Krisin Akbasli

Is Too Much Cardio Bad for You?

Article by: Kristin Akbasli, Purlife Training Specialist & Group Fitness Instructor
We’ve all seen gym-goers glued to their cell phones while climbing the Stairmaster or riding the stationary bike or elliptical, sweating it out while patiently waiting for 20 – 45 minutes to end. It’s either an everyday routine or a forced occurrence after a cheat meal (or weekend).

Yes, cardiovascular activity is excellent for our health and a proven endorphin-enhancer, but how much do we really need?

The Benefits Of Exercise

According to the American Heart Association, we should engage in 30 minutes of physical activity five days a week to maintain your health. This includes cardiovascular, strength-training, or active household tasks such as gardening, mowing the lawn, etc. For weight loss, the intensity of these thirty minutes should be heightened AND, most importantly, a caloric deficit takes precedence.

One problem I’ve experienced with clients, gym members, friends, and even myself at times, is that we’d rather put in that 30 minutes of exercise (for some, even 60 – 90 minutes) and ignore the caloric deficit. As a former competitive runner, I actually enjoy cardio for 30 – 60 minutes at a time, but then it leaves me ravenous! Did I REALLY just “earn” my Sunday brunch after doing an hour outdoor boot camp or a 30-minute intense treadmill session? If you are trying to lose weight, this is the wrong mentality.

You Cannot Out Train A Bad Diet

Here’s the truth that nobody really wants to hear—we can’t out train a bad diet. We often hear that 80% of weight loss and/or muscle gain is diet (I would argue that it’s more). With this being said, I would suggest:

  • spending way more time shopping and prepping the right foods
  • eating them SLOWLY and without any sort of screen around (cell phone, computer, or TV) to promote mindful eating
  • finding new recipes to make healthy foods more enjoyable

The other 20% can be dedicated to working out; if an hour workout is 4% of a day, five workouts a week is enough.


Adequate recovery time is paramount for a healthy lifestyle. This pertains to losing weight, gaining muscle, increasing flexibility, and improving stamina.

When many are on a mission to lose weight, there is a tendency to overdo it with cardio. Despite how much we want to stay lean, lose those last ten pounds, or “work off the weekend,” too much cardio can lead to injury, stress, and failure to meet muscle-building goals.

Toning requires building muscle, and most forms of cardio do not accomplish this goal. To build and tone muscle, one must make strength-training the priority. The more lean muscle we build, the more calories we burn at rest, and this helps us develop a lean, chiseled look.

Don’t HIIT Too Hard

H.I.I.T.(High-Intensity Interval Training), has many benefits, such as a higher EPOC (the post-workout metabolic increase) and overall calorie burn, but it does not (and should not) be done every day or for every workout. Think about the words “high intensity” — in most cases, it puts a ton of stress on your body, and chronic stress, physical or mental, has rarely reaped any rewards.

I’ve had clients cut back on H.I.I.T. cardio because it actually made them gain weight. Yes, too much H.I.I.T. cardio can raise cortisol levels in your body, which may cause weight gain, particularly in the midsection.

In conjunction with a couple of H.I.I.T. workouts a week (especially for weight loss), try circuit-style strength training to keep your heart rate up. This type of workout will torch calories and provide similar benefits as H.I.I.T. cardio while helping you build muscle and strengthen your core.

Here’s a 20-minute, full-body circuit to perform using the minimal equipment. Complete 1 round of all exercises consecutively. Rest 60-90 seconds. Aim to perform this circuit 3 times through:

chart is too much cardio

Train Smart

As far as mental health is concerned, cardio can be a fabulous boost in your day. If you truly enjoy cardio and it makes you feel accomplished, obviously continue to do it! However, if you are not meeting your fitness goals, try increasing your strength training and fine-tuning your nutrition. Also remember to give your body at least 1-2 days of recovery—on these days, try a yoga class (I LOVE hot yoga because I still break a great sweat!), a leisure walk, or foam roll for a solid 10-20 minutes.

Exercise should not be a chore, but rather some sort of activity that we enjoy and helps us achieve optimal health. If you’re doing cardio just to get lean, you’re better off dedicating a majority of your time to sticking to a caloric deficit and clean eating, and not glued to the Stairmaster; your sanity and body will thank you.

If you’re looking for a program to follow or need some assistance in meeting your fitness goals, stop by Purlife today and I’ll be happy to help!