When Too Much Exercise Becomes Too Much of a Good Thing [Podcast Episode #052]
You love exercise.
There are just so many things you like to do and your body is paying the price. You feel tired out, beat down, and are starting to think that you're doing more harm than good.
Today we'll discuss how much exercise is too much. When is it okay to back off AND will this hinder or help you get better results?
Make Your Body Work Podcast: Episode #052
- Learn More About Tony and His Fitness Philosophies
- From This Episode: Tony's 5 Favourite Exercises...
Help, I Can't Do It All! [Full Text]
Dave: Hey, thanks so much for joining me in this episode of the Make Your Body Work Podcast. This show is all about helping you live a healthier and happier life. I just want to say thanks for taking few minutes out of your day to invest in your health, your fitness, and your better life.
Got a really awesome show for you today, and it's actually one that, when I got this question, I knew it was going to go on the show because I resonate so closely with it. I got a message from Robert, and he's talking about exercise body breakdown and not being able to, quote, "do it all." Let's dive right in and hear from Robert.
Robert says, "I spend a lot to time training and do a few races each year. My times have actually improved a fair bit recently, and I'm 41, not getting younger, but I don't love what's happening to my body composition. I look soft. I know that strength training is the ticket, but I find it hard to make time for weights, run, and have time to recover. When I lift, my running seems to suffer. How can I do it all and get the results I'm looking for. Ha! I guess I'm hard to please. Thanks, from Robert."
Robert, thanks for that question, and like I said, I can relate very much to what you're saying. This idea of wanting to do it all, wanting to be very functionally fit, to be able to run, to be able to bike, whatever activity it is that you're performing, whatever sport you're playing, but at the same time, I'd be lying if I said there isn't a little bit of vanity involved with training.
If they're really honest with themselves, who doesn't want to look in the mirror and look strong and look fit, and you used the word "soft," and look in the mirror and say, "Okay, I don't look soft. I look tight. I look toned. I look strong."
This is something that, to be very honest with you, I battled for years for myself that idea of how much exercise do I really need to do, and how much is for health versus just for vanity's sake? At what point do we have to start to think about, am I actually overdoing it and maybe doing damage to my body that isn't actually moving me towards the goals that I'm looking for?
These are all questions, Robert, as I read your question, that were going through my head, and I thought, "Who can I find that can speak very clearly and very poignantly to this question?" There's a few people in the fitness world that I really look up to and that I've followed for a long time throughout my career. I'm excited because one of my fitness heroes, I guess, is on the show today. His name's Tony Gentilcore.
He's been at this for a very long time and has some really great insights for us, so without further ado, I'd like to introduce you to Tony.
Meet Tony Gentilcore
Dave: Hey, Tony, thanks so much for joining me on the show today.
Tony: Hey, Dave, what's going on? Glad to be on.
Dave: Yeah, I'm excited to have you on the show. I've been a big fan for a long time. I know you and Eric Cressey are really well-known in the fitness space as being awesome teachers and really understanding the fundamentals of lifting, so, yeah, I'm excited to have you here. Maybe you can start off by telling the audience a little bit about your history in the fitness world and what it is that you're doing right now.
Tony: Oh, boy. I started, I think, like everyone in the industry, I started with a very athletic background. I played multiple sports through high school, was lucky enough to play baseball in college. When I graduated college, I can either become a health teacher and wear a suit and tie every day, or I could wear sweat pants to work every day and work in a gym.
It was an easy decision on my end. After I did my internship, I was hired. This is back in New York, in Upstate New York in the Finger Lakes region. Eric and I met each other via the internet probably back in 2004, we became good friends. I, after 3 years, moved to Connecticut. He had gotten a job at a gym when he graduated from University of Connecticut.
He's like, "Hey, I got this job. They're looking for another trainer." He knew I was itching to get out of Central New York, which is basically the middle of nowhere, so a little bit outside of my comfort level as far as it was a hard sell to my mom to be like, "Hey, Ma, I met this guy on the internet. I'm moving to Connecticut."
Dave: That's sounds very creepy.
