Why You May Need to Exercise Less | Chris Kresser
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Why You May Need to Exercise Less

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Exercise is a major component of a healthy lifestyle, and the benefits of regular physical activity are well established. When adopting a Paleo lifestyle, modifying your fitness routine to include more high intensity exercise can bring great benefits to energy, body composition, and overall fitness.

However, there are many people who take their physique and physical fitness to an extreme level, particularly in the Paleo community. Certain styles of exercise take the participant to a state of physical exhaustion on a regular basis, which may do more harm than good.

While a consistent, high intensity workout routine may provide some benefits for those people looking to lose body fat and increase their strength and fitness, there is a fine line between training hard and overtraining. While running fast and lifting heavy may be major components of an active Paleo lifestyle, engaging in these physically demanding activities too regularly or too intensely can contribute to many different symptoms of overtraining.

Overtraining goes beyond just excessive “chronic cardio” or too many hours spent at the gym. Certain high-intensity exercise routines may push the body’s stress response too far, leading to a cascade of biochemical responses that can cause serious damage to one’s health in both the short and long term.

While short, intense workouts can be great for inducing fat loss, increasing aerobic capacity, and reducing risk for cardiovascular disease, excessively intense exercise can cause a variety of health problems, especially for those dealing with other concurrent stressors such as autoimmune disease, gut dysbiosis, or adrenal fatigue.

Overtraining has been shown to affect blood levels of important neurotransmitters such as glutamine, dopamine and 5-HTP, which can lead to feelings of depression and chronic fatigue. The stress caused by intense, excessive exercise can negatively affect the hypothalamic-pituitary axis, possibly causing conditions such as hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism is known to cause depression, weight gain, and digestive disfunction along with a variety of other symptoms. As we know, high stress in general can cause symptoms of hypothyroidism, and the stress caused by excessive, intense exercise is no exception.

Another major effect that extreme exercise has on our bodies is an immediate increase in cortisol, the hormone that is released when the body is under stress.

Heavy-resistance exercises are found to stimulate markedly acute cortisol responses, similar to those responses found in marathon running. Chronically high levels of cortisol can increase your risk for a variety of health issues, such as sleep disturbances, digestive issues, depression, weight gain, and memory impairment. Excess cortisol also encourages fat gain, particularly around the abdomen.

When a goal of exercise is to lose weight or improve energy, overtraining can clearly be a major barrier to achieving those goals.

Overtraining can also have harmful effects on the immune system. Research has shown that the cellular damage that occurs during overtraining can lead to nonspecific, general activation of the immune system, including changes in natural killer cell activity and the increased activation of peripheral blood lymphocytes. This hyperactivity of the immune system following intense overtraining can possibly even contribute to the development of autoimmune conditions.

This type of nonspecific immune response is associated with symptoms such as chronic fatigue, weight loss, decreased appetite, and sleep changes. Altered immune status is also known to affect the hypothalamic-pituitary axis, and may be responsible for the hypothalamic-pituitary dysfunction and hypothyroidism known to occur in overtrained athletes.

Mark Sisson talks about the different signs of overtraining, which may be more common in endurance training but is nonetheless possible in high intensity training as well.

Feeling ill or rundown, losing muscle mass, gaining fat, and constant exhaustion can all be signs of excessive exercise of any type. Not only is this counterproductive to most people’s fitness and health goals, but it is also a sign of sickness.

In the path to better health, any activity that makes you more fatigued and more prone to infection is definitely something to be avoided.

So does this mean you should quit CrossFit, or stop pushing towards your weightlifting goals? Not necessarily.

Here are a few techniques to avoid overtraining while still enjoying high intensity exercise:

  1. Reduce the frequency. While pushing yourself hard at the gym is not inherently problematic, doing it too often during the week is overtraining. High intensity, high stress exercise should be limited to two or three times a week, especially for those who are dealing with other health issues such as autoimmune conditions or digestive troubles. Compounding those stressors with extra stress from your exercise routine will not leave you healthier, and can easily cause you to become more sick.
  2. Get adequate rest. I’ve written before about how important sleep quality is for health. Not only is taking breaks from exercise important, but getting adequate sleep to allow recovery from intense exercise is vital to avoiding the overtraining syndrome. Make sure you are getting adequate sleep, particularly on the days you train. Interestingly, one symptom of overtraining is disturbance of sleep, so if you’re feeling restless and having trouble sleeping through the night, you may want to reconsider the intensity of your training schedule.
  3. Mix it up. While high intensity exercise may be ideal for losing body fat and improving lean muscle mass, we know that high levels of cortisol can cause the body to hold onto fat. For this reason, you may consider trying a type of exercise that can help modulate your cortisol levels. Some may knock yoga as being too easy to affect weight loss, but regular yoga practice is shown to reduce cortisol levels, which may help in reaching your weight and fitness goals. Instead of doing a fourth day of CrossFit, try doing a yoga class instead. You may find that this stress reducing exercise helps you recover more quickly from your more intense exercise schedule.
  4. Eat more carbohydrates. While cutting down carbohydrate consumption is often seen as the best way to decrease body fat, a combination of overtraining and low-carb eating can actually raise cortisol significantly and negatively impact immune function. There is also a possibility that very low carbohydrate (VLC) diets suppress thyroid function, a debate thoroughly discussed by Paul Jaminet on his blog. So if you’re regularly doing high intensity training and want to avoid symptoms of overtraining stress, don’t skimp on the carbs!
High intensity exercise can be a great way to improve body composition and enhance your general health, if done the right way.  As with all components of our lifestyle changes, the key is moderation and listening to your body.

If you choose to participate in these high intensity training programs, always use your best judgment and don’t let coaches or fellow athletes push you past your comfort zone.

Now, I’d like to hear your experiences with different exercise programs – did your health improve or suffer after increasing the intensity of your training? Have you been able to find a balance between intensity and adequate recovery?

356 Comments

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  1. Chris,

    One nit to pick in an otherwise excellent article: The abstract you referenced with “overtraining and low carb eating” looked at a two groups of male triathletes, one with no diet change and one with added carbohydrate, who were then deliberately overtrained. It’s true that the higher-carb group suffered less from the effects of overtraining, but we don’t know if the no-diet-change group was following a low-carb diet. If they weren’t, the study doesn’t compare low-carb to high-carb diets. If they were, it means that they have been training for triathlons following a low-carb diet with no apparent ill-effects, which suggests that what must be a high-volume, if not high-intensity, training regimen isn’t incompatible with a low-carb diet.

    While it may be true that additional carbohydrate offers some protection from the effects of overtraining, given the known health benefits of carbohydrate-restriction, it seems more prudent to simply avoid overtraining by reducing exercise intensity/volume/frequency rather than adding carbohydrate to the diet.

    • Chris, I would agree with your last comment in general, except it may be helpful to carbo-load the day of a once per week HIT lifting session (for example), and perhaps eating more carbs right after the workout. I’ve read that insulin is a bit of a growth promoting hormone – not just for adipose tissue but muscle tissue as well. I don’t know how true this claim is, it’s just something I read. Do you agree with this claim?

      Btw, thanks for the great article.

      • Oh, this comment is assuming the goal is increasing muscle mass and strength. If you’re looking to lose fat, then don’t carbo load of course 😉

  2. Oh, one more thing-

    Chris, if you have time, I was wondering what your ideas are on exercise for autoimmune diseases, as far as when you need to just completely rest as opposed to adding some exercise in. With a non-chronic illness, it makes sense to just allow the rest for your body to heal, but if you have a history of long flares with autoimmune disease, that could mean hardly ever exercising. It’s hard to know when the added stress of exercise will be beneficial or detrimental to your body in that situation.

    Also, if you’re on a drug like prednisone which affects your adrenals, are you asking too much of your body when you exercise on top of that (though I thought it may be important to have some weight bearing exercise since prednisone affects your bone density)? And then of course what if on top of those things you’re pregnant as well?

