The Dangers of Too Much Cardio Exercise

Cardiovascular exercise is an important part of your overall exercise regime, but some people take it to extremes, which can harm your health and wellbeing in the long run. As a personal trainer in London, I encourage my clients to strike a balance between cardio exercise, resistance exercise, and exercises for agility and flexibility.

How much is too much cardio exercise?

I advise my personal training clients in London to do three cardio sessions a week, 20 – 30 minutes per session, of moderate to high intensity. Anything in excess of an hour of cardio per session is counterproductive. An hour of cardio three times a week is on the threshold of being excessive.

Most gyms have their cardio junkies who pound the treadmill every day in the hope of losing excess body fat, and wonder why it isn’t working. Truth is, cardio is not the most effective way to lose stubborn fat, resistance exercise that builds muscle and boosts your metabolism 24 hours a day is far more effective.

I recommend you watch the excellent YouTube videos of Caroline Jordan. In her video about excessive cardio exercise, she says, “A longer workout isn’t better, a better workout is better.” She warns about the self-sabotage of cardio-junkies, and how excessive cardio puts unhealthy levels of stress on your body over time.

What is the best form of cardio?

I advise my personal training clients in London to engage in a wide variety of cardio exercise, not to stick to just one type. The danger of sticking just to running, for example, is that over time you will develop overuse injuries (also known as repetitive stress injuries) due to the wear and tear you’re placing on your joints. Marathon runners often develop joint problems in the hips, knees and ankles through overuse.

There are many forms of cardio exercise, such as running, brisk walking up hills (or incline treadmill at the gym), cycling, rowing, swimming, skipping, the elliptical machine, the Stairmaster machine, cardio-boxing. The advantage of engaging in a variety of cardio exercise is that you are less likely to get repetitive stress injuries, because you’re moving in a wider variety of planes of movement.

Repetitive stress injuries are far more likely if you have muscle imbalances, which pull your joints out of optimum alignment and exacerbate the stress you’re putting on your joints. Next time you’re out in the park, watch the technique of runners. Many are running with knock-knees (valgus gait), or lopsided gait (from poorly aligned hips). It’s much better to correct these muscle imbalances through a regime of strength training and stretching, rather than do tons of cardio with these imbalances.

Should you combine cardio and resistance training in one session?

I advise my personal training clients to ensure they get some cardio exercise and some resistance exercise each and every week, so if their time for exercise is restricted, it’s more practical to do some of each in the same session. Many of my clients have high-powered careers which make it hard to find enough time to exercise, so our sessions cover a bit of everything.

However, if your goal is to build serious amounts of muscle-mass, it’s more effective to devote your muscle-building sessions to that goal, and do cardio on separate days. If you try to do cardio first, your reserves of energy for the muscle-building phase of your workout will be depleted.

(Dominic Londesborough is a personal trainer in London and an online nutrition coach.)

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