Tony: She was like, "Uh, what are you doing?" I was like, "No, no, it's cool." He and I worked together at a facility in Ridgefield, Connecticut, for about a year and then decided to move to Boston because a friend of ours had opened up a facility in Boston. Eric was going to work there. I essentially moved to Boston with no job and felt pretty confident I would find a fitness job, and luckily I did, and worked in a commercial gym again for about a year.
Then, we opened up Cressey Sports Performance along with Pete Dupuis in the summer of 2007, where I was there for 8 years. We grew that to a pretty well-known facility in North America and the world. We train a lot of overhead athletes, particularly baseball players, but we train every sport, every general fitness client.
Long story short, I left there this past fall to where now I'm working out of my own little space here in Boston, where I train people semi-privately, groups of 2 to 5 people. I assess everyone. I write their program, so everyone works off of their own program. I do that in conjunction with my writing and my distance coaching and traveling for speaking engagements.
It's a nice hybrid of in the trenches ... I'm definitely still coaching people. I'm not just writing about it. I actually coach people, but then I've been fortunate enough to build a brand where it allows me to do fitness writing and travel for speaking engagements. I'm pretty lucky. I'm happy I'm in a good spot.
Dave: Yeah, that's actually how I came across you is some of your online content. This was a number of years ago, but I basically went through 2 sports-related ACL tears. Between you and Eric, you guys have put out some really great content.
I remember watching some of your old videos talking about training for knee health. Right away, when I see someone online that gets what they're talking about ... I've got a pretty good BS radar, and you guys are the real deal, so I'm excited to have you here today.
Tony: Thank you. It's always a pleasure to come on and get in front of new ears, so hopefully somebody listening is, "Hey, I like this guy." It's always nice.
Strength Training Vs Cardio Training
Dave: Yeah, for sure. We'll dive into Robert's question. He's got a question that I'm sure you've heard many times before, and I know I have. Basically, to sum it up, he says he's torn between wanting to train for 2 different functions.
He says he wants to be able to run and get faster for races, but at the same time, he's saying, "I'm looking at my body, and it's not ..." He uses the word "soft." He says, "I look soft, and I want to be more muscular, but I don't know how to balance weight training with all my cardio training." Is that something that you deal with, with your face-to-face clients a fair bit?
Tony: Yeah, I do, especially here in Boston where it's a very endurance athlete-centric community because of the marathon. I've worked with quite a few people who obviously are interested in training for the marathon. They qualified for it, and they're doing that but also even lower mileage-wise, like 5Ks, 10Ks.
I've worked with a fair number of people who are endurance-minded. Sometimes, it is a tough sell to get them to marry to the idea that strength training can be good for them. Unequivocally, I think the research will back that up. There's a lot of benefits to resistance training and strength training in general as far as endocrine and immune function, increasing muscle mass, functional capacity, bone density, so on and so forth.
The research definitely backs all that up, but for some reason in the endurance community, they've been programmed to think that strength training and resistance training as a whole is bad or is going to make them slow, it's going to affect their running, where I would argue that it absolutely will help their running economy, and it will help them perform better.
It's just a matter of finding that balance between how much training they're doing or preparing they're doing for their endurance event and then how often they're doing their strength training.
Obviously, this is going to be highly individual. How I would approach strength training with a triathlete as opposed to somebody who's just training for a 5K or even a marathon is going to differ slightly because there are competing demands there, but I think endurance athletes definitely need to pump the brakes a little bit and understand that strength training is going to help them, even if it's only doing it 2 times a week.
In Robert's case, I think it's a matter of, number 1, I think if I remember the question correctly, he says he gets a lot of aches and pains and he feels lethargic and it's affecting his endurance training. Correct?
The Recovery Period
Dave: Yeah, totally. He's asking specifically about recovery. That's actually what I'd love you speak on is for him, or you mentioned people that are doing 5Ks or 10Ks, and that's a huge part of the audience. I know there's a lot of listeners in that boat here. When they go and do strength training, for example, if they were to train their legs, that might be a 2- or 3-day recovery period, where-
Tony: It is.
Dave: What do they do?
Tony: Yeah. A lot of it is going to be trying to condense their training stress as much as possible. I'd almost operate under the guise, if he goes, let's say he did a 3- to 5-mile run or a 6-mile run on one day, I would say if he wanted to induce the number of recover days during the week, I would say train full-body the next day, condense your training stress. That way it allows you a little bit more time to recover throughout the week.
