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How Much Is Too Much?

As you begin an exercise program, it can be tempting to think, “More is always better,” but that’s not always the case. Exercise, like many helpful things, doesn’t do much if you hardly get any, has lots of good benefit when you get enough, and can be harmful if you get too much.

Too Much Too Soon

The most common way people hurt themselves with cardio – or any other exercise program – is by rushing to do harder work, or more work, before the body has adapted to it. Many people who are new to running experience this, which is part of why running has a reputation for causing injury. This is a risk with strength training, too — Too Much Too Soon contributes to the soreness or injury that sees many a New Year’s Resolutioner give up by Valentine’s Day. Other activities, such as cycling, swimming, and rowing (on the water or using a rowing machine), can be rushed, too, but because they are non-impact exercises, problems may take longer to show up.

How do I protect myself?

Don’t rush it. Especially if you are new to regular exercise as an adult, remember that it takes time to build a good base. Running in particular has a rule of thumb: add no more than 10% a week — that means that your total miles during the week should be no greater than 110% of your total miles the previous week. (Yep, if you ran 1 mile this week, only run 1.1 miles next week. Even if your heart and lungs are ready to surge ahead, your tendons and ligaments need more time to adapt.) Popular running program Couch to 5k is designed to help you keep a healthy, safe progression, and recommends that you simply repeat any week where you could not do all the intervals as listed. It’s not a “plateau” or a problem — it’s a smart way to get better.

Gotta Keep Movin’?

OK, you say, I get it, but I’m rarin’ to go, and I want to make this motivation count! That’s great! Just make sure that the “extra” work you do is easy — keep moving, but use the time to do low-intensity work, like stretching, restorative yoga, or walking. This could be a good opportunity to get a friend or family involved in getting more active, too.

This inverted u-curve illustration is from Mark Young’s article about how to approach cardio in a healthful, effective way, countering claims that cardio is “harmful.”

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