  3. I read a study not too long ago that extended cardio in particular after 30 minutes causes a marked decrease in T3 (active thyroid hormone).

    How much is too much is also very individual. When I was in the throes of my hypothyroidism, I remember just doing 15 minutes of moderate yoga would drop my temps and pulse afterwards, and I’d feel horrible the rest of the day. I’ve since used temps/pulse to gauge my activity ever since, pretty successfully.

    • Sandy,

      Do you happen to have a reference to that study? I’m interested as I’ve been diagnosed in the past with low T3 and love running (low cardio).

  4. I am a runner. I lost 60 lbs when I took up regular running. I started eating better(not to loose weight, but to support my running), I started sleeping better(obvious benefit of being tired), I started thinking better(it can be a very meditative experience), I started looking better(runner physique), I started feeling better(because of everything else here).

    You could probably attain similar results with the high intensity stuff that seems to be popular here- but if you are smart about increasing your intensity in the workouts, I don’t think it will necessarily lead to overtraining. The body has the amazing ability to adapt to physical stimuli. It you increase the intensity in small intervals over time and allow the body to catch up(listen to your body), there is little risk of overtraining. You may reach a limit where you find out that the body will not respond anymore and you might be risking overtraining every time you try to push it, but who doesn’t want to find out their limits? Ryan Hall, the best US marathoner, became overtrained when he was doing 120 mile weeks, he dropped below 100 and was fine and is still putting up the best times.

    • Jeremy, when it comes to high intensity exercise, whether it be lifting or sprinting, if you are lifting to positive failure or 100% sprinting (as if a hungry lion is chasing you), you definitely can over train. It doesn’t matter if you increase the intensity gradually over time in an attempt to build up your tolerance for it. At some point the intensity will reach a level that has the potential to do serious damage. Even a professional athlete in amazing shape can over train. The only way to avoid it is to keep the volume and frequency of training low enough to give adequate muscle recovery time.

      • Granted an athlete, especially a young one, has I higher tolerance for training volume and frequency due to a faster recovery/rebuild rate.

      • I have to disagree. Keeping volume and intensity low is tantamount to advocating under training rather than enhancing it through incremental hypertrophy of recuperation. Recuperation is where adaptation occurs, not in the gym or playing field. Talk of training to failure rings familiar.

        It’s interesting and amusing occasionally reading neo-Paleo ideas about training in context of reading the latest version of old, old conversations. I started some lifting by age 7 (1951), serious weight training for competitive swimming (1958), for competitive lifting (1959), permanently ‘bitten by the iron bug’ ever since. So that’s 54 years of training, and more than a century of reading material, a lot of it cutting edge science. What’s clear is most of our training systems repeat and regurgitate ideas that arent’ new. None are complete, either.

        Paleo’s becoming a new petri dish for old theories and old debates. And they’re just as borish here as they were at other places in other times. Especially if you’ve heard them once (or more)!

        Put kindly, training to failure is one option. Not an especially prudent one, however. Demonization of volume usually goes with that.

        From a Paleo perspective, there’s something else to think about. I first came across it in that delightful book Exuberant Animal. One way the genetic pool staid fit in terms of survival was with the aid of predators. Weaker tribal members whose strength and recuperative skills were less than adequate became stragglers. Most likely they didn’t reproduce. As stragglers, they were easy picking for predators – like a fast food meal! And that kept the genome strong. But with neolithic agricultural societies banding large numbers of people in city states, stragglers has opportunity for relative survival. Yet only with the Industrial Revolution along with 20th century medicine’s conquest of communicable & infectious disease were stragglers granted the option evolution had long deprived the unfit from having: survival of childhood, adulthood, mating disseminating weak genetic stock.
        The high intensity minimalist training combined with recuperative anxiety works for a small percentage of the population, most likely those unwittingly bearing Forencech’s straggler genes. That’s good to know. Since they represent probably 2 or 3 standard deviations from the mean – opposite end of the Bell curve from the genetically gifted – both the gifted and deprived should not be confused with those in the mean. Some preposterous HIT thinking divides the world into ‘genetically gifted’ versus ‘hard gainers’, laughably asserting other than that 1 standard deviation of gifted, everyone else is hard gainers: those claimants missed more than statistics in school!

        Take home point: most of us bear genes that can go forward with fitness, including regular growth of recuperative capacity. I’m by no means genetically gifted, just positively addicted to training for 54 years. The category we should be looking at is that of lifelong trainees – Signorile has in his Bending the Aging Curve. Lifelong trainees strength levels at 90 diminish to normal people’s in their late teens and twenties! For me training is 45-minutes to little over an hour 5-6 days weekly. All kinds of training. With worry about under training.

        • Ken, first… just because some kernel of knowledge or training program is not new doesn’t make it any less credible/effective. To the contrary IMO. And just because you believe that training to failure is not a prudent choice does not make it true. I am one that can attest to the efficacy of HIT training and I was quite fit/strong before starting it as an on-and-off lifter for over ~25 years. As to it’s effectiveness for the people in the center of the bell curve, there are lots of personal trainers who have trained thousands of clients using HIT (positive failure training) to good effect. There is also a long list of professionals in the industry and successful body building professionals that suggest this method, if not have written books and websites singularly focused on this technique. For me, I find it hard to argue with getting the same results or better with 25% of the gym time investment. My own experience is anecdotal evidence (the most important to me) that it works great!

          • Glad it works for you Brad. I first read of it in Iron Man around 1970 as Jones was brewing it up, gaining quite a bit of unacknowledged info from Vince Gironda. I gave HIT an honest try several times, always a set back – especially when Jones went downward from three sets to one. By the time HIT surfaced, I’d had a decade of competitive training as a power lifter and Olympic lifter. I’m rather convinced HIT was useless for me due to already having considerable contractile hypertrophy (it does very little for sarcoplasmic hypertrophy).
            HIT has hoped for bodybuilding champions. Jones’ original claim was HIT with his Nautilus machines would produce drug free champions. It never has produced drug free champions. On that note, with champion bodybuilders there’s only one factor uniting all training methods: those $60,000-80,000 per annum investments in polypharmaceuticals.

            • I will agree that HIT minus drugs does not work better than no-HIT plus drugs for hypertrophy (whatever kind). The champion bodybuilders are a completely different group and quite to the right of that bell curve you were talking about. You sound intelligent and well experienced. I’m glad you found what works well for you too. We all like different things, have different techniques, thresholds, genetics, etc.

              • Brad: The often missing element in the various training methods has historical roots. Both Randy Roach’s Muscle, Smoke and Mirrors and Bill Pearl’s Legends of the Iron Game help fill in the gaps. If you go to websites, blogs, books today, there’s all sorts of methods. Most all of what’s published rehashes and repeats a century or more of varying training ideas. And they all work – for some people, for some of the time, then come the plateaus, the injuries, the boredom and staleness – and a ton of theories why that happens.
                The last 25 years of the 20th century included sequencing of the human genome, finding out what it’s made up of. With our new millennium, we’re now finding out what it does. Folks in physiology funded by the pharmaceutical monopolies are looking to understand how to interrupt, down regulate, stop various processes they regard as normal diseases. Over in the colleges of education, hidden away in PE departments now working under new names like kinesiology, health education, and exercise physiology, the same genomic and molecular biological processes are being looked at in terms of peak performance and long life fitness maintenance – their orientation is not pathology and pharmaceutical driven. They’re one of the missing chapters in a bigger sense of evolutionary medicine and it’s practical expression and implementation in a newer Paleo movement. I found out how true that is when giving an invited lecture at University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston in early November – those students and faculty have a good understanding of genomics and molecular biology from the medical model, and none from the exercise physiology model. That latter bears incredible impact on overcoming a pandemic of chronic degenerative diseases escalating in Western civilization a tremendous costs of needless human suffering, familial suffering, and burdening the economy – only the medical/pharmaceutical/health care cartel of monopolies benefit from it.
                Activity figures in real big time. Add to it that our genome loves HIT plus about four or five other modalities of training to render full, complete genomic expression of Darwinian fitness. We’re in the early stages of understanding noetic fitness, and all our old theories are baggage – baggage with nuggets of wisdom combined with burdensome nonsense folks like me and you grew up believe to be truth! If we apply the same method Boyd Eaton, Mel Konner and others did to Western medicine versus anthropology 30 years ago that gave birth to what’s now Paleo – apply them to our long standing orthodoxy of various training methods, we’re going to find out they’re largely Americanisms maintained by West Coast editors of fitness publications. The series of articles I did in Iron Man over much of the last decade – and some I only researched – took me largely outside of the USA to coaches with methods that work better than our standard methods but who are outside the ‘fitness civilization’ – Poloquin did the same thing with Germanic language sources, and before him Drs Fred Hatfield and Mel Siff with Soviet Bloc methods. When all’s said and one, train as you know best while maintaining the integrity expressed in being a walking question mark goaded on by the Oracle at Delphi’s injuction to Know Thyself.

