Cardio exercise is one of the healthiest things you can do, but it's possible to go too far and suffer from overtraining.
When it comes to cardio exercise, you can definitely have too much of a good thing. An adequate amount of cardio, such as running, biking or aerobics, does wonders for your body. Take it too far, however, and you'll suffer the consequences.
So, how much is too much? Overtraining with cardio varies from person to person, but it typically requires working out at a very high intensity every day — or even more than once a day 1. Doing an extra-intense workout session every once in a while isn't a problem, nor is moderate- or low-intensity exercise daily (though you should take a rest day). Taxing your body daily for a period of weeks or months, though, can do more harm than good.
Signs of Overtraining
If you're feeling excessively tired and have a loss of motivation or energy, you might be suffering from overtraining 12. Other signs of this condition include increased anxiety or irritability, sleep problems and problems focusing and relaxing. You might also feel overly sore or feel like you have weak muscles, and lose your appetite. Addition symptoms include:
- Increased illness
- Nausea or diarrhea
- Menstrual irregularities
- Difficulty in revving your heart rate during workouts
How Overtraining Happens
Cardio can make you feel good — in fact, it can make you feel really good. Therefore, it's no wonder that some people can get trapped in a cardio cycle that leads to overtraining 12. This won't be caused by going for a short run every couple days, but it can occur from long, intense cardio sessions, excessive competitions (such as if you're running road races at a winning pace every weekend) and a refusal to take a few days off to let your body recover.
Additional causes of overtraining include poor nutrition, specifically if you're restricting calories, fat or carbs, as well as a lack of sleep 1. When you're doing a lot of cardio, your body needs proper fuel and an increased amount of sleep to repair your muscles and the other body parts that are overtaxed during a difficult cardio session.
Recovering from Overtraining
When you have realized that you're suffering from the symptoms of overtraining, do what you can to stop exercising for a little bit 12. This isn't as easy as some might think, particularly for person who have an addiction to exercising. However, try to give your body a rest for up to two weeks to recover.
When you do return to cardio (or if you're not able to get yourself to stop entirely), decrease the amount of time you spend exercising and reduce the intensity. Go for a jog instead of a run or taper the RPM on your spin bike to a lower level.
From here, adjust your workout schedule, allowing for a recovery day at least two days a week. Once a month, decrease the intensity of your workout for a week.
Most importantly, listen to your body. If you're sore for more than 48 hours, you've probably overworked your muscles. If you're overly tired, take a day off. If you're hungry, eat more calories. Exercising is one of the best things you can do for your body — but only if you do it responsibly.