How much exercise is "too" much? [10 Signs You Have a Rocky Relationship]

Written By


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.

How much exercise is too much exercise?


It pulls and the tugs at you—always in the back of your mind, or weighing on your shoulders.


Your schedule revolves around it.


The “what ifs”, the anxiety and the ultimatums mount:


  • “What if I don’t get my 5-mile run in today?”
  • “What if the gym is closed by the time I get there?”
  • “I can’t go out, or do other things, until I have put the work in”
  • “If I don’t get my full workout in today, then I can’t eat ______.”
  • “My day is not complete until I workout”
  • “I have to workout extra hard next time to make up for my slacking.”


Exercise is a WONDERFUL thing—but when does it cross a line?



Making a good thing…not such a good thing.


This dilemma is one I continue to be in check with on a daily basis—assessing my relationship with my exercise.


After spending a good seven to eight years in a completely unhealthy relationship with exercise (training upwards of 7-8 hours per day; constantly planning and strategizing my workouts, etc.), I know I’ve come a long way, and it’s a road I never want to walk down again (Working out as my line of work in order to accept myself).


And this dilemma goes far beyond “overtraining” or “overexercise.”


While overtraining and overexercise are real, and exercise literature and fitness magazines have become increasingly aware of these conditions over the years (you’ve probably heard: “less is more”), the dilemma I am talking about has more to do with your heart and your head.


In fact, you can exercise within the “normal” or appropriate amounts of exercise and still have an unhealthy relationship with exercise:

  • It takes a life of its own
  • It dominates your day
  • It’s all you can think about
  • It determines your self-concept, or acceptance of yourself
  • It dictates what you eat (or don’t eat) that day
  • It distracts you from the present moment
  • It makes you go crazy in your own skin if you can’t get in your usual routine
  • It pressures you to do the same thing daily, if not more than you did the day before
  • It becomes your identity


Unfortunately, this silent epidemic (unhealthy relationship with exercise) is far more common (and accepted) than it is talked about—especially in fit cities like Austin, Texas, where:



  • Going to barre…then spin…then yoga is normal—all in one day
  • Races, marathons and triathlons happen every weekend
  • There is some type of gym seemingly every 3-4 miles on the main roads
  • It’s a normal question to ask, NOT “Do you run?”, but “What is your mile time?”…or NOT, “Do you workout?”, but “Where do you workout?”
  • Class Pass gives you access to hundreds of classes and studios in town at allotted times


Essentially: Everyone is “doing it” (exercise)


And exercise is NOT a bad thing…but, I’ll ask again: When does a good thing go bad?


The answer is completely UP TO YOU to decide.


After all, only you know—in your heart, and in your head—where you sit on the exercise continuum: when it feels over your head or like it’s dominating your thoughts, your worries, your schedule…and when you feel free as a bird to truly enjoy what you love to do!


Never really thought about it before?


Here are 10 Signs That You Have a Rocky Relationship with Exercise (Plus 6 Heart & Head Strategies to Exercise Freedom):


  1. You’re going on a trip, and you find yourself freaking out about your gym time
  2. You restrict your food intake when you can’t train
  3. You are dishonest about your training schedule with others
  4. You find yourself one-upping others (or wanting to one-up others) when it comes to their exercise and training (thinking: I can do one more than her)
  5. Never varying your schedule (lighter training days with harder training days; always balls to the wall)
  6. Not listening to body aches, pains or fatigue (“training through it
    when a muscle is overworked or you have a stress fracture in your foot, etc.)
  7. Forcing yourself to do a particular type of workout because “it’s what you always do” or “it burns a lot of calories”
  8. Constantly counting the number of calories, steps or hours you log in the gym—it justifies your eating, your ability to be ‘care free’ and at peace
  9. Wishing and hoping for the workout to be over—soon
  10. Not wanting to go…but making yourself go anyway


These are just a handful of signs you may not have the best relationship with exercise—or the particular type of exercise you are doing.


I am a firm believer we were given limbs to move, lungs to breathe and heart that beats for a reason—to move!


Find what moves YOU!


Here are 6 Strategies to Exercise Freedom:


  • Confide in someone. Find your confidant to whom you can spill the beans—share the worries and stresses on your heart and head around exercise. Sometimes just talking about it helps relieve an immense amount of stress or anxiety.
  • Try something NEW. Variety is the spice of life. Get out of your rut and usual routine and dare I say, be adventurous? Even if it’s as simple as a change of scenery (a different gym)…Or a group class if you’re used to doing the individual thing…Or a personal training session if you’re tired of spinning your wheels in the gym.
  • Practice presence. Choose to be in the moment—all in. Instead of thinking about your grocery list…or your to-do list…or what’s next…choose to be 100% mentally committed to what you are doing right now (mind into muscle; into the moment; into the people around you).


  • Break your own rules. It’s going to suck…and be liberating at the same time. Double dog dare yourself to do something different.


  • Put it on paper. Write out your exercise routine—and look it in the face. And don’t just write out what you do in a day in the gym or for your routine—but your feelings around it (similar to a mindfulness food log). Where do you see it dominating your day…or your thoughts…or not being what you want? Often times writing things down—be it an exercise log, or a plan for ourselves, can help re-align focus. While you’re at it…write out your top 1-3 fitness goals (be specific)…along with an action step by each that you can take NOW to direct you towards your goals.


  • WWHMD? I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again…Ask yourself: “What would healthy me do?” the healthy head and heart you desire to embody. Act out of her now…make decisions, choices, and practice mindsets that she would embody. You CAN be made new today—even if you feel stuck in your ways, or thoughts, or stresses today (ie. Fake it til you make it).


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