Are Longer Workouts Better?

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Written By

Lauryn

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Expert Reviewed By

Dr. Lauryn Lax, OTD, MS

Dr. Lauryn, OTD, MS is a doctor of occupational therapy, clinical nutritionists and functional medicine expert with 25 years of clinical and personal experience in healing from complex chronic health issues and helping others do the same.

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What happens when you workout too long

Youve heard it before: Working out smarter, not necessarily longer or harder is the way to go.

However, if you love the feel of a good sweat or the endorphin rush that a sweat session bringsIts kinda hard to believe.

Been there. Got the t-shirt.

This coming from a girl who used to workout for upwards of 6-8 hours most days.

No, I didn’t get to that point over nightbut over time, my 2-3 hour long training sessions spent in the gym at one time, or back-to-back fitness classes every Saturday morning (Weight training, then Spinning, Kickboxing, CrossFit, yoga), eventually led me down a rabbit hole of:

a.) Addiction to my lengthy exercise routines

b.) Fear IF an houror even 30-minutesof my routine from the day before was missed.

In my mind, a good workoutmeant A LOT of time spent training.

An hour run compared to 30 minutes? No question which one did my body good.

A 45-minute CrossFit AMRAP vs. a 12-minute AMRAP? Duh!

Doing my timeon the StairMaster for 90 minutes vs. a 20-minute sprint interval? Who are YOU trying to fool?

Of course a longer workout meant a better workout.Right?

Eh. Dont think so fast.

Although I was able to get by just fine for quite some time, and although I saw some initial progress in the early stages of a new (more dedicated)I definitely was NOT thriving.

Not thriving in my workoutsand in bondage to checking off my exercise boxevery day for my achievement.

Here are 7 Things that Happen When You Workout Too Long

(PLUS a fun bonus: 10 Do-Anywhere Workoutshome, travel, the gymto get a quick sweat on, and get on with your day without sacrificing all the GOOD things a workout brings: Like energy, lean muscle, a beaming smile and more).

Win. Win. Win.

7 Things that Happen When You Workout Too Long

1. Intensity Goes Down

Like way down. You have three different energy systems to tap into when you workout: Aerobic (Endurance), Glycolytic (Power) and Anaerobic ATP (Strength). For all-around fitness, a blend of all three is ideal. Too much in any one zone and intensity will go down, naturally—but, particularly in that aerobic (endurance) zone (the longer steady state type exercise), the body can only last so long. In fact, your body can only handle about 2-5 minute bursts of “intensity” before hopping over to the aerobic state. And aerobic + true intensity simp does not exist.This decline doesn’t just happen on the elliptical either. It happens in the weight room, the running trail and CrossFit class.

Exhibit A: Guilty, as charged. In my “more-is-better” days (even after I gave up strict cardio machines), I thought I was doing high-intensity training with my CrossFit AMRAPs that often lasted 30-45 minutes most days: Filthy Fifty, Hero WODs, The Seven. These workouts were long so they made me feel like I was a beast (mentally), but, with time. my own level of fitness plateaued (and even digressed). Even though I told myself they were “intense,” my body only had so much capacity to tap into “intensity”—most often connected to gains and progressions in fitness levels. http://home/laurynlax/public_html.sportsci.org/2009/ss.htm In turn, intensity plummeted, and in order to “feel” like I worked out at all, I relied on a longer workout time, as opposed to the efficiency and sweat of a “good” short workout to make me feel like I did anything at all. (Hence why HIIT training is highly touted as the “way” to go for fitness gains, body fat loss and muscle tone).

Note: Less intensity is not always a bad thing. (Remember, you need a mix of all three energy systems for all-around fitness, and each one serves a unique purpose).

2. You Decrease Your Lean Muscle & Tone.

Muscle and “tone” grows and repairs in between workouts—not during them. So when we run and run and run. Or push the “more time=better” button every single day day, we break our bodies down, rather than building them up. Look at true runners – marathoners. Their training is primarily long, low-intensity and non-muscle-building. Although they may look lean, their tone and muscle is more stringy, compared to that of say a sprinter.

3. You Don’t Shed Body Fat

Many exercise protocols marketed to induce fat loss often focus on regular aerobic exercise such as running, “doing cardio,” and “burning calories”—like spin, bootcamps and group fitness. The “move more” and “go long” philosophies seem to make sense, but your body can physiologically only go “so hard” for so long. The longer you train, the more “steady state” the workout becomes and the “less” burn you get. Why? Exercise raises cortisol (i.e. stress). When our bodies are stressed…they hold on to things (like body fat) as reserve to continue to fight against stress (as you fight against it). Thennnn…MORE high intensity exercise is better, right? HIIT intervals, CrossFit workouts and treadmill sprints….not quite. The same cortisol response happens: Stress. Our bodies can totally and adapt to some stress, but when we get too much of any particular exercise, then our body stays stressed—making body fat loss difficult. (“But how about that girl who works out all the time and is as lean as a beanpole?!” you ask. Ever heard of the term ‘skinny fat?’ It’s a thing—and even if she may look ‘healthy’ and ‘fit’ on the outside, if she’s overdoing it for her body, or not varying that intensity and workout timing, plateaus will happen).

