toward your goals more consistently." 

While I think it's great to be aware of the risks you run by combining intense workout day after day after day I think what's even more important is to take a look at why you feel the need to exercise with such vigor without proper recovery between workouts.  In most cases I've seen it seems to be one of two reasons-

They're trying to make up for a poor diet.  Trust me, I realize that planning in an extra workout a week or staying for an additional group exercise class may be easier than watching what you eat the whole day but adding in additional activity onto an already packed workout program isn't always the answer.


Their expectations of routines, progress, outcomes are unrealistic.  As Amy mentioned above,  pushing harder may not help you reach your goals faster and even if it does it may not be sustainable.  Sustainable progress and results take time.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not giving you a pass to just take it easy.  Intense exercise certainly has it's time and place.  I think it's great that so many people are kicking their workouts up a notch and pushing themselves harder then ever before.  But please keep in mind that it's only one piece of the puzzle. Amy encourages people to remember, "Intense conditioning isn’t everything. It’s only a part of our training. Our rest days, our light days, and our days dedicated to careful strength sessions that tax us but don't leave us in a puddle all have an important purpose in the larger scheme of our training plans."

Be patient and stay consistent.  The results will come.


  1. Great post Annie. I think a lot of people thing more and harder is better and I have seen a lot of people crash and burn because their workouts are too intense and they don't give themselves enough rest and its just not sustainable. I am all for pushing yourself out of your comfort zone to get better, faster, stronger, but if its not sustainable or comes at the expense of other things like your health, its just not worth it to me!

    1. I have too (seen a lot of people crash and burn) which is sad because they are often the ones who have a hard time getting back into it because they don't think they have enough drive to go at it again when really they were just over working in the first place!

  2. Great reminder that it's important to take rest days. There are times when I get mad at myself for taking that break, but then I realize how much more I dread it when I force that much intensity. Better to take those off days to do some yoga or take a walk. Or, go on a Netflix binge, whatever. Lol. ;-)

    1. I need to get on the netflix train! Everyone seems to love it!

  3. I believe in active rest days. Too many people can mess up an entire week of work on their rest days because not only do they not get off the couch, they eat very poorly, and that's counterproductive. And often times that carries on to the next day, and the next day.

    I honestly believe you can do an intense workout 6 days a week, as long as it is short (15-20 minutes). Longer than that and it becomes dangerous, like you said. I agree, it needs to be sustainable, but also needs to be varied.

    And sometimes, you just need to take a few days off.

    1. I agree that people can do a lot of damage one their days off with their diets. One day of "cheats" can easily undo a week's worth of dieting.

  4. Great post! Sometimes we need to stop and listen to our body, our mind and see if our routine is really working.

    1. Absolutely! Always listen to your body!