Is There Such a Thing as Too Much Cardio?
Updated: Jun 27, 2022
Cardio, or exercise that keeps your heart and lungs healthy, is an important part of reducing a person's risk of developing a chronic disease. There are also other countless benefits, like releasing those 'good' hormones into your system, lifting your mood, and shredding fat to a certain extent.
As a fitness coach, I was teaching 8 to 12 one-hour classes of cardio a week. I started pondering this question after chronic tiredness and muscle fatigue. Prior to this, I was a self-proclaimed 'cardio queen.' The truth is, yes, you can over train, and yes, you can do too much cardio.
Could people lose weight and stay toned with reduced cardio and increased weight/strength training? Could people lose weight and stay toned with walking and low impact work? The answer is yes (for most people). The most important part of this exploratory process is that you ask yourself these questions, and explore what works specifically for your body, age, regiment, schedule, and lifestyle.
What does too much cardio look like?
If you are constantly sore
If you are constantly injuring a tendon or muscle group
If you wake up tired, even after a long night's rest
If you are having trouble sleeping after a long cardio session
If you have plateaued, and can no longer lose weight or maintain your muscle growth
If your knees, lower back, shoulder, hip joints/muscles are in frequent pain
If it hurts to stand for prolonged periods of time
If any of these apply, and you do mostly cardio for your workout regime, you may be doing too much cardio.
What can you do to work on addressing your cardio-dense lifestyle?
Know Your Why: "Why do I choose to jump in my workouts?" I have witnessed people doing jumping jacks/jills in pain; I have heard people say that they do not want to 'bulk up' by lifting weights,' I have heard people in the gym say that they want to get the 'best out of their workout' and they feel like they need to jump high, and squat low. What is your reason for jumping during a workout? Would you be opposed to having a "no jump" workout at least one time per week? This is about exploring if you have any negative or misinformed feelings about when you hear 'low impact' or 'jump free.'
Adding Walking to Your Movement Plan: Yep, good, ol' walking. Walking is a form of cardio, but can often be much gentler on your body. This can also be a great way to warm up your joints and muscle before a workout.
Adding Weights/Strength Training to Your Movement Plan: Are you currently lifting any weights as of right now? If yes, can you place one cardio-heavy workout with a reduced time strength training workout?
Instituting a Regular, Strategic Stretch: Make it a necessity to do dynamic and static warm ups before working out. I have heard countless times that people do not stretch before or after class. Are you guilty of jumping into a workout without doing your own warm up? How long are you warming up for? I recommend no less than 5 minutes of continuous warming up that includes no jumping. I recently started foam rolling after tearing my hamstring. It was easy once I learned how to do it and it changed the recovery trajectory of my hamstring! Warming up and stretching after your workout will decrease injuries. Do you stretch even when you're not going to workout? I started adding stretching to my morning routine so I can feel my best during the day and reduce stiffness and pain in the mornings.
Discover What Movement You Do that is Not Tied to Calories: It is important for your mind and your body to have gentle movement that has nothing to do with calorie counting. One way to do this is to institute a no calorie count workout day. I usually choose Sundays. Move for the sake of moving, and consider ditching a cardio-heavy workout on that particular day.
Create A High Yield, Low Impact Training Plan: High intensity interval training (HIIT) has many documented benefits, and there are many people who benefit from adding HIIT to their workout schedules. Some people do not suffer any body consequences at all by high impact training. For those who do want to do HIIT, it is important to limit it to a few times per week, rather than every day. On the other days, create a high yield (meaning high results) program that is low impact (meaning no jumping or running). Have fun coming up with things that meet this criteria. There are several YouTube videos that focus on low impact workouts. I have a few videos on my Instagram that show low impact, high yield moves with 1 pound cans.
Listening to Your Body (Everyday!): Do a quick body scan every morning (or hey- even twice a day!). The most common injuries or sore spots I hear about are knees, hamstrings, hips, lower back and shoulder. Would you be okay skipping a workout for the sake of rest? Are your stretches targeting the items you identify in your body scan? For example, if your lower back hurts every morning, are you doing exercises that strengthen and stretch the adjoining and relevant muscle groups to see changes in your lower back?
I am here to say it is okay to reduce your cardio and still live a healthy life. It is okay to say no to jumping. It is okay to give your body rest, even when you were not planning on it that day.