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Exercise: Why More Isn’t Always Better

More isn’t always better. Even with good things.

Too much sleep can leave you feeling groggy. Too much bacon once left me sitting uncomfortably on my couch soaked in meat sweat and regret. Too much money or power can lead to corrupt businesses and governments. Too much sunshine could lead to a nasty sunburn.

Simply put, you can have too much of a good thing.

The Ocean’s series is a great example. Ocean’s Eleven was such a fun movie. You had a super smooth George Clooney, an always eating Brad Pitt (seriously, like every scene), great performing by Matt Damon, all-too-familiar brotherly bickering, a Chinese acrobat, and the sweet fake accent of Don Cheadle. All good things. But then we got what often comes after a good movie—a bad sequel.

via GIPHY

Ocean’s Twelve was a major let down. And aside from that awesome laser dance scene (mostly the song), Ocean’s Twelve isn’t even memorable.

As good as Ocean’s Eleven was, more was not better.

The principle applies to everything—except Ben and Jerry’s, I’m yet to have too much of Vermont’s Finest. Because, ice cream.

But when it comes to fitness, a lot of people get carried away doing way too much. Logically, it seems like spending more time in the gym will lead to better results. If running a mile or lifting for an hour is good, running two miles and lifting for two hours must be better, right?

Wrong.

If you’re stuck in the faulty logic that more is better, you’re leaving results on the table. No matter how hard you train.

The Poison is in The Dose

running up the stairs

Speaking of Ocean’s Eleven… “Don’t use seven words when four will do.” Remember that line? Rusty says it and the same thing applies to your training. Don’t train seven days when four will do. And don’t lift for two hours when one will do. Your goal shouldn’t be to find how much you can do or how long you can go. It should be to find how little you can do while still getting amazing results.

It’s called the minimum effective dose.

Here’s how Tim Ferriss, NYT bestselling author, describes the minimum effective dose (MED):

“The smallest dose that will produce a desired outcome…. Anything beyond the MED is wasteful. To boil water, the MED is 212°F (100°C) at standard air pressure. Boiled is boiled. Higher temperatures will not make it ‘more boiled’. Higher temperatures just consume more resources that could be used for something else more productive.”

Anything beyond the minimum effective dose is wasteful.

Ideally, workouts shouldn’t be longer than 45 to 60 minutes. For a lot of goals, that’s the minimum effective dose.

Two hours in the gym are not better than one. In fact, the benefits of exercise begin to significantly taper after that first hour. And if you have a marathon gym session, you’ll consume more resources (think calories) that could have been used for something more productive (like rest and recovery).

Thanks to the recent popularity of high-intensity interval training, people go hard all day err’ day. That’s cool, bro. *insert thumbs up emoji* But that isn’t necessary. And it will slow, or even halt, your progress.

Train Less Progress More

overtraining can lead to injury

Sometimes when you train more, you progress less. Train too much and you may not progress at all.

Overtraining will stop your results dead in their tracks and can even lead to injury. Land yourself on the sidelines and you won’t just stop progressing, you’ll lose a lot of the progress you’ve worked hard to gain. But there’s good news. Overtraining is easily avoided by following a smart program. If you don’t have any off days, active rest days, or deload weeks, consider it a red flag.

All go no quit is cool in theory, but not in practice. If you’ve got nagging aches and pains, if you’re getting weaker in spite of an intense fitness regimen, if you struggle relaxing or sleeping at night, take a rest day. Shoot, take two rest days. Work on making your body feel better, don’t just drive it into the ground.

Properly using off days, active rest days, and de-load weeks will have you training less and progressing more.

But the problem extends beyond painful overtraining. There are hormonal factors that play a factor in why more is not always better.

No matter what your cup of tea might be—jogging, Olympic lifting, powerlifting, bodybuilding—it’s all a form of stress. It’s called eustress and it’s the good kind of stress. The bad kind, distress, is when you’re losing sleep over a big project at work. But on a physiological level, your body reacts the same way.

Most notably, your body’s cortisol levels will rise. Cortisol is known as your stress hormone. And it doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad, any stressors will elicit a stress response and cortisol levels will climb. Which is a good thing… at first.

It becomes a problem when we have chronically high levels of cortisol. (Spoiler alert: all of us do.) Our lives are full of stress and too much cortisol has some nasty side effects:

– Increased fat storage (particularly over the abdomen)
– High blood pressure
– Increased risk for heart disease
– Trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, and having restful sleep

Regardless of your goals, too much cortisol can really slow your progress down. Avoid training too much and you’ll help curb the negative effects of chronically high cortisol.

Be Swoldilocks: Find a Program That’s Just Right

man clean and jerking at gym

Instead of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, it’s Swoldilocks and the Three Brograms. You don’t want a program that doesn’t work you hard enough and you don’t want a program that works you too hard. You need a program that’s just right. Don’t make your training like Ocean’s Twelve.

Avoid having too much of a good thing by making sure your workout program roughly follows these main points:

1. Strength training three to four times per week.
2. Conditioning one to two times per week.
3. Rest and recovery (off days and active rest days) is scheduled at least once per week.
4. Deloading (a week with lighter weights and less intensity) happens at least once every six to eight weeks.

Be just as serious about your rest and recovery as you are about your training. That’s when the magic happens.

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