A good training stress balance allows you time to recover during the week
I remember training a number of endurance athletes, especially Dede Griesbauer is an athlete that used to train with us a few years ago, who's a very highly competitive triathlete, world-ranked. She's someone who she would come to the facility and strength-train.
It was like, "Oh, what did you do today, Dede?" She's like, "Oh, you know, I biked 50 miles and swam this." I'm like, "What?!" Then, she came in and lifted weights, but she was only doing it twice a week. They were fairly short workouts.
She was in and out maybe in a 1/2 hour, 45 minutes. The volume was relatively low. Intensity might have been a little bit high as far as the percentage of her 1-rep max, but we certainly weren't cranking up the volume depending on her competitive season.
Again, it is going to be individual. Everyone has to figure out 2 days a week, 3 days a week. I think, for most endurance athletes, 2 to 3 days a week is going to be pretty on-point using more of a full-body approach, and just getting their quality reps in. They don't need to be training for max strength or anything like that, but certainly giving the body the stimulus to maintain muscle and not lose muscle would bode in their favor as far as their performance in their races.
I certainly don't think they need to be ramping up a ton of volume with their strength training, but doing enough to give the body just enough of stimulus they need to maintain their muscle, not to mention the neural advantages to the strength training. It's a very individual answer, case-by-case, but that would be a general approach I would take with most endurance athletes.
How Long Should You Lift?
Dave: Yeah, and a couple good takeaways there. I like the fact that you said it doesn't have to be many times per week, so you said 2 to 3 times and even mentioning the duration. I think this is important for the listeners is to get it out of their mind that they need to go in and be lifting weights for an hour, hour-plus. You said 45 minutes, and it could be much shorter than that potentially.
Tony: Absolutely. You're right, you're spot-on. I think a lot of people are programmed to think that they have to be in the gym for an hour, hour and a 1/2, 2 hours. A lot of people who think that are mindlessly doing nothing when they're in the gym for 2 hours anyways.
They're not really working out for 2 hours, but, yeah, I think if you set it up correctly and do a well-designed program, an endurance athlete could easily be in and out, including warmup, their strength program, and any kind of cool-down or corrective strategy we have to do, within 45 minutes, just a full-body approach.
Again, I think using bang-for-your-buck exercises, yeah, I do feel like a squat variation, a pull variation, a single-leg variation, push, pull, carry, those are going to have to be into the conversation of course. Then, it comes down to figuring out based off the assessment, what is going to be the appropriate variation?
Certainly, when I say "deadlift," I certainly don't expect someone to walk in on day 1 and be able to perform a conventional deadlift and pull from the floor on day 1. Some people don't have the mobility requirements to do that. Some people just aren't experienced enough to do that.
Who's to say that a kettlebell deadlift or a trap-bar deadlift might be more appropriate? Same thing with a squat. I certainly don't expect everyone to walk in on day 1, put a barbell on their back, and do a low-bar back squat on day 1. It might be a goblet-squat variation. It might be a box-squat variation.
That's again where a little bit of individualization's going to come into play, but I do think if you're focusing more on the compound movements, multi-joint movements, where you get a little bit more bang for your buck, and get in and out 2 to 3 times a week, and they'd be golden. Then, of course technique's going to come into play, so getting coached properly is going to come into play.
Dave: Yeah, I love you message, and that is going to resonate with the listeners because I know a lot of the guests that I have on this show really emphasize that point of everyone is unique. The idea of going on the internet or pulling up Men's Fitness or whatever it is and saying, "Okay, this is the workout I'm going to use," geez, it just doesn't work that way. Everyone's bode moves and works differently.
Tony: Yeah, I totally agree.
Is There A Balance?
Dave: I wanted to ask you specifically, because I think, Robert, if you're listening and I'm reading between the lines, I apologize, but I know this is something that I see with a lot of clients, they want functional fitness for whatever activity it is that they're participating in, but at the same time, geez, who doesn't want to aesthetic side of fitness? He does say, "I'm getting soft, don't love the way I look." Can you talk about, whether it's the athletes you train with or just your average Joe weekend warrior who wants to look good but also wants to perform, what is the balance?
