So after Monday’s post, I feel the need to really put a definition on what over exercising IS exactly.

(and to say thank you for loving on me – not a fun topic to address, but I’m gonna keep chugging.  I simply must.)

First off, this is a really hard topic to define

I honestly think that everyone has their OWN definition of what it means to over exercise.  What might be too much for one is just right for another. 

So, what is the difference between the exercise obsessed and the exercise enthusiast?

I believe it all comes down to INTENT.  (with a little physiology thrown in.)

First some definitions….

What IS Over Exercising? 

Over-exercising, also called compulsive exercising or obligatory exercising, is when an individual engages in strenuous physical activity to the point that it is unsafe and unhealthy.


How Much Is TOO Much?

To maintain a normal healthy state of the body, 2,000-3,500 calories should be burned each week through aerobic exercises, such as running, cycling and the like. Thirty to forty-five minutes a day, five or six days a week is sufficient to acquire health benefits. Exercise beyond 3,500 calories per week, however, leads to decreased physical benefits and increased risk of injury.  {source}


What Are The Symptoms of OE? {US News}

1. Decreased performance. A drop in your workout performance is one of the earliest signs of overload, according to Jini Cicero, a conditioning specialist based in Los Angeles, Calif. Altered performance levels are often more apparent in endurance activities such as running, swimming and cycling, she says.

2. Disinterest in exercise. A significant decrease in motivation or enjoyment of the activity can be a major sign of burnout, Cicero says. This more often occurs in weight lifters, sprinters or soccer players who are driven by speed and power.

3. Mood changes. Depression, anger, confusion, anxiety and irritability are common when your body is overstressed physically. Those same stress hormones you release when you’re emotionally stressed are also released when you’re physically overloaded, Cicero explains.

4. Delayed recovery time. Persistent muscle soreness that lasts for hours or days after your workout is a sure sign you need more rest, according to Joseph Ciccone, a physical therapist at ColumbiaDoctors Eastside Sports Therapy in New York City.

5. Elevated resting heart rate. “When you put more stress on the heart, it has to work a lot harder,” Ciccone says. An increase in your normal resting heart rate, say, from 50 beats per minute to 65 beats per minute, could indicate that you’re placing excessive stress on your body.

6. Fatigue. Mental or physical grogginess is a hallmark sign of overtraining, says nutritional biochemist Shawn M. Talbott and author of Natural Solutions for Pain-Free Living, based on his research on over-stress patterns in professional athletes. “The knee-jerk reaction to sluggishness is to exercise for an energy boost, but it’s a catch-22,” he says. “Another workout might wake you up short-term, but you’ll be worse off later on.”

7. Insomnia. Being in a state of overload often comes with disrupted sleep patterns, so instead of getting that much-needed rest, Talbott says, “you become restless and can’t fall asleep.”

8. Diminished appetite. “A decrease in appetite can occur in the middle to later stages of overtraining, and goes hand in hand with feelings of fatigue and lack of motivation,” says Stenstrup. By slowing down bodily processes like metabolism, the body attempts to force a reduction in its workload.

9. Fat gain. If you’ve lost weight but noticed an increase in body fat, you could be in the later stages of exercise overload. The body responds to prolonged stress by elevating levels of stress hormones, including cortisol, Stenstrup says. Over time this will lead to increased storage of adipose tissue, as well as inhibit steroid-like hormones that normally help increase muscle. A decrease in muscle mass can cause you to shed a few pounds, but this isn’t a good thing since it means your body’s less efficient at burning fat.

10. Weakened immune system. Don’t try to push through that exercise funk, Talbott warns, “or you’ll keep sliding down—to a weakened immune system, inflammation, and outright injury.” Not a good thing. Prolonged overtraining can take weeks, even months, to recover from, and can put your health at risk. Chronic inflammation, for example, has been linked to diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Bottom line: Nurture your body and give it a much-deserved break when it needs to rest after that tough workout.


So now that you kind of have a grasp of WHAT over exercising looks like, let’s address INTENT.

I know that for me personally, I KNEW that I was over exercising because I started to feel like I absolutely COULD NOT miss a workout.  It is almost like I get anxiety or guilt if I don’t push myself for those twice daily workouts. This is something that I hadn’t done since my eating disorder days.  After “recovery” from the ED, I simply exercised because I liked movement.  