                • Phew! Again Ken, I’m not sure what you’re point is. Other than to show that you are a smart guy with great knowledge of fitness industry history. I agree that both of these things are likely true of you. It looked at the start as if you were going to say what were the (missing element in the various training methods) but then you lost me in the long history lesson. Your last sentence… Know thyself and train as you know best. Gotcha! ‘Nuf said.

        • so interesting… thanks for elaborating! I really am valuing your comments and finding answers to questions I’ve got. Thank you so much for sharing your experience!

      • Brad, I think we are in partial agreement. You need to give your body a chance to recover(exactly how long it takes to recover adequately is found through experience, in runner speak: you want to listen to your body). But I am also saying that you can shorten that recovery time, or increase the intensity in small increments to allow the body to adjust and get stronger.

        • Jeremy, the only way I can see how getting stronger will shorten the recovery time is if, as you get stronger you keep the intensity at the same level. Ie, if you sprint at the same speed all the time,even when you are stronger and could actually run faster, you don’t, just keeping your previous speed. Or, not lifting to failure or increasing the weight you are lifting as you get stronger. But if you are not giving 100% effort all the time, then what we are really talking about is something completely different. This is reducing the intensity level in order to minimize the muscle inroading (fatigue, damage, or whatever you want to call it) in order to shorten the recovery time. I have no argument that lessening the intensity will shorten the recovery time. But IMO, this will also reduce the effectiveness of the exercise. This is assuming the objective is to get stronger, faster, trigger hormones, loose fat, etc. If someone is merely in a “maintenance mode” and is not looking to improve, then maybe this is OK. Just my thoughts.

          • another variable is time under tension, along with eccentrics, holds, drop sets, vascular occlusion. Vascular occlusion is dicey – with 40% loads occlusion results in temporary disruption of blood flow to the target muscle, resulting in pure anaerobic stimulation with light, taxing resistance. I’ve trained several serious people with that method, resulting in more than 1″ arm growth in 5 weeks – two of them were young guys, both plagued by mom’s & girlfriends wanting to know if they were on steroids. Another guy at 59 gained three inches on chest in less than a month with more than 3 inches loss at belly and hips. One woman loss utterly no bodyweight while dropping 2 pant sizes in three months, her main movement being squats – progressing in three months from an empty 45 lb Olympic bar to 3×8-10 with 185, 5’3″ tall, 160 bodyweight – gaining great legs and booty, an a new inclination to wearing short skirts with bragging rights.
            In my own experience, going well down in resistance/strength with higher rep/volume schemes starts as a power set back. Usually within 2 months the strength increases change everything: movements I could get 6-8 reps with at a certain poundage, I’m now back to that poundage for more than 12 reps.
            Some of the literature suggests that morphing to type II fibers reaches a point where they morph to type Is, but a powerful type I. My experience leads me in that direction.
            All of which suggests the meaning of intensity is more somatopsychic or mental/emotional, not fixed to absolute poundage lifted.

            • Ken, you’re making my head spin 🙂 Seriously dude. I read about this stuff more than the average (non professional) person. But I still have a hard time understanding what you say and why. I’m pretty sure I could learn some things from you, but you gloss over things that clearly need more and clearer explanations. Example: what do you mean by (Some of the literature suggests that morphing to type II fibers reaches a point where they morph to type Is, but a powerful type I.) Honestly, that 59 year old story is a bit hard to believe. You want us to believe he grew 1 inch per week? Without steroids or breath holding changes during measurments? R E A L L Y?
              IMO, reaching maximum intensity does indeed have a mental factor. It’s a learned technique requiring some practice. But it’s not difficult to learn. And the (meaning) of intensity to me is… that effort which creates the most muscle inroading in the most time-efficient and safest way possible.

              • yeah, he really grew that much. I was concerned with a weight loss of only 11 pounds over three weeks so taped him again. I don’t have equipment to assess body mass. Can you imagine how shocked I was. The training has been intense, far more than ‘normal’ people would put up with – my kinda guy. An alpha male. The chief variable was eliminating alcohol from his daily diet. That in itself in a high intensity/density training environment can have profound effects – including down regulation of conversion of test to estradiol. no breath holding…made sure of that. no steroids. I’ve witnessed similiar results with 20-30 year olds. some with high reps training, others with New HIT (my review of Darden’s books in Iron Man a few years ago should be a teaser on that one).
                Max intensity is the gateway to noetic training. It’s not just mental, it’s largely emotional – mediating transition from limbic/amygdala driven knee jerk reactions to left pre-frontal cortex/insula cortex reformulation of embodied brain functioning, recognized in neuroscience as irreversible neuroplastic transformation.
                Inroading in my book is not lifting weights but intentionally/mindfulfully flexing resistance under varying conditions.
                If you go to my facebook page, check in to become a friend, then send me a message including your email address, I’ll gladly forward some research publications to you. Can’t do that here. Your head will spin even moreso due to them not being my declarations but science stuff. That’s all in honor and respect to you, amigo.
                My FB is Ken O’Neill or Smart FIT (FIT=fully integrative training).

                warm regards

  5. I wish I had known this a few years back! I was indifferently fit during my 20s and have 3 children, after my third child was born I decided to get serious about losing the baby weight and getting in shape. I followed weight watchers and worked out (cardio and body-pump) 10 or more hours a week. On Saturdays I would do an hour long body-pump class, jogging during the recovery period, and then an hour on an elliptical doing intense intervals. Afterward I would be woozy and incoherent, but I lost the weight and achieved a body that was better looking than ever. Eventually I started falling apart though, headaches, frequent infections, I developed sleep apnea even though I was very slender, I was diagnosed with Celiac. In the process of dealing with all of that I regained much of the weight, and I haven’t done more than walking and hiking for several years. At no time did anyone suggest that my vegetarian diet or my serious over-exercising could be causing my problems. I eat something like the Perfect Health Diet now, too low carb doesn’t work for me. I hope to start working out again, but sensibly. Any advise you have on recovering from over-exercising would be appreciated.

  6. Both myself and a friend who started eating Paleo (and low-carb-ish) had calf problems doing full speed (100% effort) sprint interval training. Pulls, cramping, twitching, and weak muscle feelings, and it’s an ongoing issue. I think there are a few contributing factors. To a lesser degree I think our ages 48 has an effect but mostly on recovery time. To a higher degree I think are two things. Sprinting (or any high intensity training really) too often and not giving enough days for muscle recovery and rebuilding. We were sprinting 3 days per week on average. I now do it only once a week at most. Second, I think it’s entirely possible that eating low carb could contribute to inadequate glycogen reserves for high-frequency plus high-intensity workouts. It makes sense to me that a muscle upon tapping out it’s energy reserve would finally complain loudly for you to STOP WHAT YOU’RE DOING!

