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How Often Should You Do Cardio Exercise?

The question of how often you should do cardio exercise can be answered by looking at the advantages and disadvantages that come with doing it. Cardio exercises like running or biking are great for losing weight and building up your heart, but they’re also hard on the body and require a lot of recovery time. On average, it’s recommended to do cardio four times per week. 

 

One way to think about this is as follows: if you have a job where you work out every day, then you need a day off from working out each week so that your muscles can recover from being worked all week long.

 

You may have heard that when it comes to strength training, you should rest for a day or two in between workouts to give your muscles a chance to recover.

But what about cardiovascular exercise? Do you need rest days? After all, cardio exercise helps:

 

  • improve your heart and lung function
  • strengthen your muscles
  • improve your blood flow
  • boost your mood
  • improve your sleep
  • lower your risk of heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes

 

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the recommended amount of cardio exercise, the pros and cons of doing cardio every day, and the best strategy for losing weight with this type of exercise.

 

When you practice a sports skill, generally the more you practice, the better you get at that skill. So it’s understandable that many young athletes think this also applies to their workouts—believing that the longer they train, the bigger and stronger they’ll become.

 

However, “more is better” does not apply to strength and conditioning. In fact, training for too long can lead to diminished results, and worse, an injury.

 

Whether your goal is to become a stronger athlete or build bigger muscles, lifting weights not only helps you look great in your favorite jeans and T-shirt, but it can support healthy joints, improve your heart health and promote weight loss.

 

What to know about cardio or aerobic activity

With aerobic or cardio exercise, your muscles need more blood and oxygen than when they’re at rest. This causes your heart and lungs to work harder, which, over time, can make these parts of your body stronger.

 

And, as your heart and lungs become stronger, the flow of blood and oxygen in your body will also improve.

 

Cardio or aerobic exercise encompasses many types of activities. Some activities like walking can be done at a moderate pace. Other activities, like running, biking uphill, jumping rope, or swimming laps can be done at a more intense pace.

 

If you enjoy exercising in a group setting, there are many types of aerobic classes or sports you can try, such as:

 

  • kickboxing
  • boot camp
  • spin classes
  • Zumba
  • dance classes
  • basketball
  • soccer
  • tennis

 

It’s tempting to hit the squat rack every single day if you’re seeing (or seeking) these gains, but like all things, too much of a good thing can be bad. If you don’t allow your muscles time to recover, lifting weights every day can backfire.

 

Here’s exactly what happens to your body when you lift every day and how you can strength train safely to reach your goals.

 

What’s the recommended amount of cardio exercise?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)Trusted Source recommends that people age 18 or older get:

 

  • at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week OR
  • 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity each week OR
  • an equivalent combination of both

 

The World Health OrganizationTrusted Source recommends that whatever type of cardio exercise you choose to do, you should do it for at least 10 minutes at a time to get the most benefits from it.

 

If you engage in moderate-intensity workouts, such as a brisk walk, then 30 minutes every day can help you reap a variety of benefits. You could also break this up into two 15-minute walks, or three 10-minute walks each day.

 

There is no recommended upper limit on the amount of cardio exercise you should do on a daily or weekly basis. However, if you push yourself hard with every workout, then skipping a day or two each week to rest may help you avoid injury and burnout.

 

Is it safe to do cardio every day?

In a 2012 study trusted Source published in the British Journal of Pharmacology, researchers found that doing up to 60 minutes of cardio exercise daily is safe and appropriate, particularly if weight loss is a goal.

 

Although cardio exercise has many benefits, a 2017 study found that there could be risks associated with exercising intensely every day or most days of the week.

 

The limits of how much cardio exercise is safe to vary from one person to the next. It also depends on:

 

  • your level of fitness
  • your overall health
  • any underlying health conditions

 

But in general, the following symptoms may suggest that you’re overdoing it:

 

  • muscle soreness that lingers
  • painful joints
  • exercises that were once easy become more difficult
  • decreasing interest or enthusiasm for exercising
  • poor sleep

 

If you haven’t exercised for some time, or you’re recovering from an injury or illness, it’s best to talk with your doctor about how to safely begin a cardio routine, and how long and how often to work out.