Then I started this blog and I began teaching fitness classes.  As much as it pains me to say it, I think that these two things (mixed with the fact that I wasn’t pregnant for the first time in 3 years), contributed to me neglecting my body and losing that healthy balance that I had. 


The most common response from over exercisers is that pushing your body so much CAN’T be bad because they love it.  It’s a passion.

If I let myself, I could seriously exercise for 4-5 hours a day.  And I would LOVE to do that – it wouldn’t be a chore or a hassle.  It would almost be like a competition. 


I love it.  (And luckily my body has responded pretty well to my push.)

But you know what – cocaine users love cocaine.  It doesn’t mean that it’s healthy to continue to do drugs. 


I think there are so many of us in this healthy living community who might be confused as to whether or not we’re overtraining or simply pushing towards a goal.  Again, that’s when it comes down to INTENT. 


Are you exercising to burn calories?  To burn most of the calories you consume?

Do you feel guilty if you miss a workout?  Do you feel like you can’t stop exercising?

Do you exercise through injuries and continue to damage your body even when you notice there is something wrong?

What is the intent?  WHY are you working out for 2-3 hours a day?  What is the goal?

If this much exercise is starting to define you, it’s time to reevaluate your WHY’s. 

Which is what I’m doing.

I DO exercise too much.  I’m not training for anything.  There is absolutely no need to be in the gym or on the track for more than an hour a day. 

I’m working on it. 

My INTENT is new. 

My INTENT is balance

My new INTENT will now define me.

QUESTION:  Do you over exercise?? Know someone who does?  How much is TOO much? 


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  1. Love this post! I have continued to run when I was injured, to the point where it was painful just to walk. I’m trying to be smarter this year as I train for my first half-marathon. I honestly do hate my rest days, but I am forcing myself to take them because I now realize just how important they are.

  2. I was over-exercising not too long ago. I thought I could out-exercise my bad diet. Turns out, I couldn’t. Then I cleaned up my eating (more) and lost over 30 lbs. I think many of us think we can indulge if we burn it off in the gym. Sadly, it doesn’t work that way.

  3. Hello Lindsay,
    Just a quick message to ask if you would be interested in a ‘mutual’ following on twitter. I am currently following you now and am awaiting for your follow-back. (#FYI I do RT’s for all #Triathletes #Cyclists #UltraRunners & #Marathoners who follow me on Twitter and have something important they want mentioned…)

    All the very best to you and yours for the rest of 2012 and beyond Lindsay. Look forward to hearing from you…


  4. Forgive me as load up your inbox, Linds, but I’ve been meaning to play catch-up on your posts for like a week now! So glad I finally have the time to sit down and be still…and to see this post first? It’s perfect! I wouldn’t necessarily say that I overexercise…I rarely EVER spend more than an hour at the gym. I’m not sure what it is…like an internal clock or something…but my body just knows when it’s been an hour and I’m ready to go home. The only exceptions are when I do fitness classes at my gym and mix in some cardio before or afterwards. BUT sometimes I struggle with the guilt from NOT exercising. It’s something I’m working on and unfortunately, I do have those days were I feel that nagging voice telling me that since I missed my workout, I HAVE to figure out a way to eliminate calories in order to compensate. I’m actually REALLY proud of myself this week for not having any of those thoughts even though I missed going to the gym not once, but twice! The first day, I was just all in my head…feeling overwhelmed by stress with work and not having enough time to get things done around the house, so I spent all afternoon (which is my morning since I work nights now) washing dishes, doing laundry, and discovering that I did in fact still have a floor after all the junk was picked up! Lol In a way, I would guess you could say I got a workout in with all of that, but that doesn’t really work in my mind (I’m sure you know how it is). The second day was today…I think I really just needed a “me” day…no work, no stress, just me and my kitchen. I tried a few new recipes (Lauren’s Beet Burgers are amazing) and although I kept telling myself I WOULD make it to the gym, I was surprised when I realized it was already closing time and I was still in my pj’s! I ended up doing a little something at the house…hard to say if it was because I wanted the movement or if I felt I HAD to, but again, something I’m working on. We’re all a work in progress aren’t we?

  5. wonderful post! Lori and I used to over exercise when we were in college. We would work out twice a day, count calories, anyways not good. But we learned, and now workout for the right reasons. Eat a balanced diet. And just overall are happier, even we miss a few workouts.

