Too much exercise… finding your minimum effective dose

Rachael Attard Lean Legs Program – Monday Week 6

It can be hard to pull back on exercise when you are in a good routine and are making progress! Rest days and lighter days can feel like you are ‘going backwards’ and that you are wasting time not progressing fast enough. There becomes a drive to exercise more and more, and more.

But what can happen if we do too much exercise? It can lead to injuries and burn out. This we have likely heard of already. But you may not know that our bodies can get used to exercising at a higher effort – and what this means for your training. Read on, to learn more about too much exercise and how you don’t want to trap yourself at your maximum output.

The common sense concerns

So my leg was starting to feel a bit sore last week – nothing major – just a bit of a twinge when I over extended it on some movements. It was okay when I was running and for most of the resistance and most of the HIT exercises, and it was only when walking that I could feel it pull a bit.

So the last few days I really forced myself to walk at a slower pace and stretch it out at least three times a day. But you know, it was sooo hard to pull back on the training! I had the momentum and motivation to workout, and it was a real battle to turn the speed down and do a shorter walk. I just really wanted to keep pushing and progressing!

By slowing down I have hopefully prevented an injury. This is usually all part of the journey when strengthening our bodies and adding more activity to our lifestyle – getting the balance right and not pushing so hard that we cause injuries. It’s important not to over train in order to reduce the chance of injuries and fatigue.

Finding the sweet spot

There is a second, most interesting reason that it’s important not to workout too much. If you are working out super hard and super often, you may need to continue at an unsustainable level of exercise in order to see change!

You need to find the sweet spot at which you are still making progress (getting fitter, losing weight, building muscle – whatever your goals are) but are not overdoing it, otherwise you may need to keep going at that rate in order to keep getting results, or even just to maintain your results!

The second half of Rachael Atttard’s Lean Legs program becomes more challenging – longer, harder and more frequent workouts. But you know what? It’s already challenging for me and I am already seeing results. So I’ve decided not to alter the workout schedule yet. Even though part of me wants to push harder and harder! Let me explain more.

Or, more accurately, let Selena Castricone explain more about the minimum effective dose.

Minimum effective dose

Selena is a Certified Nutritional Coach (NCI) and knows sooo much about exercising and eating in a way that is sustainable, and finding the minimum effective dose required to achieve results. You don’t want to get trapped at your maximum output! Have a read of her comments here, in response to aiming for 15k steps per day instead of the recommended 10k:

If you aim for 15k steps a day, for example, you will have to them MAINTAIN 15k per day in order to keep the results you get, so keeping your goal sustainable seems like the best idea for the long run! It’s the progress that counts and using the ‘minimum effective dose’… no more.

So when we increase our activity while either maintaining or decreasing our calorie intake, we are burning more calories than we are taking in, which is of course the goal. This is what causes weight loss. But doing this also causes an adaptation.

Think about the signal we tell our bodies when we do this: body, we are now going to expend more energy with either the same amount or LESS calories as was consumed before. WE initially lose weight, and then our body reaches a ‘new normal’ so to speak. WE weigh less, but we also need to eat less.

Becoming fuel efficient

 IT is FAR more complicated than this, but the basic idea is that with cardio specifically (like running and walking, even though walking is a light form of cardio), our body becomes more ‘fuel efficient’, we are telling our bodies to make these calories last longer, and this effectively slows our metabolism slightly.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s just important to know that we cannot lose weight and then go back to either a) decreasing the activity it took to get there, OR b) to go back to our prior calorie level.

Smaller bodies need fewer calories and slower metabolisms will not burn as many calories. This is why doing way too much cardio and too little calories can get many people stuck in a zone of no weight loss, since they’ve told their bodies to slow down their metabolism so substantially and the only way they can lose weight again is to decrease calories even MORE and/or increase activity (often not doable).

What can you maintain? Think carefully about it…

So the dose of cardio is very important (not too much and not too little). This is why light resistance training is added to the Lean Legs Program. (Resistance training does the opposite when it comes to our metabolism – it burns less while doing it, but it speeds up our metabolism).

So once you have lost the weight, have gotten your body and your metabolism to respond, you have to maintain that level of activity in order to keep the weight off. If you were to suddenly decrease your level of activity, while consuming the same amount of calories, you would be burning less calories and would therefore begin to put on weight.

That’s why 10k steps per day is so important in the LL program – it’s sustainable for the long term. The goal here is to utilize the minimum effective dose in order to achieve maximum results, and to be able to sustain that dose in regular daily life.

Slow and steady for best results

Fascinating right? Our bodies can adapt to exercising too much or restricting diet too much. And then we need to continue this way just to maintain results! For me I know it can be tempting to restrict more, or exercise more to achieve quicker results, but this generally is not sustainable. You run the risk of injuries, burn out AND having to exercise and/or diet hard core with no end in sight. Another case where the tortoise wins out.

Do you listen to your body when it’s sore or tired? Do you find it hard to pull back even if your body is saying it needs a rest? Thoughts? Please share!

Frequently Asked Questions
Should you have a protein shake on your rest days?

Read all about muscle repair and recovery and how protein plays a part.

What sort of body type are you and should you train accordingly?

Certain diets or certain types of training may suit you better, depending on if you are an ectomorph, mesomorph or endomorph.


4 thoughts on “Too much exercise… finding your minimum effective dose”

  1. I love this! What a great article. We often rush to get to the optimal weight but don’t take in account the maintenance and that sometimes slower is better.

  2. This article is really informative, thank you! I always find my body very sore whenever I work out. I especially love how you specified rest days because I often beat myself up whenever I find myself taking rest days. Thanks for sharing x

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