Can You Do Too Much Cardio?
I Was a Cardio Addict — Here's How My Body Changed Once I Began Strength Training
Though I started my fitness journey with a fairly balanced combination of yoga and running, once I caught the "bug," so to speak, I was fully addicted to the thrill and endorphins of cardio. It started with SoulCycle — my first love — and spiraled (or spun, more accurately) into Barry's Bootcamp, more distance running, boxing, and HIIT classes at Equinox. I was obsessed. And for good reason! I felt great. My body was riding a high, and I had never been so lean, so ripped. Why would I stop?
As it turns out, you can have too much of a good thing, even in your early-to-mid 20s, with an otherwise healthy body and joints. I started experiencing knee issues that ranged from mystery pain to clicking to full-blown, excruciating, limping-down-the-street tendinitis.
Then I started seeing my personal trainer, Liz Letchford, MS, ATC. She assessed the issues contributing to my knee troubles and recommended that I slow it down on the cardio side, pause on longer distance running, and put more focus on strength training. I heard what she was saying, I agreed that it was good, but I couldn't quite shake my addiction to cardio. Have you ever felt like that before? It's a weird spot to be in.
So I added more strength training, but it only served to pack my schedule with more workout classes. I didn't cut back on anything, just tacked on more.
The author (left) with personal trainer Liz Letchford at DIAKADI strength gym in San Francisco. Photo by Tracy Wright Corvo, courtesy of the author.
It took until sometime last year when my body hit a breaking point. Physical and psychological stress had peaked, and it manifested in my body in the form of near constant illness (I'm talking one flu, two weeks at a time, once a month for several months), mystery infections, severe panic attacks, chronic depression, and rupturing ovarian cysts. Fun times, y'all. And for someone who was "doing all the right things" — exercising a ton, eating right, sleeping well and often, etc. — it didn't make any sense. In fact, it seemed counterintuitive, and I was more frustrated than ever.
As it turns out, you can have too much of a good thing.
I decided to take an all-out break: I hit the emergency brake and cleared my schedule for a complete mental and physical detox. It was the first time I had taken a few weeks off my cardio schedule in years. I eased back in with long walks (typically on the beach!), tons of low-impact reformer Pilates (super sculpting and challenging!), and the occasional SoulCycle class (I just can't shake my love for that place). Once my health turned around — which happened more quickly than I could've imagined! — I added more forms of strength exercises, especially at home, using resistance bands, weights, a kettlebell, and bodyweight.
Not only has my weight remained unchanged, but I feel just as lean with way less work. I've also remained injury-free thanks to low-impact strength training and walking. But the greatest effect is one that's body and mind. Flipping from a cardio-heavy schedule to one focused mostly on low-impact exercises and strength training has reduced the stress on my body. I feel less inflamed, I haven't been sick in a year, I don't have to take any anxiety medication, and even my digestion has improved.
I have friends who can do cardio seven days a week and never bat an eye. They're in incredible shape, they never get sick, and they have iron joints. That isn't me — a lesson I learned the hard way. Fortunately, I had enough sense to tune into my body (eventually!) and figure out the best approach to turn this ship around. I'm so grateful for that intuition and the people who helped me get to a happier, healthier place with this formula — I'm much stronger for it. Pun definitely intended.