Cardio, you either love it or hate it. To some, cardio provides you with a great sweat-inducing, heart-pumping workout while to others, it’s pure torture. Regardless of whether you enjoy cardio or not though, it is really important to your health and a great idea to add it to your routine on a regular basis.
However, have you ever heard of the saying “You can have too much of a good thing?” Well, that applies here to cardio as well. There is a limit, which varies with each individual, on how much cardio you actually need to reap its benefits and how much cardio is too much. Hitting this limit will unfortunately start to have the opposite effect and impact you negatively instead of positively.
So while it’s pivotal to include some cardio in your everyday life, be careful not to push it too much (and we’ll tell you how to recognize when you are).
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How Much Cardio Do You Need?
The Physical Fitness Guidelines 2nd Edition states that the average American adult will greatly benefit from 150-300 minutes a week of moderate-intensity physical activity. This is described as something similar to a brisk walk. You need to move like you have a purpose and you’re in a bit of a hurry. Generally, you’ll still be able to speak in full sentences but you may need to take more breaths in between.
If your exercise is more towards the high-intensity levels, then 75-minutes per week should be your minimum goal.
This means you’ll be working at around 75 percent of your maximum heart rate. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), your maximum heart rate should be 220 minus your age.
So if you’re 20 years old, this would be 200 beats per minute. To work at around 75 percent of this, you’re aiming for approximately 150 beats.
You also won’t be able to talk too much, only a few words at a time and you’ll be breathless.
Another way to know if you’re working out at high-intensity levels is by your perceived exertion. You’ll know if you’re really exerting yourself or if you’re taking it a bit easier.
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8 Signs You’re Doing Too Much Cardio
While cardio is absolutely great for you, if you’re doing excessive amounts, then it will become detrimental to you both physically and mentally. If you want to know if you’re pushing it a bit too hard, then keep an eye out for these 8 signs that tell you you are.
1. YOU’RE ALWAYS SORE
There’s a common misconception that being sore is a good thing, that it means you’re working yourself hard and that your workout is efficient.
However, this is not the case.
Typically, you will experience DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) when you use muscles that you haven’t used in a while, when you’re working with a heavier load than usual or if you’re trying a new exercise. You’re putting your body under more stress and your body is adapting to this new training.
However, once you become conditioned to your workout, your soreness should ease. Don’t take this as an indicator that you’re not training hard enough though; it just means your body has adapted.
So while a little muscle fatigue is normal once in a while, if you find that you’re constantly feeling sore, then it’s a sign that you’re doing too much. It’s your body telling you to slow down the pace and relieve some of the load you’re putting on it. Don’t use soreness as a measurement of a good workout. Instead, if it’s more than the typical DOMS you’re experiencing, then use it as an indicator that you need to slow it down.
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2. YOUR JOINTS HURT
There are some high-impact cardio exercises that can be pretty hard on the joints. Movements that mean you can land pretty hard on the joints, such as running or jumping, can cause joint pain. If you continue to do it, then this can aggravate it which is something you should definitely avoid.
If you’re feeling it in your body (common areas are the knees, ankles, lower back and hips), then it’s a sign that you’re doing too much cardio or at least too much high-impact cardio.
Take a break and give your body the rest it deserves. If you can’t give it up completely, then switch to low-impact exercises that’ll keep you moving without the joint pain such as swimming, walking, bicycling and the elliptical machine.
Bear in mind that joint pain tends to happen gradually so if you’re starting to feel a tinge or ache, be careful not to just push through the pain. It will be better to prevent it from further developing than to try and fix it later.
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3. YOUR ‘EASY’ DAYS ARE BECOMING HARD
Another way to identify that you’re doing too much cardio is when your typically easy days start to feel like hard days.
While it’s perfectly normal for everyone to have a bad or off training day once in a while, if you find that this is happening on a regular basis, then it’s an indicator that you’ve reached the level of doing too much and is overtraining.
Without the rest your body needs, you’re not allowing yourself to recover from your sessions. This is why sessions that are normally easy for you are beginning to feel really hard. It’s your body telling you to slow it down and give it a break.
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4. YOU DON’T WANT TO WORK OUT ANYMORE
Another way to tell if you’re doing too much cardio is if you just don’t look forward to your workouts anymore.
It’s normal to have an off day or days when you simply just don’t want to exercise, but if it’s happening on a regular basis and you’re typically disciplined in your training, then you’re pushing yourself too much.
Take a well-deserved break or try something new and exciting that can help get you out of your funk.