  7. Having been a college shot-putter/discus thrower/hammer thrower, I can assure you I know what it means to overtrain. Our summer lifting routines were very intense five days a week. While I did get incredibly strong, I wasn’t necessarily ‘fit’ and I wasn’t necessarily healthy. I learned a lot from other throwers, talking with strength coaches, and exposing myself to a variety of workout routines. After college sports were done, I really enjoyed creating my own workouts and running 3-4 week phases before flipping everything around. Of course, I was single and could afford to spend an hour at the gym every day and time outside of the gym planning my workouts and doing research. Fast forward to today where I am married, have three little kids, and a demanding full time job…I don’t have that kind of time anymore. I have always been one to prioritize health or healthy activities along with work, family, etc. to ensure I stay healthy…but I don’t have extra hours anymore. Thankfully, I stumbled into the Primal Blueprint a few years back and took to it immediately. I REALLY enjoy Mark’s simple Primal Fitness routine and guidelines. It is simple, yet effective and challenging. I have always been one to really enjoy the challenge of a good, hard workout. With Mark’s program its simple; two high-intensity, heavy lifts a week, one sprint a week, and the other days are filled with either long walks, easy jogs, stretching, wrestling with my kids, swimming… the list goes on. It takes me 45 minutes from the time I get out of my car at the local community center until the time I get back in, and that includes taking a shower and getting ready for work [I workout in the early AM]. With that short of a time commitment, ANYONE can do it. You can even do it from home…I just prefer to go to the gym rather than wake up the kids.

  8. Great article yet again Chris! I agree and add that overtraining is very individual thing and we all need to recognize signs of overtraining. I typically notice that when I’m pushing too hard my labido drops (pun intended) and I sleep less completely. Also, I notice clients of mine have begun adopting a biggest loser mentality that suffering = physical adaptation, which is not necessarily true or that the adaptation is going to go in a favorable direction.

    Exercise is healthy and punctuated efforts of difficult work is a sound practice, both from a psychological standpoint and a physical one. It would be fabulous if instead of the biggest loser, where people get the piss beat out of them, there were a show where the winner is the one who most efficiently tackles their body transformation from a realistic perspective.

    • Have you noticed how recovery is often taken as if there’s no growth of recovery skills, hence over training is something feared? Occasional over reaching is known as a strategy for breaking through plateaus.

      Agree about ‘biggest loser’ – the whole frame is negative, the term ‘loser’ giving a negative spin. Where’s the joy of life?

      • Ken,
        I like what you’re throwing down, it makes me wonder about how we, more specifically I, define overtraining. I’ve definitely read about and practiced bouts of overreaching as a potent growth stimulus, but is that the same as overtraining or is it confusion about semantics? I guess I’ve lumped overtraining into the “chronic over reaching” category, rather than the strategically used plateau decimator one.

        Regarding biggest loser and the joy in life – seriously!

        • The easiest subjective indicator of overtraining (used to be called overtonus) is fatigue – you’re going beyond capacity to overcome stress. Some people used to use pH sticks since overtraining results in urine going acidic; if so, potassium bicarbonate helps offset acidity.

          It’s been noted over several decades nightly sleep has gone from 8 to 6.5 hours. Less than adequate sleep will precipitate overtraining symptoms. Distinquishing between over training versus under resting and under recuperating has to be considered.

          What’s evident is the science – if it’s even science – hasn’t gone far enough. I don’t see discussions of over training in scientific literature while do find them in droves in popular lit. That should say something noteworthy!

          Overtraining is frequently held to be the culprit involved in hitting plateaus. In my experience, plateaus merely indicate time to change what you’re doing. As we grow in training years, we grow in adaptivity – meaning that instead of changing schedule every 4-6-8 weeks, more likely every few days. Doing so is psychologically and physically varied, hence refreshing. I know that considerable over training talk stems from folks relying a on small number of machines always used the same way. My bet is that boredom is killing them!

          • I agree that changing exercises can help not only boredom. Though I don’t think boredom is the main problem. I don’t understand what you’re alluding to about the lack of discussions of over training in scientific literature? Scientific literature has been known to be wrong seemingly almost as much as it has been right. eg, cholesterol/saturated-fats, the whole aerobic exercise movement (chronic cardio), etc.

      • Ken. I don’t know what a “recovery skills” is. Can you explain? Are you saying that your body can learn to recover faster? I would really like this to be true especially at my age (49) but I haven’t experienced this myself. At times I have noticed muscle soreness going away faster at times. But when I have gone into the gym thinking that I’m fully recovered due to lack of soreness, I often find I do not exceed my previous lift results.

  9. When I first started paleo (I’m not anymore by technical standards 🙂 I would imagine myself as a ‘wild’ animal. I know it sounds strange but it led me to walk (I like hills), sprint some, jump on and off things, fall to the ground/pick myself up a lot, crawl, pull-up/climb, and lift something heavy. Sound familiar? For more stimulation I found Pavel. Pavel’s old book ‘Power To The People’ contains a very simple plan for strength using only TWO exercises. I also like his ‘Enter The Kettlebell’ where he recommends NOT to “suffer the indignity of aerobics”, lol! The KB workouts are either 10 minutes or 5 minutes! I have used all this with great efficiency. For instance, I never imagined I would be able to deadlift 400 lb., I did this with 3 months training “under Pavel.” Central to my ideas regarding “health” is STRESS. Most of what I do is try to oppose this insidious killer. So, I don’t try to overstress my body in the gym, outside, at work, at home, or in anything else I do. Enough said.

  10. I found out the hard way that trying to improve my health by mountain biking didn’t work. It might work if your metabolism is already healthy, but not if it is broken. It took my 5 years to realize our riding group all had beer bellies, low muscle mass and many had health problems. Our weekly rides were 2-4 hours each, for 2 to 3 times a week. On steep trails you end up redlining your heart rate about every 10 minutes to summit the mountain. Basically we were burning muscle and going into adrenal fatigue. Many suffer from depression, fatigue etc. I am hoping to focus more on strength training this year and use the mountain biking as a treat once a week, instead of the route to health.

  11. I really enjoyed this article, Chris. I’ve always thought that my excessive exercise was a contributor to my developing Crohn’s disease. Right before I got sick, I was marathon training on top of additional cardio and intense weight lifting. I think I had the perfect storm to set things off with the excessive exercise, taking NSAIDS for SI joint pain and then finally taking antibiotics for a sinus infection. I’ve read that running can cause leaky gut, we know NSAIDS can as well and then I think the antibiotics were the last trigger to disrupt my gut flora and let the Crohn’s take over.

    Now that I’ve had Crohn’s for a few years, I still am struggling to find the best exercise routine. At first tried to continue exercising like I did before I got sick and it definitely didn’t help things. I’m having a hard time finding the happy medium, but I’m finding that less is more. I often wonder if my exercise has contributed to my not being able to really get my Crohn’s under control.

    I’d be interested to know how other people with autoimmune diseases handle exercise. Many people claim it helps them, but I wonder what type and how much they do. I’m sure it’s an individual thing.

    Thanks for the great blog, Chris. I appreciate all the information you put out there for us and find so much of it applicable to me.

    • Hi Amber,

      You can see my post above. I have rheumatoid arth. I am, since implementing Robb Wolf’s auto-immune diet and then on to the Perfect Health Diet, titrating off my meds. and am getting close to half the dose I was taking. I was getting better before I changed my exercise routine. So, that’s been my experience.

      • Hi Cathryn,

        Thanks for sharing your experience. That’s awesome you’ve been able to titrate off your meds. How long did you do the autoimmune protocol before you switched to the PHD? I’m doing the Specific Carbohydrate Diet for Crohn’s, but unfortunately it doesn’t seem to make much of a difference. (It’s pretty similar to paleo but allows some dairy and legumes.) However, I should say I’m currently pregnant, and since becoming pregnant and dealing with a pretty bad Crohn’s flare my exercise has greatly subsided. I have noticed though that on the days I actually get to the gym and get a workout in, I usually have trouble sleeping that night, and that’s even with a much shorter time at the gym compared to usual. I think with the added stress of the pregnancy, plus the Crohn’s and being on prednisone, my body can’t handle much more added stress. I used to not think much of walking as exercise, but now I find that it makes me feel best out of anything I do.