4. Your Digestion & Appetite Gets Thrown Off

Digestion occurs in a parasympathetic state (rest and digest). Workouts and active lifestyles are AWESOME, but when we do too much a couple things happen: 1.) Stomach Acid production gets suppressed (we need stomach acid to break down our food); 2.) Body energy is devoted to muscle break down and repair—as opposed to digestive flow (things slow down). Remember your mom telling you to wait 30 minutes to swim after eating? Digestion takes energy—and lots of it. When we workout above our body’s ideal “threshold” for training, digestive energy and function is suppressed, and gut issues like constipation, frequent bloating, IBS, gas and bacterial overgrowth (from lowered stomach acid) can arise.

5. Your Hormones Get Out of Whack

We mentioned this some, but as noted in point 3: Exercise induces a cortisol response (not necessarily a bad thing). However, when cortisol stays elevated, other hormones get out of balance. Like a see-saw, cortisol goes up, estrogen and testosterone go down. And when cortisol remains elevated, day in and day out of doing your time in the gym, you know what happens to the other hormones—they get out of whack too. Not to mention: Moodiness

6. You Start Hating Your Workouts

When exercise becomes a “should-do” and “have to” and “must do,” resentment or dread can start to set in. You hate the idea of spending that hour or 2 hours or 8 hours in the gym, but you have no other option. You don’t know what you’d do with yourself (except maybe cut back on your calories) if you don’t make it to the gym. The continual same beat of workouts become a drudgery.

7. You Get Disconnected from Your Body

The bottom line?

Less CAN be MORE.

Less can be more, at least, for everythingexcept perhaps the mental high and gold-star achievement you currently may find in your longer, more is betterroutines.

However, if true fitness and health is what you desire, it may be time to have a talking-to with yourself.

Do you really neeeeeeed to push yourself every day to complete a longer workout, just to feel like you accomplished something? Or to justify your next meal?

What does your body really need?

(Hint: Self-care)

If youve been on the cardio, more-is-better-alwaysbandwagon, BUT you want optimal lean body mass, tone,fitness, hormonal balance, enhanced digestion and more balance in your life, consider approaching your fitness with this new order of priorities:

  1. Adequate and quality nutrition (Less calories is NOT more in this)
  2. Strength Training (a foundation of lean, mean musclenotice I did not say bulk”—for enhanced metabolic function and strengthinside and outin your daily life)
  3. Interval Training (i.e. HIITshort bursts of hard work, coupled with modes of rest/recovery)
  4. Cardiolonger steady state

Want an idea of what this looks like in real time?A balance of all three energy systems?

Heres a sneak peak:

  • Sunday– Chill day, Active rest, Walk, Hike, Bike, Play Outside, Beach Volleyball
  • Monday– Strength-based
  • Tuesday– HIIT/Power output
  • Wednesday– Strength-based
  • Thursday– Steady state/Active Recovery
  • Friday– Strength-based + Short Burner Workout
  • Saturday– Do something new, fun, try a class, get outside, daily activity

Sunday– Chill day, Active rest, Walk, Hike, Bike, Play Outside, Beach Volleyball

Monday

Back Squat 5 x 5
+

Military Strict Press 5 x 6-8

Romanian Dumbbell Deadlifts 4 x 12-15

+

Upright Rows 4 x 12-15

Back Rack Lunges 3 x 10
+
Alternating Dumbbell Press 3 x 6-8/Each Arm

Core: Plank Hold x 3 minutes (add weight for extra challenge)

Tuesday– HIIT/Power output

10 Rounds Sprint Intervals

  • 100-meter run or row
  • 10 Thrusters
  • 10 Burpees

Rest-60 seconds between efforts

 

Wednesday– Strength-based

Deadlift 5 x 5
+

Chin-up 5 x 3-5

Hamstring Curls (Banded or Machine) 4 x 12-15

+

Bent Over Barbell Rows 4 x 10

Back Extensions (Weighted) 3 x 12-15
+
1-Arm Dumbbell Rows 3 x 10/Each Arm

Core:

3 Rounds

  • Russian Twists x 20
  • Toe Touch Crunches x 20
  • Leg Raises x 20

Thursday– Steady state/Active Recovery
Hike, walk, bike, swim, jog

Or in the gym:

45-60 minute “AMRAP”

  • 1 mile Bike or 1000-meter row or 400-meter run
  • Farmers Carry x 200-meters (dual kettlebells)
  • 20 Toes-to-Bar/Knees to Chest
  • Bear Crawl x 50-meters
  • Dumbbell Step-ups x 10/Each Leg

Friday– Strength-based + Short Burner Workout

Front Squat 10 x 3


+

Push Press 10 x 3

Dumbbell Reverse Lunges 4 x 12-15

+

Incline Dumbbell Press 4 x 8-10

Glute-Bridges (Weighted) 3 x 20

+

Seated Cable Row or Banded Row 3 x 15-20

 

Core:

Turkish Getups x 6-Minute AMRAP (Alternate sides every 3 reps)

HIIT

12-Minute AMRAP

  • 20 Kettlebell Swings
  • 15 Wallballs
  • 10 Burpees

Saturday– Do something new, fun, try a class, get outside, daily activity

Go get em tiger!

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