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5. YOU’RE NOT SLEEPING WELL AT NIGHT
Yes, we did say that cardio is great for getting a good night’s sleep but when you do too much cardio, then it has the opposite effect and starts to affect our sleep negatively.
Cardio elevates your heart rate and core temperature, not to mention releasing those feel-good endorphins we all love so much. It can be a great state to be in but the more you exercise, the longer you’re in this excited state which then becomes not-so-great if you’re trying to sleep. People generally sleep better at cooler body temperatures so if your core temperature is high due to exercise, this may be a problem.
When your body is under stress (which it is during exercise), it raises your cortisol levels. Cortisol is naturally released throughout the day, peaking a little after you wake up and slowly decreasing throughout the day, with the lowest levels at night at bedtime. If you are doing too much cardio though, it can make your body fall out of its natural rhythm. Hence, your inability to sleep well at night.
Reduce the amount of cardio you’re doing and see whether it’s made a difference to your sleep. Another alternative is to stop working out too late in the evening or night. Keep your sessions to the day or the late afternoon latest so that your body has enough time to cool down.
Related Article: Should You Do Cardio On Rest Days?
6. YOU’RE CONSTANTLY FEELING DRAINED OF ENERGY
You’re bound to feel tired after you exercise. Placing stress on the body and getting moving for a period of time will make you fatigued. However, you should recover fairly shortly afterwards. If you find that’s not the case and instead, you’re constantly feeling tired even when you’re not training, then you’re doing too much cardio.
Exercise is great for bringing your energy levels up, that’s for sure, but there is only so much stress we can place on our bodies.
Unfortunately, we are only human and so have a finite capacity of dealing with stress. Doing too much will make us hit our limit fairly quickly, leaving us depleted, worn out and drained.
When exercise starts to have a negative effect, then you know you need to cut it down. Plus, being this fatigued also makes you more vulnerable to being sick, which leads us to the next point.
7. YOU’RE FALLING SICK MORE OFTEN
Have you found that your immune system isn’t working as well as it usually does?
If you feel unwell or get sick more often than you usually do, then too much cardio may just be the culprit.
Cortisol is a stress hormone that is released in response to stress being placed on our bodies, i.e. cardio.
Cortisol also suppresses our immune system and if you’re doing too much cardio, then that’s a lot of cortisol being released that’s repressing our immunity which is why you’re falling sick more frequently.
8. YOU’RE LOSING MUSCLE NOT FAT
While cardio definitely has its place in our day-to-day lives no matter what fitness disciple we train in, doing too much can affect muscle growth. If you have an overload of cardio in your routine and you’re not fueling your body, then the body may turn to break down muscle tissue during your sessions.
With less muscle in your body, your resting metabolism will drop. This refers to the number of calories your body burns when resting. So, a loss of muscle will lead to a loss of calories being burned which subsequently leads to slower fat loss. You’re going to have to do more to burn more calories and shed fat than what you were doing before. You’ll find yourself in an endless, vicious cycle.
If this is happening to you, then you may become skinny fat, which is when the scale may indicate that you’re lean but you actually have a high body fat percentage. You may have smaller arms or legs for example but still have a stubborn belly that refuses to leave.
To avoid accelerating muscle loss, be mindful of doing too much cardio. Rather than cutting cardio out of your routine altogether, make sure that you add strength training to your routine as well. Lifting has its own benefits, as does cardio and so by doing both, you’ll be getting the best of both worlds.
What Are Some Of Other Fitness Options When You Realize You’re Doing Too Much Cardio?
So, you’ve realized that you may be doing just a little too much cardio.
To counteract this, we’ve put together a list of some different activities that you can implement so that you’re still reaping benefits but without overtraining the cardio. Plus, you never know, you might enjoy trying out some different exercises too.
1. STRENGTH TRAINING
Strength training is a great, complementary type of exercise to add to your routine opposite cardio. It can decelerate muscle loss from too much cardio and help you burn more calories by raising your resting metabolism rate. It also means that you’ll develop improved posture, coordination and can better control your blood sugar levels.
Not only that, but the advantages of strength training crosses over to your cardio exercise as well.
If you’re a sprinter, you’ll need a quick burst of energy. If you lift fewer reps but at a heavier weight, then you work on explosive power that can develop your fast twitch muscle fibers. In turn, this will assist with your sprinting and give you that explosive speed and power you need right off the starting block.
If you prefer longer runs, then working on your slow twitch muscle fibers will be better beneficial instead. Focus on lower weights but with higher reps that will build that muscular endurance in the weights as well as in your cardio endurance for your marathons.