 

Also, talk with your doctor if you have a condition that may restrict the kinds of exercise you can safely do. This includes heart disease, respiratory problems, arthritis, or any type of issue with your joints.

 

What are the pros and cons of doing cardio every day?

Daily cardio exercise has its share of pros and cons. And it’s important to understand what they are, as these factors can affect your health.

 

Overtraining: What It Is, Symptoms, and Recovery

 

“When an athlete is trying to improve their performance, they have to push their limits,” says Marci A. Goolsby, MD, Medical Director of the Women’s Sports Medicine Center at HSS, “but sometimes a line is crossed. Repetitive, strenuous training without adequate recovery can lead to overtraining, causing a negative impact on how the athlete feels and performs.”

 

Here’s an explanation of what overtraining is, the warning signs and symptoms of overtraining, and how to recover if you’re experiencing it.

 

What is overtraining?

There are two classifications for too much exercise: overreaching and overtraining.

 

Overreaching is muscle soreness above and beyond what you typically experience that occurs when you don’t sufficiently recover between workouts. Overreaching usually happens after several consecutive days of hard training and results in feeling run down. Luckily, the effects of overreaching can be easily reversed with rest.

 

Overtraining occurs when an athlete ignores the signs of overreaching and continues to train. Many athletes believe that weakness or poor performance signals the need for even harder training, so they continue to push themselves. This only breaks down the body further.

 

Full recovery from overtraining is difficult and can require weeks or months of time off from working out — something that can be especially challenging for someone whose life revolves around their sport.

 

Healthy sleep, nutrition, and mental wellness are critical in preventing overtraining. These must be part of the training regimen just as much as the exercise and rest plan. “Many of us use exercise to manage stress,” says HSS sports psychologist Deborah N. Roche, Ph.D. “It can be a great way to clear your head and enhance your mood. However, you can have too much of a good thing.”

 

Symptoms and warning signs of overtraining

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It may be hard to know when you’re overtraining. “It’s natural and expected to feel fatigued after challenging training sessions,” Dr. Goolsby says. “But feeling like you aren’t recovering between sessions or experiencing overall fatigue and difficulty pushing yourself during workouts can be indicators of overtraining.”

 

Training-related signs of overtraining

  • Unusual muscle soreness after a workout, which persists with continued training
  • Inability to train or compete at a previously manageable level
  • “Heavy” leg muscles, even at lower exercise intensities
  • Delays in recovery from training
  • Performance plateaus or declines
  • Thoughts of skipping or cutting short training sessions

Lifestyle-related signs of overtraining

  • Prolonged general fatigue
  • Increase in tension, depression, anger, or confusion
  • Inability to relax
  • Poor-quality sleep
  • Lack of energy, decreased motivation, moodiness
  • Not feeling joy from things that were once enjoyable

Health-related signs of overtraining

  • Increased occurrences of illness
  • Increased blood pressure and at-rest heart rate
  • Irregular menstrual cycles; missing periods
  • Weight loss; appetite loss
  • Constipation; diarrhea

 

If any of these signs feel familiar, it may be time to make some changes. “It is best to identify these symptoms early on and adjust training to accommodate,” Dr. Goolsby says. “If the symptoms become more severe and prolonged, the recovery takes much longer.”

 

5 Things That Happen When You Work Out for Too Long

 

Problem 1: The Quality of Your Workout Gradually Decreases

Workouts are designed to put stress on your muscles. That’s the only way you can make gains in strength, size and power. However, stress causes fatigue. You might be physically exhausted, grabbing for your knees after a set. Or, you might feel sluggish, slow and weak after finishing a tough workout.

 

Regardless of the type of fatigue you experience, you can expect it to seriously impact your workout performance as you move through your routine. At a certain point, you won’t be able to perform exercises with max strength and speed, and your exercise form will degrade.