  6. Forgive me if I said pretty much the same comment in your previous post-
    For me, I grew up hating exercise and pretty much any physical activity in general. I didn’t start working out until I was 23- and it helped me lose a lot of weight. After I lost about 60 lbs., I want to still lose about 10 more to get to that “magic number” that I had in my head. By this point, I had learned to love exercise because it made me feel good and gave me so much energy. But, I felt like I had to step it up and started exercising 2, 3… sometimes 4 hours in a day. And we’re talking super high intensity, like keeping my HR elevated in the HIGH anaerobic zone. And you know what happened? I didn’t LOSE 10 lbs- I GAINED 10 lbs! From all that stress! And stopped getting my period! And was a JOY to be around! I just reached a point where I had to say enough is enough. Before, I would consider a “rest” day only doing one workout (for like 90 minutes). Now, I always take at least one rest day- sometimes two- per week and listen to my body. It’s tough- I still struggle not to overdo it. And when I do, my body lets me know!
    I’m actually doing a post about this next week- but I think about how much time I wasted doing high intensity cardio- since your body doesn’t use fat for fuel when the HR is that elevated. (I’m learning SO MUCH in my PFT studies!!)
    Sorry for the ramble. Love you Linds!!

  7. Thanks for this post! I appreciate the definition of overexercise, because I’ve never seen it written out like this before. Generally the magazines and whatnot approach it from the ‘disorder’ perspective with the guilt, etc.

    I was thinking about this whole thing this morning as I was running 8 miles. For fun. I felt so good…and I started to think about how running has actually helped me change from an overexerciser with a negative intent (burning calories, must get to the gym, guilt) to a positive one. I stopped weighing myself (mostly) when I started doing longer distance running because I would look at the number and think, “OK, so if I ran 6 miles yesterday, it really shouldn’t matter if the scale says I gained 2 lbs…BECAUSE I RAN 6 MILES YESTERDAY.” I’ve also stopped feeling the need to worry so much about how much I’m eating because I know I’m being driven my hunger and my body needs to be refueled.

    Anyways, I guess I should probably just write my own post on this, rather than write one in your comment box. :)

  8. Great post! I just stumbled upon your blog from Ashley’s links–you found a new reader in me!!! I can relate to so much with what you write about from over-exercising to your past eating disorder to love of Jesus…love your message and I look forward to reading more;-)

  9. This is an excellent post. It’s funny because as a trainer I always recommend rest days to my clients, but had a very hard day embracing them myself. I have gotten much better since having my son (14 months ago) and I take 2 days completely off each week. It’s definitely healthier mentally and physically! :)

  10. WOW.. this was my first time ever to your site.. GREAT first article to read. everything we do has intention behind it whether we are aware or not! If we can intend from a more gentle and happy place whatever we are doing is so much better… instead of “I HAVE to go to work today.” (YUCK!).. we can say ” I CHOOSE to go to work today” because really it is a choice.. you don’t HAVE to go.. there are consequences to not.. so you are choosing to go. why not choose to do it cheerfully and think how lucky to even have the choice!

    Same with the exercise.. when you come from balance and make room and time for other things and realize again its a choice and a privilege.. so much better!!
    thank you!!

  11. Just discovered your blog and love it! I am also not a fan of fad diets or over-exercising. Sometimes its tough being a fitness instructor when you are constantly asked to sub classes which require you to work out when you are already sore beyond belief. It was helpful to see the symptoms so I can look out for those in my own life and other’s too. PS: I have that same workout top and wear it all the time!

  12. This was SUCH a needed blog post that ALL OF US should be reading and re-reading carefully. You are absolutely right that it’s about the intent, the WHY’s. If you can’t answer the WHY’s in a balanced way, you may have a problem. THANK you for writing this post, truly appreciate your open, honest, real and HELPFUL perspective. Seriously.

  13. Wow, this is n AWESOME post and so so SO many need to read this and heed your advice. I know it resonated with me. As I teach a lot of barre n9ne classes now, I still want to fit in a fair amount of classes I take (since teaching I don’t ‘do’ the whole class, especially not to the intensity of taking a class), plus run 4X a week. And sometimes, when I teach a LOT, and still try to fit in my classes, that is A LOT. And I need to take a step back and pare back and really focus on exactly that – INTENT. Exercise shouldn’t define me, and while it IS a passion and I DO love it, moderation and ‘smarter, not harder’ is the way I really need to look at it ALWAYS. Thank you thank you thank you for posting this and sharing your own story!