Tony: There's a little bit of expectation management there. He's talking about, "Hey, I want to perform well in my endurance events," which is one end of the spectrum, and then there's the other end of the spectrum, where it's like, "Oh, I also want to be strong and have a 6-pack and deadlift 400 pounds."
That's probably not going to happen, so you have to pick which one you want. But certainly from the aesthetic standpoint, I don't think anyone who lifts weights or performs in each sport doesn't have a little bit of vanity involved with their appearance.
Honestly, if your current program or your current regime is not getting that job done, obviously something needs to be tweaked, whether or not it's the exercises you're using or the frequency that you're doing it. Certainly that's going to come into play.
Again, my job as a coach is to figure out, okay, if aesthetics are the goal, what are some of the exercises that we can do that are going to accomplish that? To me, again, it's going to come down to choosing our big, bang-for-the-buck exercises. What makes muscle, keeps muscle? Squats, deadlifts, rows, that stuff's going to come into play, and not to mention nutrition.
I think if he might be eating more. I think a lot of it in the endurance community, we tend to offset that, "Oh, I ran 5 miles today, so I can go have my pasta dinner." I can't quote any research off the top of my head, but certainly I think people tend to overcompensate their caloric intake based on the fact that, "Oh, I ran X amount of miles today, so I burned off this many calories, so that means I can go eat X amount of calories to counteract that."
People tend to overcompensate their calories intake based on the amount of calories burned
Dave: I love that you just said that. Exercise becomes the free pass to any diet choice.
Tony: Yeah. I think that may or may not. I'm leaning towards it may be part of the conversation with Robert in that ... Listen, if you know you're training like crazy, you're doing X amount of days per week of running and endurance-based activities, and you're doing your strength training and you still don't feel like you're not reaping the rewards as far as what you see in the mirror, don't oversimplify it, don't overthink it. It could literally be you're eating too much, and it just might be a matter of backing off the total calories a little bit.
Dave: Yeah, I like that, too, because, again, people quite often get in this mindset, "Okay, my body doesn't look the way that I want it to look, but I know I'm running all this distance or training this hard," and they think, "Okay, I guess I got to ramp it up," and start doing even more.
Tony: Yeah, and do more and more and more, yeah.
Dave: For a guy like Robert, and even for myself and tons of clients that I work with, I'm sure you see it, too, that's actually the opposite. Then, you get in this place where your body isn't recovering and performance starts to suffer, and it becomes this really vicious loop.
Tony: Yeah, I think we also get in the mindset of we need to add ... People like to add stuff into their training but without taking something out. I think that is an important message to talk about, whereas if you're going to be adding in strength training, whether it's 2 days a week, I'd almost operate under the mindset, maybe we need to take out some of your middle-distance running days just so it does allow you a way to recover, get ample rest.
Then, of course, we got to discuss hydration, how much you're sleeping. Then, of course, nutrition requirements. Yeah, recovery, as you know, Dave, is a huge, huge, huge factor, and we got to make sure that if we are adding in something, we usually have to take something out as a consequence of that.
An Ideal Schedule For The Week
Dave: Yeah, that's cool. I like that. I really like that idea. You put something in, take it out. Can you talk, Tony, just for someone who isn't necessarily a competitive athlete. I know there's going to be a lot of listeners who like to train and maybe do a race or 2 here and there. What would an ideal schedule look like for them for the week?
Tony: Yeah. If I can try to separate the demands, great. Certainly, if they're going to be doing an endurance-based activity on, say, a Monday, whether or not we get a day in between to rest, fine, but then you do your strength-based workout on its own, on its own separate day.
There are instances where maybe you do an am-pm split, but most people aren't going to be in that conversation because most people have lives and they have family and a job and all the other stuff that gets in the way, but certainly I do think the more you can separate them, the better.
Generally speaking, I do like to give people at least 1 to 2 days of complete recovery, or if it's just very, very, very, very low-intensity, movement-based days where I might just give them a day where it's movement quality, where it's low-grade mobility, activation, stretching, where they can do in circuit fashion, where they get their heart rate up a little bit, but they're addressing stiff hips and T-spine rotation and core strength and glute activation, but it's not going to impede or hamper their performance if they do have an endurance-based activity planned for the next day, but they are working on stuff that they need to be working on.
