While it might be difficult to get some people into a gym, it can also be just as difficult to get some people out. But there’s a limit to how much exercise is beneficial, and doing too much can actually do more harm than good.
We all know someone who seems to be a permanent fixture in the gym, who trains for hours on end doing endless exercises and sets. But less common is the guy or girl who seems on the surface to be a bit of a part-timer, who comes into the gym for an hour at most and on the rare occasion you can distract them from their workout they tell you they’re about to have a planned week off from exercise to let their body recover.
Compared to the other guy they hardly seem to be in the gym, and yet they get far better results. They’re fitter, they have more muscle, they get less injuries and they generally just look better.
So what’s going on?
When you exercise your body releases anabolic hormones such as testosterone, human growth hormone and insulin, which help to repair damaged muscle and build more. But your body also releases catabolic hormones such as cortisol and glucagon, a side-effect of which is muscle loss and fat storage.
The main enemy of too much exercise is cortisol, which is mostly responsible for increasing blood sugar levels, immune system function and metabolism. In situations of stress such as exercise however, cortisol levels rise significantly after less than an hour.
This means that the longer you workout, the more likely cortisol and other catabolic hormone levels are to rise, so the more likely you are to lose muscle instead of gaining it.
The release of cortisol has also been shown to increase with age, meaning the younger you are, the longer you can workout before its level becomes too high. This is effected by general stress levels, diet, fitness and genetics, but a very rough guide is that a man’s training sessions should decrease by 10 minutes for every 10 years of age.
15-25 years old – 60 minutes
25-35 years old – 50 minutes
35-45 years old – 40 minutes
45-55 years old – 30 minutes
Keeping sessions brief not only minimises cortisol release, it also maximise testosterone and growth hormone release, which is exactly what you want to help build muscle and burn fat. Plus it will help you avoid the effects of over-training that come from working the same muscles too often and too much, which in turn will effect and exhaust the nervous system. Especially with strength training programs.
Ideally you should split your exercise into two short, intense sessions. This is the method favoured by athletes and body builders and minimises the release of catabolic hormones. Not all of us are able to do this however, but by working hard, working smart and working fast, you can get much better results than with any marathon workout.
As always, any questions or feedback leave a comment below.