 

“Excessively long workouts create a lot of fatigue that will deteriorate your movement patterns, and your technique is going to break down,” says Seedman. “That’s not only going to have a negative impact on that workout itself, but the poor technique you engrained in that workout will trickle into the next workout. “

 

According to Nelson, it’s quality versus quantity. As a developing athlete, you might not be able to handle the workouts you see the pros do. “Unless the athlete is pretty advanced, long workouts are not sustainable,” he says. “When you hear someone who says they were at the gym for two hours today, you know the quality of work at the beginning and end are dramatically different.”

 

Problem 2: Your Body Might Break Down Muscle For Energy

As you pass the 45-minute mark in your workout, cortisol levels begin to rise in your body. Cortisol is a stress hormone that helps regulate metabolism to ensure the body has sufficient energy to function. The concern is that as cortisol levels rise in a workout, the hormone will signal your body to use your muscle protein as a source of energy—essentially wiping out the positive effects of your workout. The exact time when this begins depends on the intensity of your workout, but the levels gradually increase once it starts.

 

Nelson thinks the fear is somewhat unfounded. He points to recent research that found increased cortisol levels during a workout are actually a marker of progress. “Cortisol is used to provide fuel,” says Nelson. “If you have someone who can increase cortisol levels during training, that’s actually a good thing.”

 

However, elevated cortisol levels after a workout can become problematic. “The catch is that as soon as the training is done, we want cortisol levels to go back down to a normal level,” he adds.

 

Seedman explains when cortisol levels remain elevated, inflammation increases throughout the body, which subsequently reduces insulin sensitivity. Insulin helps shuttle the nutrients you eat into your muscles so they can grow. Reduced insulin sensitivity makes it more difficult for this process to occur, putting your body in a situation where it can’t create new muscle.

 

Safety tips

Before starting a cardio workout routine, take stock of your fitness level, and be realistic about what an exercise program would be like for you.

 

If you’ve been sedentary for a while, start with short workouts of low intensity. As you start to build up your endurance, you can make your workouts longer, but not more intense.

 

Once you’re used to longer workouts, you can start to slowly increase the intensity of your cardio workout.

 

Also, keep these safety tips in mind:

 

  • Warm-up for a few minutes with a brisk walk or a few minutes of calisthenics. Cooldown the same way.
  • Skip a workout if you feel sick or you don’t have much energy.
  • Hydrate with fluids before, during, and after your workout.
  • Try to avoid running or jogging on uneven terrain that could increase your risk of an ankle injury or fall.
  • Stop if you feel sudden pain or have trouble catching your breath.

 

Problem 3: Your Muscles Won’t Be Able to Recover

Strength training damages muscles. To gain strength and size, your body repairs the microtears, creating muscle fiber that’s larger and able to handle more stress, or it becomes stronger. This rebuilding process occurs when you recover from workouts, not while you’re training.

 

Create too much damage too often, and your muscles won’t be able to repair themselves. Seedman says, “You could cause your muscles to decrease in size and strength from workouts that are too long because your body can’t recover. It can cause you to go backward.”

 

That’s why it’s recommended to prioritize recovery with routines such as foam rolling (shown in the video above) and even light cycling to help muscles repair before the next workout. You don’t need to spend all of your time liftings.

 

Problem 4: It’s Not Sustainable

At this point, you might be wondering about some of those pro athletes, actors and bodybuilders who are famous for their super-long workouts. Yes, it’s possible to work out for hours, but only under special conditions.

 

Athletes don’t typically do marathon training sessions. If they do, they normally split them into multiple sessions. For example, we saw Tennessee Titans QB Marcus Mariota do about 45 minutes of speed work. He then took an hour’s break and ate some food before going into a 60-minute strength session. According to Nelson, a split like that is fairly common.

 

People who do three-hour workouts need to consider a few things. First, it’s an actor or a bodybuilder, they have a specific goal, to look good, which often must be accomplished in a short amount of time. So drastic training methods might be necessary.

 

These individuals typically pay a ton of money for training and have every resource available to them. They’re closely monitored by experts throughout the process to ensure that things don’t go awry.