        You seem to have found a good balance in regards to exercise and listening to your body. Glad to hear you’re doing so well with your RA.

        • Hi Amber,

          I did Robb’s 30 day challenge for autoimmune, but I ate a lot of very dark chocolate during that time and that’s probably verboten. Otherwise, I was very strict. Anyway, I still got lots better so maybe I needed that chocolate! Since we’re all so different, I think we have to keep tweaking the diet til we get the right combo. It’s tricky, but all these dedicated people, like Robb, Chris and Paul are offering up nuggets all the time. I stayed in shape for almost 4 months last spring and summer not going to the gym at all, just walking every day, some hill climbing and sprinting a little and lifting some gallon jugs filled with water to use as weights and gardening. If walking feels the best right now, do that.

        • Hi, Amber:

          I’m a clinical herbalist, and I do a lot of work with Crohn’s and the other intestinal sibling disorders (IBS, Celiac, ulcerative colitis…)
          I never let folks have any dairy with Crohn’s. I don’t like nut-flours either, which are a big part of the SCD world. I’d rather see folks just stick to this list:
          bone broth with seaweed and shiitake
          any healthy meat (if it’s beef, it needs to be grassfed)
          any healthy fat (avocado, olive, the fats from any healthy animal, coconut)
          cooked vegetables (no salad until you’re healed up!)
          cooked fruits (you might get away with raw berries. skip things like oranges and pineapple)

          Make sure to cook foods really well until you heal up – raw foods are nice in theory, but when you have irritation in the gut, you aren’t strong enough to deal with the irritation that the raw foods cause.

          This list does NOT include grains, legumes, and at least at first, nuts. also you’ll see there’s no sugar there! After you’ve gotten yourself to a very stable place, it’s fin to add well-prepared nuts back in and occasional honey or maple syrup, but until then, I wouldn’t touch it.

          There’s a tea we use to, and if you like tea, you can get these ingredients at http://www.mountainroseherbs.com (no affiliation, they’re just good quality) and blend it up for yourself. Drink at least three cups a day, though more is great!

          2 parts plantain leaf (not the banana, it’s a green plant)
          2 parts calendula flowers
          1 part chamomile
          1 part catnip
          1 part peppermint

          It’s pleasant tasting (you can add more peppermint if you like the flavor) and easy to drink. It’s super soothing to the entire digestive tract and will heal the irritation. It will do that very well though, so don’t use it as an excuse to eat bad stuff 🙂

          Make sure you get enough vitamin D too 🙂

          good luck!

          • Hi Katja,

            Thanks for sharing all that information with me. I agree with a lot of the things you mentioned, as I’ve found too many nuts can cause serious issues with me. I wish I didn’t like them!

            As far as dairy, I’m torn, because I’ve taken it out several times for months at a time and have noticed no difference, positive or negative, either way. I just added yogurt back in, but I haven’t seen any reactions.

            Is the tea you mention safe during pregnancy? I’ll check it out. Had my vitamin D levels checked and they’re good. Thanks for all the tips. 🙂

    • Hi Amber. I am thrilled to find your comment! My name is Nathalie. i am French and live in Sydney.
      I am 32 y.o. I have an autoimmune resorption of the condyles ( jaw), posterior scleritis ( eyes), spondylitis, sacroilitis, and Crohn’s disease, among others autoimmune disorders ( Raynauds, dry eyes, Thyroiditis in 2007) . Till I got my Scleritis in 2009, I always pushed myself. I honestly thought I would never be tired. After working in the corporate world, I became a Group Exercise Instructor (2006) and a Personal Trainer. At the same time I was in pain (jaw issues), I was taking NSAIDS 3 times per day, and was exhausting myself at the gym to forget this pain . My approach has changed drastically 3 years ago. I am now aware that I need to look after myself first, to be able to care for the others. As a Personal Trainer it s very frustrating, but I tend to see this as an asset as I will now focus on people who have chronic health issues.

      I can tell you about how I exercise if you like. Each of my workouts is tailored to “how I feel now”. To be honest, I am not ready to exercise with a trainer or with other people, as I’m afraid it would not suit me. The only thing I do within a group is dancing, because it’s fun.
      I’d be curious to know how is your exercise regime too.

      • Hi Nathalie!

        I’m sorry, I didn’t see your comment until now. I haven’t been checking back at this page for a long time, but I got an update on comments and was scanning just now and ran across yours. I’m sorry to hear about all your autoimmune disorders, as if one wasn’t more than enough. I’m glad to hear you’ve made an effort to change your approach to working out. Have you noticed any changes in how you feel since you’ve modified your workouts?

        I had a baby last summer and so I was somewhat forced to change how I workout, but it’s been really good for me. I now just go when I can and when I feel up to it, which is usually just 2-3 times per week. I’ve been feeling the best I have since I got sick, and I attribute some of that to just not overloading myself and over exercising. I honestly think a huge part of why I couldn’t get into remission for long was because I was taxing my body too much with exercise. Even when I exercise it’s no more than 45 minutes and no formal cardio, just weights.

        I think what you’re doing as far as working out to how you feel is perfect. I ignored how my body felt for a long time, and I paid for it. I think it’s great you’re going solo for now. I hope all is well with you, let me know if I can help you out in any way.

    • I too suffer from an auto immune problem, and after doing a fast 10k run or push myself in a spin class I always feel exhausted a few hours after, and also end up with a sore throat that results in shivers and a cold, am I putting my adrenals under too much strain? I’m also going to be 50 this year, and am needing much more recovery time, I usually run 18 miles a week one 8 and then 10 and incorporate one high intensity spin and an hour of heavy strength training, is this too much ?

    • Hi there,
      I am an avid exerciser. Crossfit style. Pushing myself to the limits. Eating strict paleo. I did drink though 1 wine a night. A little cream in coffee too.

      No Grains, No beans. Veggies, Meat, eggs, and fruit and nuts.

      Felt good at first. Even tried intermittent fasting.

      Last october my knees started to ache. I never had that before. I am a form freak and thought maybe something was off. I rolled and massaged and stretched. Nothing seemed to help.
      I thought Lyme? But no. Through many tests and more achyness than i could imagine and dry eyes and mouth, they think now i have an auto immune condition. Not sure what one. still waiting.

      I definitely did this to myself. This Paleo/crossfit is extreme advice for people with A type personalities. I hope i can get myself back on track. Im not exercising like I did and it has me changing my whole philosophy on Paleo nutrition and how important it is to recover.

  12. Good topic, one addressing perhaps the most under developed aspect of Paleo, one where commercial theories of exercise combine with deep seated personal opinions and dogmatic adherence, thwarting independent scientific and coaching know how.

    Evolutionary medicine, the backbone of Paleo, remains in short supply regarding what might be called evolutionary exercise physiology. University of Missouri’s Frank Booth remains the major contributor to genomic and molecular biology of exercise. His hundreds of pages of research publications should be mandatory reading pursuant to a “neo-Paleo” notion of physical training. So, too, should be the annals of exercise physiology.