  14. I love this post! I was an over exerciser when I was a freshman in college and stayed that way until junior year! I was seriously restricting my caloric intake and exercising like a mad women, I was not going to gain the freshmen 15 and I didn’t I lost a good 20lbs I didn’t have to lose! I love working out the endorphins it gives me, it is my drug of choice, but before I HAD to go to the gym, I couldn’t miss a day of working out and would go crazy if I had to! So many negative thoughts about myself would run through my mind on days I didn’t go to the gym/ I was on the swim team in college and added my own time in the weight room to get “faster” let’s be honest, I just wanted to workout more. It was crazy and un healthy, it was a slow battle to recovery and I needed to seek out help from a therapist but I am happy to say I know workout because I want to, it makes me happy and I welcome rest days!

  15. Such a great post that so many of us can learn from! I’m still in the last stages of recovery in my eating disorder, and I think I realized I was doing too much was because I was simply run down. If I worked out in the morning, I could barely get my butt up and do anything else during the day because I was so exhausted, I also couldn’t sleep and suffered from horrendous headaches. Even though it wasn’t hours of exercise, I guess since my body is still in “recovering stage” and I’m at a lower weight, it just can’t keep up right now. And that’s okay, I just need to adjust my goals I have with exercise and although I love it, I need to take a step back and get to a healthier place with it.
    You are so full of great wisdom Lindsay! I am so happy you are taking the steps to overcoming over exercising!

  16. My over exercising was just another malicious form of my ED. It just morphed from food obsession to exercise obsession. I believe it has been called “exercise bulimia”; I was told most ED sufferers will think they are in a better place recovery wise because they aren’t binging/purging/restricting food, yet they (me) would binge on exercise- gave the same type of feeling. I was obsessed with the “feeling” of accomplishment and had to burn a certain number of calories (based on charts and my heart rate monitor). I loved it, until of course, I wore myself out from it. Sadly, the pendulum swung back to food. Of course, this is or may not be true for you or others, but it was for me.

  17. I love how you broke this down…very helpful post for me! I don’t feel that I overexercise, as I am at right around 1 to 1.5 hours 5-6 days a week, but I can also see how easy it would be for me to push it further…If I didn’t have Travis waiting for me to come home in the afternoons, one class could turn into two, 1 hour on the elliptical could be followed by another hour of weight training to “balance” it out, etc. It’s a slippery slope!

  18. Thanks so much for this post Lindsay. It’s so important and I think that it’s so easy to get caught up in over-exercising and over-training and over-everything, especially when you see someone else training for a race or you read a ton of fitness blogs, etc. While OE looks different for every person, it is about getting back to our intentions. I know that I feel off if I don’t exercise several days a week but I’m also learning to respect my limits.

  19. This is a great post! I absolutely LOVE exercise and I don’t like to take off more than one day a week. However, I cannot stand being in the gym longer than about an hour a day. If I am super sore or need to take a day off, I really don’t mind it. I actually welcome my rest days. Some people may be over exercising without realizing it.

  20. While I don’t think that I overexercise, I’m definitely addicted to the gym. If I miss a work out, I feel an overbearing sense of fear. I was quite a bit overweight while in high school, and now that I’m beginning to see the body that I wanted for all of those years I fear gaining all of the weight back. All fears aside, I genuinely do love a great work out.

  21. Once again, excellent post Lindsay! I was absolutely an over exerciser for several years… for ME and for MY body. It may have seemed like nothing to some, but I was burned out, exhausted, and my body wasn’t working properly – all signs that I needed to cut back. There are a few blogs out there lately that have I’ve had to back away from reading because I start to feel bad about myself for not exercising for hours on end or running 20 miles AND strength train in the same day after reading them.

    1. i agree Ashley!! Sometimes the so-called “health living blogs” can actually be damaging, negative influence for the reader!
      (and NOT this one, Lindsay! :) )

  22. I wonder this about myself all the time….ultimately, I don’t think I overexercise, but there are definitely times when I get anxious if I have to miss a workout or cut it short for some reason. Traveling tends to make that feeling even stronger…I’ve been working on this thought lately too and I’ve been focusing on my mindset a lot – reminding myself that it’s perfectly okay (even good) to have a day off once in a while and there’s absolutely no reason to feel guilty about it…it’s a work in progress!