 

Nelson adds, “They’re working with someone who is watching and monitoring everything they do. Their recovery is a lot better. The motivation to do it is usually short-term.”

 

High school athletes typically do not have these resources available to them.

 

Should you do cardio every day if you want to lose weight?

Weight loss happens when you use up more calories than you consume. That’s why the calorie-burning effects of cardio exercise can be an excellent way to lose weight.

 

For example, 30 minutes of brisk walking (3.5 miles per hour) can burn about 140 calories. That equates to 980 calories per week, or nearly 4,000 calories a month.

 

Even if you don’t cut back on your calorie consumption, a half-hour of cardio exercise a day could result in losing at least a pound a month (one pound equals about 3,500 calories).

 

Exercising more frequently and making dietary changes could result in even greater weight loss. Keep in mind, though, that as your fitness improves, your body may become more efficient at burning calories.

 

What this means is that, over time, you’ll likely burn fewer calories doing the same exercise. As a result, weight loss may slow down unless you bump up your calorie-burning activities.

 

Problem 5: You Might Overreach or Overtrain

Too much training without allowing for recovery causes overreaching. In simple terms, the body shuts down to protect itself from too much stress. It’s like post-workout fatigue that doesn’t go away. Common symptoms include premature fatigue, lack of strength and endurance, lethargy and elevated resting heart rate.

 

Nelson explains that stress outside of the weight room can make matters worse. School, homework and sports all take their toll. Young athletes need to realize that training adds to this stress, and doing too much can cause the body essentially to fight back.

 

Fortunately, overreaching is short-lived as long as you recover. But if you don’t, you might slip into the overtraining category. The symptoms are more severe and it takes several weeks or even months to recover.

 

What Should You Do?

Nelson advises to train smarter, not longer. Workouts should last no less than 60 minutes and no more than 90 minutes. This is sufficient time to challenge your body with quality reps. Anything more, and you’ll see diminishing returns for your efforts.

 

If you feel inclined to train longer, it’s best to split up your workout. “Instead of a two-hour session, do an hour mid-morning and an hour late afternoon,” says Nelson. “You can get much higher quality work done with way.”

 

Nelson recommends prioritizing the frequency, not the duration, of your workouts. It’s better to do five or six 60- to 90-minute workouts each week than three two-hour workouts.

 

All this depends on the style of training, too. Seedman says that if you’re doing an intense interval workout or a bodybuilding routine with a lot of reps and little rest, 45 minutes might be all that you need. However, if you’re attempting to build max strength and doing only a few reps per set with long rest periods, you might need 90 minutes. If you were to do intervals for 90 minutes, you would quickly burn out.

 

How to recover from overtraining

If you’re experiencing symptoms of overtraining, talk with your coach, athletic trainer or doctor. These sports medicine professionals can work with you to establish personalized guidelines for your recovery.

 

 “It is also important for coaches to identify issues their athletes may be having with strenuous training and have an open dialogue about whether training needs to be adjusted, in addition to ensuring good sleep, nutrition and mental health,” Dr. Goolsby says.

 

Typically, recovery from overtraining includes:

Rest

Rest is crucial for recovery from overtraining. You may need to temporarily stop or cut back on your training — even if it means forgoing an upcoming competition.

Nutrition

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Examine your eating habits. Have you been depriving your body of the calories, protein, vitamins and minerals it needs for high-quality, high-intensity training? Work with a nutritionist for an eating plan that can provide your body with the energy and nutrients it needs for healing.

Mental health

It can be emotionally challenging to take time off from training. Mental health professionals can help with recovery from overtraining by offering space for you to discuss your feelings.

 

 “Getting support and validation for how challenging it can be to take a break can help normalize the experience and help the athlete feel less overwhelmed or discouraged by the break,” Dr. Roche says. “Additionally, mental skills training and other psychology skills can be taught and used during the break. Mindfulness, visualization and other techniques have been shown to be effective in helping athletes prepare and return to sport after injury.”

Gradual return

Your doctor and coach should help you determine when you’re ready to begin training again. Signs that you’re likely ready to resume full training are renewed interest and an ability to train hard with normal responses.