    The notion of ‘exercise’, like ‘diet’, stems from 19th century Industrial Revolution culture, amplified by rapidly accelerating post World War II inactivity resulting in what Booth calls Sedentary Death Disease. He ranks the roughly 35 major disabling diseases leading to slowly erosive death to one salient factor: activity signals DNA sequencing of health proteins, while inactivity signals the beginning of erosive decline. It’s estimated that erosive metabolic decline expressed as chronic atrophy of type II strength muscle (known as sarcopenia & associated sarcopenic obesity) can result in as much as 35 pounds of muscle loss by age 70! Evans & Rosenberg’s pioneering studies at Tufts in the 1980s advocated strength training as the primary preventative.
    What kind, how much, how often? Genetic exercise physiologists have not taken the macro step. Paleo has been largely colonized by commercial theories, all of which work for some of the people some of the time, all of them incomplete with respect to various types of condition of various strengths (plural). Under training is just as much a danger as over training. Current Paleo standards seem most applicable to younger persons; even then, other dangers remain unknown or simply ignored. The result is simplistic, resulting in under development of a wider range of genomic strength and activity potentialities.
    Generally speaking, there are five differing zones of strength that are best included in a training program. What’s more, a training program organized on a monthly basis. Our ancestral calendar was lunar, and that’s the cycle I prefer training within!

    Most of us veteran elders with five and more decades of training under our belt – usually with battle scars – come to one conclusion younger people don’t seem to want to know about. Lighter resistance, various slower rhythms of movement, keeping more maximal efforts to a few times per lunation cycle. Some speed workouts, some development of proprioception skills – keeping in mind as we mature in years the quest is less one aimed at gaining size and strength, instead one of sustainability in maintaining muscular bulk and strength. Loss of bulk is another name for muscle wasting.

    Some of this is covered in more detail on my blog, more will be forthcoming. Both Dr Sebring and myself will be addressing these and related topics at the upcoming Paleo FX conference in nearby Austin, Texas. Hope to see ya there. For Paleo dieters, bear in mind Austin is in Central Texas, BBQ Capital of the world.

    • I like what you say Ken. I have those 5 decades of “work” under my belt also. Not training. I don’t train. But all the discipline of training is wonderful in that you can build a regimen and train to it and develop exactly what you want to develop. I have never wanted to spend the time training. I have at times in my life worked hard, and others played hard, and others sat down too much and wasted!
      So I am not serious at all about training, but yet agree that “inactivity signals the beginning of erosive decline” and one needs in whatever way possible, to get the exercise.
      It just happens that there are some of us that find things like “training” as well as yoga and meditation (and for me, even fishing) boring as all getout. But the information on what activity level is needed is very appreciated! Some of us just need to get into sports, or meaningful physical labor to get what our bodies need.
      The one thing I would add here that might differ from what you put into words is that my concept of graceful aging INCLUDES some decrease in muscle mass. While your methodology has to refer to that as wasting, I see it as actually a natural thing to do. I do not plan to have the same muscle mass at age 80 and 90 and 100 that I currently have at 70, or that I had at 50. This is not all bad. For one thing, I was unhealthy at 50, and carried a lot of fat that I don’t carry now. I needed muscle to move the fat at the speeds that I needed to move it at, to compete or produce meaningful work. I actually plan to build even a healthier body from here on, and that includes exercise. But for me, I will be happy with even less fat, and less bulky, but more lithe muscles. I want to be able to move fast still, but don’t care about being as strong as a 50 year old. How would you guide one to prepare, say, for aging as they approach 100?

      • I’d start by quoting Dylan Thomas:

        Do not go gentle into that good night,
        Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
        Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

        Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
        Because their words had forked no lightning they
        Do not go gentle into that good night.

        Let’s drop exercise and emphasize Play. Back in the late 30s the book Homo Ludens was published, claiming the next step in human evolution would take us beyond being thoughtaholics as homo sapiens sapiens to homo ludens – man as player, emphasizing what is Sanskrit is called lila, or play. Play entrains positive, bliss like states and traits of consciousness while rendering activity a positive addiction.
        You need to build and maintain muscle mass. Remember, our current standard is genomically abnormal. For more, my blog is full of information: http://www.transevolutionaryfitness.wordpress.com

      • Easiest is the stuff found in functional training…with the caveat that functional training is prone, like HIT and CrossFit, to exhibiting something akin to religious cult like fanaticism for an incomplete training system!
        For advanced proprioceptive skills, Olympic lifting and old time iron game strength movements can’t be beat (e.g., one arm barbell snatch, bent press, Turkish get up).

        • I don’t know why Ken, but when I read your opinions I seem not able to counter with my own opinions. I hope you don’t mind 🙂 There is no difference between people who think HIT, or crossfit, or whatever, is the most effective and people like you who think Olympic or (old time) movements can’t be beat. Both can be considered (fanaticism) depending upon your perspective. I’m fine with Olympic lifting. It surely can get the job done and done well. Two things that I think (my opinion) are slight drawbacks to it vs machine training 1) There is more technique to it. You have to do it right or there is an increased chance of injury (eg, squats), and 2) you have to have a training partner (spotter) if you are going to lift to true positive failure. OK, if training to failure is not your cup-o-tea fine. I got no problem with that. But lets be clear… when you say Olympic lifting can’t be beat without qualification or explanation, that is just an opinion, if not misleading or outright wrong.

    • Ken, if you as a (veteran elder) really want to reach the (younger people) maybe you should use more approachable vocabulary than (lunation cycle) and (proprioception skills). Also, I find some good information in parts of some of your posts, but then mixed in is a I-know-best/superior attitude that just turns me off. And I’m probably not alone in this feeling. For example, your opening paragraph… what does this even mean?…
      “the most under developed aspect of Paleo, one where commercial theories of exercise combine with deep seated personal opinions and dogmatic adherence, thwarting independent scientific and coaching know how.”
      As far as I know Paleo is mostly about diet/nutrition. So isn’t exercise a separate subject?

      • Hey Brad:
        I don’t have a “i know best” outlook. anybody with an independent mind and sense of science and analysis can spend hundreds of hours reading and researching and likely come to similar conclusions. Unfortunately, the internet has reinforced the cult of opinion to the point of hearing ‘everyone has opinions and they’re all equal’. I suppose that works for uneducated, uncultured people content to wallow in their own vomit. And I don’t mean that as a reply to you, rather as a somewhat exasperating comment on how low public education has set standards for research, thinking, analysis, etc. Rebecca Costa’s The Watchman’s Rattle deals with such issues in terms of how equipped we are to face the way we’re heading towards extinction!
        As for people being turned off, that’s sad. Are they so deficient in joining in animated discussion, pouring out and investing heart and soul to move forward beyond the pale ken of sacred cows.

        Thanks for the Paleo comment. In a recent interview podcast with Robb Wolf, Loren Cordain tells the story of The Paleo Diet. He did not want that title for his book. He never intended a diet book. As an unknown author, he was forced to use it. Now with credibility, he ain’t no longer allowing reductionism of his work.
        Go back to the 1980s with Boyd Eaton and Mel Konner. Their Paleolithic Prescription was not a diet book, and when Loren joined the gang they weren’t doing dietary studies. They were shaking the paradigmatic foundations of Western medicine.

        For several years now I’ve been busy codeveloping a clinical application of “Paleo”. Cordain refined his ideas by means of annual workshops sponsored by the late Crayhon at boulderfest. My colleague, Dr Lane Sebring was there from the late 90s. He brought those insights back home, developing clinical ‘paleo’ applications. he was paelo before paleo was cool, and likely has the largest mass of clinical data on paleo as dietary intervention. we joined forces to take it further. Mounting robust evidence NOT incorporated in Paleo from other evolutionary sciences has been incorporated in our work. Diet by itself works wonders; however, those wonders merely offset inevitable metabolic erosion due to how genomes work and what they expect. Those who take Paleo as a dietary Silver Bullet solution are severely misled by fools. Sorry to be so blunt. Go read the research yourself. quite a bit of it is summarized on my blog and videos. The bigger implications are the substance of a naturalistic revolution not in health care, but in genomic fitness care. Be care-full, amigo.
        No, exercise is far from a separate subject except for those who should admit that they don’t understand that they don’t understand. Should our standard be vulgar, banal opinion, or tempered by fitness education for pleasurable living?