Again, all these people, they do probably have an office job or are sitting in front of a computer and develop certain postural imbalances that may or may not need to be addressed. I definitely like at least 1 straight-up day where you do absolutely nothing but watch Netflix, do nothing.
It really dumbfounds me how some people's off days is like, "Oh, I went to the track and did 400-meter tempo runs." I was like, "That's not an off-day. What are you doing?" A complete off-day, go for a walk. If you need to do something, go for a walk.
That is a fantastic recovery strategy, actually, but then I might have another day during the week where it is just we might head to the gym or do something at home, where it's just a circuit of body weight exercises, low-grade mobility activation drills.
I do think, for most endurance athletes, 2 days a week of strength training is going to bode very well. Then, of course, you do have to be specific. Law of specificity does apply here. They need to actually practice their events and prepare for that event. Of course, that's going to come into play, too.
Walking is a very underrated modality for recovery
Dave: I love the fact that you said you can take your day off and go for a walk because I know that will give people the mental permission to take that day off and not feel like they just need to sit on the couch and watch Netflix because you got 2 camps. You got people who are dying for that day. They can't wait to have the day off, but then there are a lot of people who mentally it's tough to take a day off.
Tony: It is, and it's just more, more, more, more, more. I would argue that walking is a very underrated modality for recovery, not to mention sleep. I think sleep's important, too, but, yeah, just going for a walk with your spouse or significant other or your dog or by yourself, or listen to a podcast, whatever. It's very undervalued in today's society.
Make Your Body Work Takeaway
Dave: Yeah, I totally agree. Tony, we like to keep this show really short and to-the-point, and Robert basically for him and anyone else who's looking to train but doesn't want to have their body breakdown, what would you say ... I like to call this the Make Your Body Work Takeaway. What's something that people in that position can start doing today that'll help their body recover from their workouts?
Tony: I think it's a little bit of experimentation. I said that 2 to 3 days a week is going to be the money spot for a lot of endurance-based or endurance-centric people, so I would usually tell people to lean on the side of being conservative.
Maybe start with 2 days a week of strength training. See how that feels. Definitely focus more on multi-joint compound movements, like a goblet squat and a hip hinge and push and pull. Then, if you feel good and if you feel like, "Hey, maybe I could get a third day in," you could play around with that, but I do think the 2 days a week is going to be a pretty good starting point for most people interested in both the endurance side of things and understanding that the strength training component is very important, too.
Dave: Yeah, agreed. I want to ask you a bonus question here. If you were to list maybe your top 5 exercises, and I know this is very general because we don't know who Robert is and everyone else listening, but what are 5, you talk about bang-for-your-buck exercises, what would your top 5 be?
Top 5 Exercises
Tony: Yeah, I think, without knowing someone's unique injury history and their experience level or their training age, I've yet to find somebody who I can't teach them a goblet squat in 5 minutes. It's just a fantastic way of patterning a good squat motion, pushing the knees out, keeping the chest up, keeping a good back position.
It's just something about holding that weight in front of their body that anterior load that just cleans everything up. It's just a fantastic way of grooving a good squat pattern.
I do like hip-hinging, so whether that's a trap-bar deadlift, the cable pull-through, those are going to be valuable. For a lot of people, I also think pushups are great, too, just from a shoulder health standpoint. Pushups, I don't know about you, Dave, but I get a lot of guys that come in for their assessment.
I say, "Hey, let's look at your pushup." They give me the eye roll. I'll go, "Come on, dude, pushups." Then, very rarely do I see them be able to perform a pushup well, let alone 10 of them. To me, a pushup is very much a full-body exercise.
If they can control that midsection, that lumbo-pelvic-hip area, and get much more stable there, that's going to translate very well to their other movements, such as the squatting and deadlifting. I think pushups are great.
I don't think people can get enough horizontal rowing, whether that's a dumbbell row, a seated cable row, or chest-supported row. I think upper back strength is huge, not only from a performance standpoint but from posture, helping people counteract all the pressing we like to use. I don't think it's any different in Canada. Guys like to bench press 3, 4 days a week.
