When Exercising More Isn’t Working

Thank you for all of the supportive comments and messages about my new venture! Putting new tools in the toolbox is always a good thing.

Adding Tools to the Toolbox

So let’s talk about a common scenario today…

You want to be lean. You want to lose weight…more specifically, you want to lose body fat. What do you do? You start eating less and exercising more. All is ‘good in the hood’ for awhile and then you hit a plateau and nothing is changing. You can’t possibly eat any less and you’re already spending an hour or more every day at the gym. What now?

I already talked a bit about this topic in a previous post, when eating less isn’t working. You’re probably aware of the fact that weight gain results from an imbalance between how much food {energy} you consume and how much you expend through daily activities, including exercise. It makes sense that to lose weight you have to eat less and move more, right?

Kettlebell Overhead

Unfortunately, it’s not always that simple. Since exercise makes you feel good, it’s easy to forget that more is not always better. Over-exercising doesn’t usually cause much of an issue at first, but over time if you continue to stress your body with too much exercise, your hunger levels will increase and you’ll probably start to feel tired and grumpy. You may have trouble recovering from your workouts and your motivation will probably plummet at some point. Simply put, dieting and exercising both cause stress to your body…if you continue to over-stress your body without giving it proper fuel, rest and recovery bad things start to happen.

If you’re exercising too much you may experience one or many of the following symptoms: mood changes, irritability, depression and lack of concentration. You may even find that your immune system weakens and you get sick more often. Not only that, but exercising more without proper recovery causes muscles to break down and may even halt your fat loss progress.

So how can you find the right balance of exercise and rest to continue losing body fat? Here are a few real-life examples…

This past weekend I went to the gym to take a client’s measurements and we were talking about what’s she’s changed recently. I haven’t physically seen her in six weeks (she takes classes early in the morning when I am not at the gym yet) and she looks really refreshed and happy. Guess what she’s doing? She is working out LESS. She was coming to our classes six days a week at Skill of Strength and she cut down to four classes per week. Admittedly, there are a few other changes she made, but this was a biggie for her and she said it’s been a game changer. She’s more rested and has more energy to give when she does exercise. Instead of burning out during her workouts, she feels excited about training and is getting stronger.

Recover from overexercising

The same morning, I ran into a brand new client who asked me if she should come every day since it’s her first week. Easy answer…NO!!!! She even said to me that she’s noticed in the past when she trains too often, she gets weaker, not stronger. BINGO! We agreed that four days is a good idea with some walks in between.

Not even an hour later, I came home to an email from another client who had to take some time off from training because of a few medical issues. She’s feeling bloated and ‘huge’ (her language, not mine) after moving a lot less during the last month and she was looking for advice on how to get back to feeling good as soon as possible. She asked if I thought a cleanse might be a good idea for her. Or should she cut her calories for now? Or should she maybe come to class every day for awhile?

Nutrition advice aside (although it would make a great post for another day), my advice for this last client is pretty much the same as what I told the first two clients above. I told her to make sure she takes rest days even though it doesn’t always feel good or right. A balanced approach has worked wonders for this particular client in the past. I suggested that she try walking on her off days to help keep her sanity, decrease stress levels and help aid in recovery. {Are you seeing a trend here?} I reminded her that she doesn’t have to be a total couch potato just because she’s not training hard or lifting weights every single day. Foam rolling and walking are great rest day activities. So is snuggling with a toddler… :-)

Rest helps your muscles grow

So there you have it…three clients in one morning all looking to exercise more, more, more as a way to get the best results possible. Three clients all starting to realize that too much of a good thing may not exactly be good. When they exercise too much they see backwards progress strength-wise, have low energy and don’t lose any extra weight. In fact some over-exercisers end up gaining weight from too much exercise. Frustrating, right?

Is exercising too much keeping you from losing more fat? Is your obsession with losing fat by over-exercising taking a toll on your energy levels, overall happiness, social life, and health? If you’re honest answer is yes, you may simply need to refocus a bit. Work on making sure you are eating the right foods in the right amounts to support your needs, sleeping more and stressing less.

Remember, training smarter and even training harder, doesn’t necessarily mean training more. In my experience most people do well with three to four solid strength training sessions followed by short metabolic conditioning workouts. Many people can add in another one or two shorter conditioning sessions or “easy” training sessions. And everyone would benefit from talking more leisure walks. Yes…everyone.

Related posts I’ve written:

Not my post, but a great one with a bit more science behind it for those interested:

Here’s the thing…while we love seeing our clients often, it’s true what they say… sometimes you absolutely can have too much of a good thing. If you’re currently experiencing some of the negative side-effects mentioned above from exercising too much, take a week off. Once you start training again add in a few rest days each week and start listening to your body.

If you’re trying to get stronger and lose body fat make sure that you are fueling your body properly, resting and recovering. Get stronger, lose body fat and start enjoying your training sessions by finding the right balance between exercise and recovery.

Have you ever experienced any of the negative effects of over-exercising? What did you do about it?


  1. Great post, friend! I completely agree – smarter, not harder. Always. Sometimes I think it is harder for those of us that teach classes, to figure out our balance of our own workouts in addition to those we teach, but I feel as though I am finally at a good place with that, and it feels good to not feel like I am killing myself and exhausted by week’s end, but feel worked, but not OVER-worked. If that makes sense.
    Jolene recently posted..A year later, yet so much more.

  2. I’ve DEFINITELY felt some of the over training symptoms when I am teaching too much at the gym (nothing like a hungry, crabby person ;)). GREAT advice. Its obvious why you’re so successful- you’re an amazing trainer and coach :)

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