        • Well how is the public at large to decipher the truth when even supposed peer reviewed science and (conventional wisdom) comes up so wrong, such as Ancel Keys’ cholesterol/saturated-fat demonization, and the low intensity aerobic exercise craze started in the 70’s, both of which continue to misinform today? Sorry, that was a serious run-on sentence 🙂

          PS. Again… (pale ken of sacred cows) Translation please?

        • I actually very much enjoyed your use of the English language as well as what I considered a well thought out exegesis of cited research. I did NOT think you came across as a “know it all” or a fanatic by any means, you were simply sharing valuable experience. For myself, I read with an open mind and will determine what applies to my own situation.

          Anecdotally, what I have seen with older folks I have known – the ones who maintain moderate, functional activity seem to be the best “preserved”. One of my grandfathers played recreational tennis most days into his 80s and played bridge 2-3 times a week, and the physical and mental exercise kept him young. My other grandfather walked at a moderate pace a 3 mile circuit into his 90s – the 3 miles encompassed a couple of shops where he would stop and gossip a few minutes. He also played chess. Again, the regular moderate exercise, both physical and mental, seemed to work. Other elderly people I’ve known who have aged very well grew up on farms and maintained an active lifestyle – one lady I knew, into her late 80s, continued to paint her fence, mow her lawn, chop wood, etc. She was also very well read and took an active interest in people and the world around her.

          • Or the people who feel good when they’re old continue to participate in lots of activities. In fact, that’s the far more obvious conclusion than what you suggested, since from infancy to old-age, literally everyone has experienced multiple instances of poor health or low spirits where they reduce their activity, social/physical etc BECAUSE they were not feeling good.
            Being an active person is generally a sign of good health.
            I just don’t understand how people simply overlook such obvious cause and effect. I hate correlation research.

            • Everybody gets sick at some time or another. The point is that they get better and get back to their daily routine.

              How many older people do you know who hold the philosophy of getting on with life even when you don’t feel like it? I know lots of them.

              I agree about correlation research and I’ll even go one further to suggest that the link we’re seeing between reduced activity and early death may be because the person’s already chronically sick. Because these studies usually also mention the amount of fidgeting a person does. I don’t know about you, but I never make a conscious choice to fidget or not to fidget; it is largely an unconscious activity. So how is it that a person who doesn’t fidget is doomed to die sooner? Less available energy, I believe, because the body is less than healthy.

              That said, maybe there’s something to the idea of “fake it til you make it.” One of the problems with these studies is they don’t look at conscious choices to exercise despite how a person might be feeling–they just measure total activity. Not the most terribly useful information when you get down to brass tacks.

              Still, until we know for sure, one way or another, whether a naturally inactive person choosing to exercise will increase their lifespan, best to behave as if it does. I mean, what do we have to lose?

      • Just for the record, I’m forty and I know how to crack a dictionary or use Google. I already knew what lunation cycle meant and I can look up the other word.

        Refusal to research or lack of sufficient curiosity to research is the fault of the reader. It’s nice to see someone out there not talking down to me like I’m a dummy.

  13. Very timely article Chris! I was looking for such an article only days ago.

    As I’ve said before, I make a lot of contributions on Dr. Mercola’s forum, and periodically he pushes the interval training advantages over cardio. He pushed “Peak 8” interval training because it was demonstrated on a piece of equipment that he also sells. I don’t argue the advantages of intervals over traditional cardio, such as weight loss and improving cardiovascular health as well as adding muscle. But I do like to caution that scientific studies over the LONG TERM on what the, as you call it “extreme exercise” portion of things like interval training are not recorded yet. Though man has been running “intervals” since paleolithic times, the regimented system has only sprung up recently. In fact we are only starting to get statistics in on what cardio does to longevity. It will take a couple more generations to see what interval training does.
    Dr. Mercola’s most recent article was actually recommending interval training for children, since it started out explaining that children who exercise mid-day will perform better mentally in school. I just couldn’t let that recommendation go out without posting a warning that we really don’t know what the long term effects are if we start a regular, year-after-year regimen of interval training that is utilized a couple times a week to the point of near exhaustion.
    Wish I could have had this article! Even Dr. Mercola admitted, as he pushed “intervals” that he is now also endorsing “super slow” training, and also admitted that he had cut back on his personal use of “Peak 8” after 2 years because he just couldn’t recover and feel fit any longer. I’m glad to see he’s moderating his push these days.
    Thanks again for the article and plentiful links to references!

  14. Hi Chris,

    I’ve just started a paleo diet and understand that short bouts of HIIT are generally preferable to longer sessions of cardio. Do you think this is safe while trying to conceive and/or in early pregnancy? (Sprints or moderate weight training for 20′, 2-3x weekly) I just emailed you about this, but your article was timely and thought it might benefit others to post it here. Thanks!

  15. Interesting article Chris, and I’d agree with most of it, however I think most people seem to think of overtraining as simply exercising to much, when its more a case of under recovery. If someone has not exercised for 10 years and then they go on a low carbohydrate paleo style diet and start doing cross-fit, they can expect to burn out fast with the high cortisol outputs from decreased carbs and increase in exercise.

    If however they slowly increase the intensity and amount of exercise adding in a session every few weeks, they can accumulate to extremely high amounts of training such as 2-3 sessions a day, I had a client with Chron’s training with me twice a day no problem, you just have to monitor the training carefully, such as not overworking the central nervous system by going to failure on each exercise as this most definitely increases recovery time. Alternating between HITT style training, more strength based training and general physical preparedness training and limiting training time to around 45minutes as this can help keep anabolic hormones from dropping off while training, plenty of soft tissue work with foam rollers, massage, maybe yoga, decompression therapy and of course like you said, adequate good quality sleep and something most people don’t do, which is have a deload or easy week with less training or heavy lifting every 4th week.

    Keep up the good work Chris.

    • OLLIE–I know this is a late reply, and I hope you see this. I want to know more about what you term “under recovery.” I think I’m experiencing this. Anytime I try to do intervals I find myself starting to have difficulty sleeping at night, my anxiety rises, and occasionally I’ve had an episode of a rush of heartbeats with intense heat in my face. Those such episodes would not occur during exercise but many hours later and only have occurred during the times I have started trying to do intervals again. Does this sound familiar to you or to anyone? I do not seem to have trouble with strength training or straight, even-paced cardio (though I don’t do well with intense, sustained cardio or long periods of it). Yoga I do great on.

      • How many intervals are you doing, how long is each one, how much rest? There is probably a modification that can occur to what your are doing, so that it is not so stressful to your system.

        I learned that fatigue several hours after exercise is indicative of adrenal fatigue. You feel good during the exercise because your adrenals are forced to put out stress hormones, but once the exercise high/stress hormones wear off, the body has to recuperate from something that was too much for it.

        I am guessing that the intervals you are doing is too much for your body right now, and that you are experiencing perhaps excess cortisol or cortisol dysregulation. I wouldn’t think of it as under-recovery so much as that your body is in a state of adrenal fatigue. The interval exercise is too intense for your system right now and thus causes your cortisol to get really wonky.

      • Hi MB,

        I had exactly these symptoms and I take antidepressants. I would recommend seeing a psychiatrist.

  16. Hi Chris,

    I’ve recently changed my exercise program from chronic cardio to more HIIT (3 x week). I started doing Sprint 8’s” the Phil Campbell method of all out for 30 seconds and recovery for 90 seconds, which takes about 20 minutes plus warm up and cool down. Typically I then do another 40 minutes on the elliptical which I consider my “play time” (listening to all the great podcasts, like yours) because here in Eugene, OR the winter weather doesn’t invite much outside romping and my body feels like it needs more intense movement (no weight problem, well-muscled, 61 yrs. old.). On the other 2 days I do weights the Doug McGuff way for 30 minutes. I do one aerobic class a week for fun and sometimes a series of jump kicks and tossing a huge exercise ball in the air and running to catch it. This is fun, too. Most of the time I feel fine, but I do have the off day so I’m paying attention to that and how my exercise could affect it. I do have the occasional night that I don’t sleep well, but is this elevated cortisol or some stress inducer like my in-laws might be moving here (accck!). I mostly get 8-9 hours of sleep, but when I only get 6, I usually feel fine anyway and always rest or take a nap in the afternoon. So, there’s my 2 cents. Thanks for another great article.