Yeah. I think any horizontal rowing. I think, from a core standpoint, I think carries are fantastic, whether you want to call them a farmer carry or a suitcase carry, where basically you just take a dumbbell, hold it like you're carrying a suitcase, and walk with it. The objective is to stay upright, try not to lean to any one side.
You do have to use a heavy load here, you got to make it challenging, but to me that's a very user-friendly, very unaggressive exercise to train core. Off the top of my head, those would be 5 that I would gravitate towards for most people that I don't ... I could even also add in some sled work here, too. Most people, regardless of their age, their training age, their injury history, can do a sled push and any number of the exercises I just named without any excessive coaching.
Dave: Yeah, I completely agree with all these, and I love the fact that you said you can't enough rowing.
Tony: Oh, I love that.
Dave: It was neat. I don't know if you intended this, but that came right after pushups. You know as a coach, we push so much, it's that anterior side of our body, we like looking at the muscles in the mirror that we're working on, but so many people neglect the posterior muscles, and row, row, row. I completely agree with your message.
We like looking at the muscles in the mirror, but often neglect the posterior muscles
Tony: Yeah, I think, again, to me, when I see somebody that has an impressive backside, that's cool. That, to me, when I see an impressive back, like upper back, and lats, and traps ... Anyone can get the 6-pack. Really.
You can walk down the street right now and see, but very rarely do you see people who have an impressive upper back. I understand most people aren't impressed with having a big upper back but just the strength and the postural connotations, I think it's just a fantastic exercise.
Dave: Yeah, and for the listeners, I'm going to put some links to all these different exercises that Tony just mentioned so you can see good examples of them. Maybe, Tony, on your YouTube page, I assume you probably have a lot of these coaching tutorials, so I'll link there as much as possible. For the listeners, this is Make Your Body Work Podcast Episode 51, so if you go to MakeYourBodyWork.com/51, I'm actually, in the show notes, going to link out to all the exercises that Tony just talked about.
Tony, on your YouTube channel, I know you've got a bunch of videos.
Dave: You probably have training videos that break down a lot of these movements, eh?
Tony: Yeah, I think if someone just wanted to go to my YouTube channel and do a search for squat tutorial, deadlift tutorial, rowing variations, they would come up pretty easily.
Dave: Okay, and I'll search those out and help the listeners, make it easy for them. Listeners, if you check out, again, MakeYourBodyWork.com/51, I'll link out to Tony's work. Tony, thanks again for being on the show. If people want to learn more about you or connect with you or learn from, you've got really great, awesome content online, where's the best way that they can connect with you?
Tony: Yeah, home base for me would be my website TonyGentilcore.com, which is my name. That's where I write my blog every day. I link to all the articles I write and videos and podcasts and stuff like that. That would be where to go, and links to social media, all that stuff.
Dave: Awesome. Again, for the listeners, I'll have that in the show notes so you can check out Tony's stuff. Tony, thanks again. You're awesome to have on the show.
Tony: Appreciate it, Dave. That was fun. I hope to come back soon.
Dave: Thanks again, Tony, for taking the time to join us on the show today and for giving some really practical advice, particularly the idea of how much it takes to actually get in shape, and you don't need to over-train. We do need to take that time to rest. Also, thanks for, I know I put you on the spot, but for giving your top 5 exercises and just giving people a place to start if they're just getting to strength training to recomposition their body and add some strength, so thanks for all your wisdom.
Thanks to you too, the listener, for joining us today. I always say this, but without you, there would be no show. Keep on sending in your questions. Keep on letting me know about how your life is changing, about what you're putting into practice and how your body's responding. You can reach me anytime. It's [email protected]. I always love hearing from you. I personally go through every single email that I get and do my best to personally respond. Again, email me at anytime, and I'll love to hear from you.
If you'd like some help taking that step to start getting in better shape, start training in a different way than maybe you've currently been training, adding some exercise that maybe you know you'd like to add but haven't been able to put into practice so far, I'd love to be your coach. I run a program, it's called the 10 in 4 Challenge. It's based on clean, healthy eating and adding daily movement to our lives. The results that my clients get are phenomenal. If you want to learn more, you can check it out as 10in4.com. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me, [email protected].
Thanks again for joining me, and thanks for being part of this community, the Make Your Body Work community. As always, I can't wait to see you here again next week.