For many people, “exercise” means walking, jogging, cycling, or other cardio-focused activities that get their heart rate moving and calories burning. While cardio certainly has its health benefits, there comes a point when you might be doing too much.
In fact, doing too much cardiovascular exercise may actually be preventing you from getting the fitness results you’re looking for. Here are four indicators that suggest you may be doing just that, as well as one simple solution that can get you back on the right track:
Your body desperately holds on to fat.
When it comes to shedding fat, a lot of people simply ramp up their cardiovascular exercise. However, the positive fat-burning effects of cardio exercise can be short-lived. Once you stop exercising, your body’s metabolism quickly returns to its normal state. If cardio is your go-to exercise, you're forced to do more and more in order to see ongoing weight-loss results.
This becomes problematic because increased cardio training can lead to decreased muscle mass. If your body loses even the slightest bit of muscle, your resting metabolic rate (i.e., how many calories you burn when you’re not exercising) dips even further. Your body can begin to shed fat even more slowly, unless you do even more cardio. It can become quite a vicious cycle!
Your muscle mass is low.
Using cardio exercise as your primary form of exercise can help you lose weight but it might not build lean muscle.
Your body composition (i.e., the ratio of fat to lean tissue) determines the shape your body takes. Reducing your body fat while simultaneously reducing your lean muscle tissue (as cardio training can do), may actually prevent your body composition from changing at all!
You’re plagued by chronically sore joints.
Many forms of cardiovascular exercise can lead to both minor and major overuse injuries. For example, your body can take a pounding through the ankles, knees, hips, and lower back when you run, while cycling can promote poor posture in your shoulders and back. Even swimming, a form of cardio that is relatively joint-friendly, can cause shoulder issues over time if you’re doing too much.
Listen to your body. How do your joints feel on a day-to-day basis? If you are dealing with chronically achy or creaky joints, then your body might need a change of pace.
An important point is that chronic joint soreness develops gradually, so it can be easy to overlook. You might not suddenly notice a drastic change in how your body feels, but cardio overload may be taking a toll on your joints without you even realizing it.
Your stress levels increase.
Exercise is a form of stress —it is physical stress, after all. Stressing your body with exercise is what leads to physical improvements over time, but your body also has a finite capacity to deal with stress of any sort. Putting your body through too much cardio training during a time when you’re dealing with other stressors (e.g., at work or in relationships) might do more harm than good.
You have low energy.
Oftentimes, the first symptom of being overstressed is a noticeable decrease in energy. Your body might not be able to recuperate from a demanding cardio training while simultaneously dealing with other life stressors. As a result, you may be feeling tired and worn out, which might make you susceptible to illness and injury.
The solution? Add strength training into your routine.
If you’re experiencing any of these five symptoms of cardio overload, it’s likely time to consider switching up your exercise routine. Strength training is the perfect complement to cardiovascular exercise.
First, strength training helps your body maintain muscle mass. Increased muscle can boost your resting metabolic rate1. Second, adding strength training to your exercise routine can provide the variety needed to avoid overuse injuries commonly associated with cardio-only training routines. Building strength can also support your joints, making them even less likely to suffer from chronic soreness or future injury.
Finally, the slower pace of strength training can be much less of a stressor to your body than constant cardio training. Replacing even two days of cardio training per week with a resistance workout can reduce the physical stress your body has to deal with and can therefore restore your energy levels.
There’s no denying that cardio training is excellent for your overall health, but balancing it with strength training can help you achieve faster results in a way that’s sustainable for the long-term.