    • Hi, Just interesting to see someone else who does the Campbell and McGuff routine, with some other gym stuff thrown in (and yoga 2x a week). I have been doing this for a year. I frequently have trouble sleeping most nights from 2am-4am at night, but get enough sleep over all (9pm – 2am and then 4am – 7am which is 8 hours). But Now I wonder if this night-waking is a problem. I am hypothesizing that intense exercise should be in the morning when cortisol levels are naturally higher. Eating bone broth soup helped my sleep but I notice after exercise, like my McGuff session tonight, I am up again (i.e. now). Thing is the gym only runs the retiree classes in the morning and the Zumba etc are at night. Also my mcGuff partner only comes in at 6pm too. Is our whole civilization out of synch with body rhythms?

      • Actually, if you feel great, I’d say not to worry about your broken up sleeping. People actually used to sleep that way. Even referred to it as their “first sleep” and “second sleep”, it was so common. People would get up and read, meditate, recreate with their partner; and then after and hour or two, sleep for another 4 hours. It was super common! It has even been tested that some peoples bodies do that naturally. Anyway, if you feel good, and are sleeping well otherwise, I would definitely not worry about it!

  17. I came to paleo from a vegetarian, yogic lifestyle. I barely exercise these days, but when I do I follow Mark Sisson’s Primal Fitness e-book. Before paleo I had chronic back pain. I took vinyasa and Anusara classes two-three times a week for a few years, with the promise that the yoga would heal my pain when in fact it only exacerbated it, and led to countless, sometimes pricey interventions. I came to feel that something was wrong with me, that I must have been doing something wrong for my back to still be in so much discomfort. Multiple teachers tried to help me with adjustments, private sessions and strategically placed bolsters and blankets. Finally quitting yoga eased the pain and I haven’t looked back. This recent article in the NY Times Magazine has solidified and validated my experience: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/08/magazine/how-yoga-can-wreck-your-body.html?pagewanted=all

    I am all for exercising less in order to decrease stress levels and enhance health but yoga, at least for me, is not the answer. Walking and occasional body-weight exercises are more my speed these days. Oh, and dancing—usually around the living room with my children.

    • Man, that article is scary!

      While I’ll still be using yoga to stretch and maintain flexibility (an aspect of fitness often neglected), I’ll watch my neck and ego way more closely.

    • I think it is important that NY Times covered that yoga story, but I feel the take-home message comes back to most other healing modalities – it comes to personalization. What’s ideal in the long-term is not always ideal in the short-term and many coaches & trainers push for too much too quickly when they should look to identify core imbalances, start small and ratchet it up step by step which is the experience that seemed to work for you despite your history of chronic back pain.

  18. I have been a strength coach for 6 years and I am finishing up my grad degree in human movement and I am also a nutritionist. It took a while for me to find a system that does not promote adrenal fatigue. Looking at the science and seeing the anecdotal data in front of me helped a lot. What seems to work best is a paleo type diet, 2 days of strength training with weights, and the other days mixed with some sprinting, correcting muscle imbalances, and improving upon unilateral strength and stability. Crossfit 5-6 days a week is not sustainable long-term, and destroys peoples adrenals as well as their joints (I am an affiliate that gets some crap about my workouts not being “Crossfit” style). I have always advocated yoga as a supplement to training and it seems to yield pretty good results with my clients that do it.

    • hi I have been working with a trainer 3 days a week and she does high intensity workouts with me for 30 minutes , I find them way to hard to get through but I do push to get through them, my question is I am pretty sure I have cortisol problems, I believe I have actually gained weight in the last month doing this kind of workout, is that possible, I do crave a lot of carbs or sugar at night, I don’t sleep very well, but I have always had this problem, is it the training I should stop , I \am trying so hard to lose weight, so discouraged, could I possibly just walk on the treadmill, and then incorporate some weight training, Im very confused, and what kind of carbs should I be eating, I eat fruit during the day and I eat a lot of vegetables, are you talking about bread , sincerely Julie\

      • Julie I feel the same as you. I think I have been over exercising and it’s made me quite ill at times, sleepless nights, and as you said I crave carbs at night as I feel so rough. All this in turn leads to increased body fat. I have found that high intensity interval training should only be done a couple of times a week, 30 min max, and try to do it early on in the day. For another 2 days I will do a lighter style exercise such as yoga or swimming.

        Exercise is great but accounts for only 30%.,. 70% is diet. Follow a good diet, eat 4 small meals a day, low carb, always eat breakfast but not too early.. Lots of water and don’t eat too late at night. Eat good fats (nuts avocado oily fish) and lots of protein (quinoa chicken eggs almonds spinach kale seafood) and avoid sugar at all times!

        A healthy diet along with light exercise 2-3 times a week will do just fine. On your days off just try to keep active, wall when you can, take the stairs. Try to move your body for 5 minutes out if every hour, the heart foundation recommends this too to prevent heart disease.

        Good luck x

        • thanks cassie, did you find doing it only a couple of times a week started helping you lose weight, I have fibromyalgia as well, I cannot lose weight, or inches

          • Julie it sounds like you need to avoid carbs for a while. Try to go about 6 weeks on zero grains, fruits, starches, or sugar. If you are craving sugar you aren’t setting yourself up to lose inches or pounds. You should look into going full ketosis for a bit to force you body to start using fat for energy instead of glucose. You might have a strong insulin response to carbs and you are just replacing the fat with what you lose from your workouts. Your body wants to stay in hemostasis. Don’t let it!

      • I too have been working out 3 days a week, I teach class 2 days and take a West African Class once a week. I have not lost any weight in fact I have gained. This is very depressing what is the solution?

      • Julie, have you ever been tested for an Auto-immune disease called Hashimotos? It can take years to diagnose. High-intense cardio is not good for it, you might gain weight and it’s impossible to lose weight. I have Hashimotos.

        • I have to disagree with this post from Trish “High-intense cardio is not good for it… (meaning Hashimotos). I was diagnosed with Hashimotos 7 years ago – I participate at my Crossfit box 5 days a week and have for over 5 years now, and take my thyroid medication like instructed and I am the fittest and healthiest I have every been in my life. I don’t have bulging muscles and I am no where close to being the strongest person at our box – but I love my workouts.

      • Just a quick response to Julie’s “craving sugar at night” because I’ve been there! It usually happens for me if I’ve been eating carbs for breakfast. So I would suggest eating a protein based breakfast to get you away from the sugar/carb cravings at night. Try for a week and see if you notice a difference. It’s a quick fix and totally unrelated to high-intensity exercise. Because I tend to get bored of eggs easily, I will instead eat a bunless hamburger for breakfast to get away from the eggs. Best of luck to you. Weight loss can be complex, but sounds like you’re doing the right stuff, might just need a little tweak here and there to see some results. Best of luck to you

    • As a personal trainer for the past 30+ year, and a female I totally agree with you! I have a real issue with Crossfit, I do believe it will pass as quickly as it arrived. Slow and steady, strength and cardio and balance is the key in my book. Great post:)))

      • Thank you for your advice. I recently found out I have hashimotos and have had to remove gluten from my diet. I also have changed thyroid medications and am now on NDT. My weight has changed much but I am not gaining any weight either which makes me grateful. I now have some answers to the way I have been feeling and am working on changing things. I am on my second dr and if this one can’t help me I will move on to another till I find answers. I find your thoughts on sleep very helpful as you know being hypothyroid sleep can be elusive and I struggle in that area as well.

        Happy New Year and here to good health in 2016,