People often ask how much exercise is too much? What I have found is that the people asking this question have nothing at all to be worried about because they are no where near the limits. An hour or two of cardio a day is no where near the limits for healthy individuals and it wont affect their ability to gain muscle. The people likely to push to the point of doing serious damage to their bodies are not the ones wondering how much is too much. If you are someone who things that you can get stronger and faster by simply training harder and longer then you are at risk. If you have a “no pain, no gain” attitude and pride yourself at pushing past your limits … you are at risk.
More is not always better, I have been to the edge personally and understand. I have done two double centuries, thats a 200 mile bike ride. For me on my 45 pound super-tanker thats 16 hours of grueling exercise. The first time, I noticed something weird for the 12 hours after the race – my lungs seemed to have fluid in them kind of like bronchitis. I didnt think much of it, figured it was a co-incidence and I just got sick because my immune system was suppressed due to the stress of riding 16hrs. Second time I did a double century it happened again, this time I figured it out – exercise induced asthma. Fortunately because this was just a one off event, my body dealt with the stress overload quickly and effectively but I have decided that was my body telling me that I have exceeded my limits … in a bad way which is why I dont do double centuries any more.
The body can only take so much damage before serious problems result. When you do weight training you break down the muscles and the body rebuilds them – thats great, thats what we want. BUT do something crazy like trying to set a pushup record, a pullup record, or a burpee record and you might see blood in your urine – Hematuria. Basically your body is unable to repair the damage you have done and you end up in the hospital. I dont mean to scare you. Any normal workout plan, even when done till you feel like throwing up, is not going to cause this. Normal workouts are fine as long as you are healthy, its when you try crazy stuff that you are likely to get into trouble.
OTS (OverTraining Syndrome)
Likewise, OTS affects mostly endurance cardio people and can be far scarier. Ultra-marathoners and people like Alberto Salazar, are definitely at risk of OTS. Here is a quote from the Outside Magazine article “Running on Empty” that describes this well:
Overtraining syndrome is what happens when the body never gets that rest. Through some combination of excessive exercise and inadequate recovery, athletes experience a severe shock to the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls the body’s inflammatory pathways. Under normal circumstances, when your body is stressed, your sympathetic nervous system kicks in to help you respond. Your heart races. Your pupils dilate. The blood rushes from your digestive system to organs needed for immediate survival. The parasympathetic system is the counterbalance, bringing the body back to a state of equilibrium. After a hard outing, your heart rate calms and blood returns to your extremities, restoring your body’s normal functions. For athletes with OTS, those balancing responses no longer occur. The parasympathetic system effectively goes haywire.
Again, dont be afraid of cardio. An hour or two a day is fine. If you regularly complete in ultra-marathons and double centuries, then you need to start worrying about what your personal limits are.
How much exercise is too much? OTS, Hematuria
This is what I affectionately refer to as my “super-tanker”. A very well made but heavy bike that I used for my 200 mile bike rides. Because the rides didnt have mechanics available I wanted to insure that nothing went wrong. A sturdy bike with strong tandem rims and heavy puncture proof tires kept me from having any problems but with a 45 pound weight penalty!