Is It Bad to Work Out Every Day?
Maybe you work from home and CrossFit class is your only outlet for in-person human connection each day. Maybe you've finally experienced the allusive runner's high and now crave that specific endorphin rush every morning. Or maybe, you're totally dialed in on a very specific goal such as marathon training.
Whatever the reason, if you've been working out every single day — or you've been feeling like you should be — there are some important factors you need to keep in mind. While working out every single day can be okay, the more likely scenario is that it can actually work against your health and fitness goals in many situations. (Related: Is It Bad to Do the Same Workout All the Time?)
Below, certified strength and conditioning specialist and physical therapist, Grayson Wickham, founder of digital movement platform Movement Vault answers once and for all when and if working out every day is bad. Plus, he outlines the perfect workout schedule for maximizing benefit while minimizing risk.
The Benefits of Moving Your Body Each Day
So, it is bad to work out every day? Ultimately, that answer depends on how you define 'exercise'. "Moving your body every single day is not bad for you," says Wickham. On the contrary, incorporating some physical activity every day offers some pretty legit (and research-backed!) benefits.
People who are sedentary have a much higher risk of all-cause mortality, as well as increased risk for mental health issues including depression and anxiety, he explains. Sedentary lifestyles also contribute to obesity, lipid disorders, and high blood pressure, reports the World Health Organization.
People without regular movement practice also increase their overall risk of injury — especially as they age, says Wickham. "The body conforms to the positions that we spend the most time in," he explains. "If people spend all day sitting, slumped over in their seats, their body will begin to take on that position at all times." The result? People begin to acquire text neck, lower back pain, and weakened chest and core muscles, he says. Down the line, the consequences of this range from aches and pain to an increased risk of falling since exercise and strengthening your muscles can help prevent falls, he explains. This is obviously not ideal for anyone looking to live a long, healthy independent life.
On top of that, moving every day has the added benefit of improving your overall mood. "Even if you just go on a walk, there is going to be some rush of feel-good endorphins," he says. And sometimes an endorphin elixir is all you need to go from grumpy to jolly.
Wait – Aren't Movement and Exercise the Same Thing?
So what's the difference between being active every day and working out every day? There's not a one size fits all answer — it depends on your current fitness level, sports background (aka training age) actual age, and overall health, says Wickham. For example, for some people, a brisk walk could count as movement, but for others with a lower fitness level, it could count as exercise. But as a general rule, movement or physical activity is anything that requires your body to expend energy (i.e. walking your dog or cleaning the house). Whereas exercise is considered anything that is structured or repetitive and done with the goal of improving physical fitness, according to the American Council on Exercise (i.e. training for cardiorespiratory, muscle strength or endurance, and flexibility, for example).
Working Out Every Day Can Become Bad
Indeed, moving your body every day is beneficial, but going hard in the gym every day is not — period. "Lifting heavy weights and/or going at max intensity seven days a week is not going to be healthy," says Wickham. Training too hard too often can actually interfere with your ability to continue making gains, he says. In the sports world, this state is classified as either overtraining syndrome or overreaching.
Put simply, overtraining syndrome is the point where the body stops being able to recover from a workout, and enters a state of chronic stress, explains Wickham. It occurs when you hit your body with the deadly combo: too much exercise and inadequate recovery. "Inadequate sleep quality and quality, poor nutrition and inadequate calorie intake, and high-stress levels can all contribute to inadequate recovery," he says. Overreaching is the term used when someone is on the brink of overtraining syndrome, says Wickham, but not quite there. Essentially, if you don't reign in your overreaching, it could easily become overtraining syndrome. (Related: I Started Exercising Less and Now I'm Fitter Than Ever).
So how do you know if you're at risk of overreaching or overtraining syndrome? Honestly, most of the general population of everyday athletes, don't need to be too concerned about overtraining, says Wickham. "It's the small percentage of exercisers who are hitting the gym or trails every single day that is a major risk," he says.
If that's you, keep an eye on your sleep quality and quantity. "Usually, the first sign of overtraining syndrome is poor sleep quality," says Wickham. "Many people will notice that they can't fall asleep as easily or that they can't fall back asleep after waking up in the middle of the night." Other common signs of overtraining include worsened mental health, decreased performance, loss of appetite, and chronic or nagging injuries. In extreme cases, overtraining can even present itself via losing your period or the inability to maintain an erection, says Wickham. (See More: How Much Exercise Is Too Much).
If you do notice any of these early warning signs from working out every day, talk to a fitness professional, he suggests. With their help, you'll be able to feel better in as little as one to four weeks with strategic rest and recovery both immediately and working that into your routine going forward. If your symptoms are really concerning to you or they don't go away with proper rest, you should also talk to a doctor.
The Right Fitness Routine Doesn't Require Working Out Every Single Day
The best workout routine for most people actually doesn't involve exercising every single day, according to Wickham. While the Goldilocks exercise regime will vary slightly from person to person, he says a workout routine that incorporates some strength training and some cardiovascular training with adequate rest is universally safe and effective.
Two to three days a week of both strength and cardio-based workouts, with two days of rest or casual movement is optimal for the average exerciser, he says. Want to see what the perfectly balanced workout routine looks like on paper? Check this one out.
How to Know When It's Time for a Rest Day
Coming down with overtraining syndrome isn't the only time a rest day is a good idea. Rest is also a smart move if you haven't slept well two or more days in a row, according to Wickham. (Related: Is It Better To Sleep In Or Workout Out?).
"You should also take a day off if you're distracted and won't be able to dial in," he adds. Sure, sometimes a workout is just what you need to clear your head, but hit the bench or bike when your attention is more so on your partner or boss, and you won't be able to focus on your form, which could set you up for injury or at the very least a crap workout.
A rest day is also a good move if you're really dreading your upcoming session. The goal is to create an exercise routine and relationship to exercise that is sustainable long-term, says Wickham. "Skipping one workout because you're not in the mood over the course of a year or years is nothing." When it comes to taking rest days, you should note that it's not about waiting until you need one ASAP, but building in rest and recovery into your routine so you're not hitting these walls in the first place. (For the record: This is what the perfect recovery day would look like).
The Bottom Line On Whether Working Out Every Day Is Bad
Working out every day is bad if you go too hard. But if your workouts are at a lower intensity (aka are considered movement or recovery) one or two days a week, you should be a-OK to continue as scheduled. Still, if your body starts to show signs that it needs a rest day or workout routine reset, it may be time to call on an exercise professional to help give your movement practice more balance.