As excessive cardio can leave you feeling sore and achy, yoga is well-known for its ability to heal the body and aid with recovery. It increases your mobility and flexibility not to mention improves your respiratory system. Yoga assists in lengthening the muscles and tendons and it gives you a really good stretch.
It’s a restorative practice that also encompasses mental benefits. It focuses on letting out any negative emotions or thoughts that may be clouding your mind and breathing in the good.
It is a good option to replace some of your cardio sessions with. Don’t be fooled though. It may be low-impact but depending on what type of yoga you do, it can be quite difficult and you might find yourself sweating during a more intense session.
Who says that you need to replace exercise with more exercise?
If you find that you’re doing too much, then sometimes your best option is to just rest. If you can’t keep still and prefer some active recovery, then maybe some gentle stretches or foam rolling can be a good choice. Also, gong for a nice, leisurely walk is a great idea as well.
But at the end of the day, giving yourself that time to recover may be the best thing for you.
Benefits of Cardio
To finish, I don’t want you to think that cardio is a bad thing. Most people should be doing more cardio, not less.
Cardio is great for you for many reasons. It delivers both physical and mental rewards that’ll leave you feeling good and energized from the inside out.
Here are some of them:
1. IT STRENGTHENS YOUR HEART
Who doesn’t want a healthy heart? With cardio, you strengthen your heart and increase blood flow around the body.
You can measure how cardio has affected your heart health by tracking your resting heart rate, that is, how many times your heart is beating per minute. The lower it is, the better. The average rate range is from 60-100 beats. Cardio can assist in decreasing your resting heart rate because the healthier your heart is, the bigger the burst of blood it can pump around your entire body, meaning fewer beats are actually needed to achieve the same goal.
And of course, with better blood flow, comes the reduced risk of heart attacks.
2. INCREASES OXYGEN SUPPLY
Another benefit of cardio is that it can increase the amount of oxygen you carry around the body. This means that there is less demand on the lungs when you’re exercising as well as more oxygen being delivered to your muscles. The more oxygen your muscles have, the greater work capacity it has, making activities a lot easier.
3. IMPROVES YOUR PHYSICAL HEALTH
Cardio is really great for your health. It helps to reduce the risk of various diseases and conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and certain forms of cancer. The increased blood flow also means that you’ll have a decreased chance of a stroke while helping to protect against diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
4. IMPROVES YOUR MENTAL HEALTH
Cardio doesn’t just give you physical health benefits but also really great mental ones as well. When you finish your workout, you’re usually on a high. This is because when you exercise, your body releases endorphins that make you feel good.
It’s an effective tool to give you relief, even if only temporary, from depression and anxiety. It boosts your mood to make you feel euphoric and improves self-esteem. It also helps in reducing stress and of course, the less stressful you are, the happier you will be.
5. BOOSTS COGNITIVE PERFORMANCE
Can exercise make you smarter? Well, it definitely can improve your brain performance. When you do cardio, you bolster the hippocampus. This is the part of the brain that’s responsible for memory and learning, so if you find that you have more brain power after a session, you can thank cardio for that! It reduces cognitive decline and boosts your memory as well.
6. HELPS YOU GET YOUR BEAUTY SLEEP
If you need to relax and calm your mind for a great night’s sleep, cardio can help with that. It is a great way to work off any stress of the day as well as ensuring your circadian rhythm, that is, our body clock that tells us when we’re tired or alert, is in sync.
Plus, if you have any extra energy you need to burn off, you can definitely do that in your training so that you’re ready and relaxed to sleep later.
7. TRANSLATES TO OTHER FITNESS DISCIPLINES
There are some people who love to solely do cardio but some people also train in other disciples. The good news is that cardio can also help with that as w
ell. Those who train in Muay Thai or boxing, for example, need to have great cardiovascular endurance to increase their stamina in the ring. These benefits that you’ll receive from adding cardio to your daily life definitely translates to other fitness disciplines that you may do.
You should do as much cardio as you need to achieve your goals but listen to how your body responds and adjust accordingly. If you find that you’re recognizing some of these signs that you’re doing too much, then you most likely are. Factor in rest and recovery days, slow down the pace or switch up some of your days for other types of fitness like strength training. Your body will thank you for it.
About The Author
As a health and fitness writer, Emily combines her two passions—powerlifting and writing. With a creative writing degree under her belt, she spends her mornings lifting weights, her nights putting pen to paper, and eating too many snacks in between.