  23. I’v been there! I would like to say that I’m never ever tempted to over-exercise anymore, but it’s something that I have to consciously think about on a regular basis. I used to work out for 2-3 a day in college…I look back now and think “what a waste!”

    Love you.

  24. I do overexercise at times. This past year it’s been partly because I have too much free time!! Haha. Insomnia is the one for me though. If I have a sleepless night, I know that it’s from too much exercise and I back it off. I read that once somewhere else, and I”m positive that’s what happens to me. Thanks for explaining this so well. People have such different ideas!! The trainers at my mom’s gym think she overexercises because she does more than 20 minutes of cardio. They’re bodybuilder types and our family is into long distance running!!! We can only run so fast! Lol.

  25. Great post! As someone who has suffered from eating disorders for the best part of half my life, I’ve now managed to achieve balance. Excercising whilst gaining my last few pounds ensuring I’m adequately fueling my body. I exercise because it makes me feel fit healthy and alive; nothing like those happy endorphins. I spend max 60 minutes in the gym 6 days a week; mixing up cardio and strength training and sometimes taking a class. There is confusion but I think you know it’s become a problem when your desire to exercise controls you.

  26. I loved this!! I think something else you can use as motivation is your children. Especially sweet Clara. You don’t want her to grow up with eating/exercise disorders. She will emulate you and learn from you and you know, firsthand, how awful those worlds can be and you would never want her to go down that path. I know you can do it! I know it!

  27. i love the way you laid it all out there in this way, lindsay, and appreciate your sharing your own struggles. i think it’s helpful for people to read what constitutes “over exercising” and realize that sometimes there truly can be TOO much of a good thing. working out is great, but doing too much can be detrimental to our physical AND mental health. i am almost always in and out of the gym in 50 – 60 minutes (or less) and the only time my workouts go over an hour is when i’m training for a half marathon and tackle a “long run” b/c i’m training. great post and hopefully it will be eye-opening to some who might be struggling with this right now.

  28. Such a great post! Thank you for creating more awareness on this topic because I think it often gets overlooked as just being “healthy” when in fact it is far from healthy!

  29. That’s really interesting to see the “definitions” of OE. Eye-opening. I’m guilty of the “exercising to compensate for something”. If I feel like I overate, I work out longer. If I’m feeling upset or stressed out about work, I work out harder. If there’s something about my body that has me self-conscious, I work out to get rid of it.

    But I’m actually getting better at all this. I mentioned in a comment the other day that over the past year, I’ve really come around with what it means to exercise for health and well-being. I’m not perfect, but sooooo much better than 2 years ago. Thanks for bringing up these issues–there are many people out there that need to be more conscious of what’s going on, and know that there’s support out there, and others that are struggling, too. Great post, Lindsay! And I’m sending positive vibes your way, so you can find a balance that’s healthy for you! You and your family deserve it! :)

  30. hi friend, you’re so wise. You know that right? Yes, no need to go over an hour. We can easily make that hour count!
    As a wife of pro endurance athlete, i’ve seen my husband go through many overtraining seasons. I’ve also felt left out and wanted to be there training with him, long hours of the day. And then we both realized that’s not the INTENT. His intent is to train smarter, not harder. And my intent was to keep that close bond since he was gone training all day.
    a year later, after both going through adrenal fatigue, we are in good place. physically and mentally.
    God teaches us everyday, eh?

  31. I think I overexercised in college, even though I really wasn’t even “pushing myself,” if that makes sense. But I felt like I HAD to workout every day. I had to do at least 30 minutes on the elliptical, or else I felt super guilty and would restrict calories. I’m so thankful that I’m past that period in my life!

  32. I am always SHOCKED AND STUNNED when I hear bloggers say they exercise for anything over an hour a day (<—-MY OPINION :)) as it seems excessive if youre not competing.
    Again, I know it is my approach of consistency versus quantity but when we hit the PLURAL (hourS) and it isnt teaching or prep for competition it seems like a lot.

    TO ME.

    I also know when I counseled women and trained women who insisted they loved loved loved the hours spent working out—-90% of the time they returned to me and said—LATER…MONTHS OR YEARS—they did not.

    They knew in their heart it was too much.
    They always knew it was overexercising as a method of avoidance.

    It always broke my heart.

    sorry for the rambles….