“Exercise, but don’t over train.”
I’ve repeatedly written that there is no disconnect between what you need to do to be healthy and what you need to do to be lean. It’s no surprise, then, that numerous studies have substantiated that regardless of what diet you undertake, exercise is non-negotiable for permanent fat loss.
Exercise is non-negotiable - period. That is, if you wish to remain healthy. Research is showing that your fitness level is the single biggest indicator of your risk for everything from heart disease and cancer to dementia. In fact, many of the changes that the medical profession has always accepted as part of aging, like decreasing growth hormone levels, are actually more related to your VO2 Max. VO2 Max is simply a measure of how efficiently you utilize oxygen, i.e. how fit you are.
Strength training is especially good for both general health and fat loss because it promotes muscle growth or maintenance, bone strength, and youthful hormonal levels. Along with strength training, High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), which I outlined in my article on Effective Exercise for Fat Loss, is the ideal way to increase your fitness.
Like so much of life, we get out of exercise what we put into it. Most people could benefit from exercising more intensely. There is a big difference, however, between intensity and duration.
When I was a young GI and we were on a detail that we found irksome, invariably someone would make the comment “They can work us long, but they can’t work us hard.” Exercise is the same way. The more intensely you train the shorter the duration has to be.
There are two main problems with exercising too much. The first is physical and the second is emotional. Physically, training too hard, too often, results in decreased growth hormone (GH), testosterone, and HDLs, and increased triglycerides and muscle loss. Hardly the things we want if we after both health and permanent fat loss. Additionally, overtraining is a leading cause of injury.
Emotionally, overtraining virtually insures that at some point we will be unwilling to expend the energy necessary to continue with such a program. It can’t be said often enough that one of the keys to permanent fat loss is making changes you can keep up with permanently.
So what constitutes overtraining? There is no pat answer that will apply to everyone. If you are not really exerting yourself, for instance walking at a comfortable pace, then you can do so daily without any negative effect. Such activity is great and you are in no danger of overtraining. However, to increase your fitness it is important to push yourself harder a few times a week.
If you are training intensely, either with weights or with cardiovascular training, it is ideal to limit this to 3-4 days a week. HIIT really only needs to be done once a week, and twice a week is pretty ambitious. If you find yourself dreading your upcoming exercise, or if you are unable to train as intensely as you were, then it’s probably a good idea to take a day or two off and then perhaps decrease your frequency. Going for a nice walk on your off days is fine; just don’t turn them into taxing power walks.
For those of us who are hooked on training hard, or those who are excited about getting into shape, it can be hard to believe that less can actually be more. Remember, though, that health and fitness are intertwined and you should be feeling good as you go through your journey. Training a little less often can often allow us to train harder and with better results.