 

Start low and go slow. Your training volume may be reduced by at least 50 to 60 percent. Increase how much you train by about 10 percent each week.

 

Even though easing back into training slowly may be difficult, you should apply the same discipline you developed for training to comply with the recommendations of your sports medicine team.

 

 “The recovery will be different for every athlete,” Dr. Goolsby says, “It’s important to be aware of symptoms with progression back to activity. Trying to get back into full training too quickly would lead to a prolonged recovery.” The more closely you follow professionals’ guidelines, the sooner you’ll be back in the gym, at the track or on the field.

 

What Really Happens to Your Body When You Lift Weights Every Day

 

Your Muscles Grow Bigger and Stronger

Any lifting routine, daily or otherwise, depends on your training goals. For example, if you want to be able to lift heavier weights, your strength-training program will look different from someone’s who wants to grow visibly bigger muscles, also known as hypertrophy, or develop muscle endurance to complete more reps before they fatigue.

 

“Before I give anyone a strength plan, I always tackle what their goal is,” says Prince Brathwaite, a National Academy of Sport Medicine (NASM)-certified personal trainer and owner of Trooper Fitness.

 

For example, are you lifting to build tank-worthy biceps or to hit a new bench press record? “There will be some overlap in rep schemes and phasing, but for the most part, the programs vary in three different ways: volume, effort/intensity and rest,” Brathwaite says.

 

That’s because the muscle fibers you engage and how you do so differs by the goal.

 

First, a refresher: You have two main types of muscle fibers: type I (slow-twitch) and type II (fast-twitch), according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE). 

 

Type I muscle fibers require steady oxygen intake to activate during endurance exercises, like running, biking and swimming. Type II muscle fibers are used during explosive movements like heavy lifts when the task at hand is more than type I fibers can handle alone.

 

Following a higher rep range at a lower intensity will help you train your type I muscle fibers. A lower rep range at a higher intensity will help you train your type II muscle fibers for hypertrophy, explains Kristen Lettenberger, PT, DPT, a certified sports and conditioning specialist (CSCS) at Bespoke Treatments in New York City.

 

You Could Get Hurt

Resistance training can become detrimental if you’re overdoing it or if you don’t address any muscle imbalances, Brathwaite says. Lifting weights every day, especially the same muscle groups and joints, can lead to muscle overuse injuries.

 

In fact, muscle overuse injuries, like biceps tendinitis, don’t just happen from repetitive movements. They can happen from training too frequently and improperly loading the joint.

 

“Choosing the load is important, as well as recovery for the tissues. If you move too quickly into a heavy load without proper warm-up and progression, you can risk injury,” Lettenberger says. “It’s important if you’re new to weight training to clear it with your health care provider or a physical therapist.”

 

Lettenberger also advises working with a certified trainer to ensure that you’re lifting weights with good form and are addressing any imbalances that might lead to injury.

 

The Bottom Line on Lifting Weights Daily

Ultimately, whether you should lift weights every day comes down to your goals and what muscle groups you’re targeting. Training the same muscle groups every day simply doesn’t allow for adequate recovery.

 

“Lifting weights every day is safe so long as you are resting other muscle groups,” Brathwaite says. Split routines, where you train different muscle groups on different days, are great for this.

 

If you don’t, you run the risk of an injury or a plateau. Lifting weights every day can exacerbate the overall impact on your body, making it harder to adapt to the strain.

 

“Breaking through plateaus is as simple as resting and taking time off,” Brathwaite says. “If you have been aggressively strength training for three months, I would take one week off and let my body heal.”

 

“For beginners, I would say one to two days in between sessions,” Lettenberger says. “If you are more advanced and are training four to six days a week, I would recommend hitting different muscles on your back-to-back days, still allowing one to two days between sessions working the same muscle group.”

 

How to avoid overtraining

 

Regardless of whether you’re noticing some of the symptoms of overtraining or simply hoping to stay safe as you level up your workouts, the best fix for overtraining is to avoid doing it in the first place.

 

Here are tips to help keep your routine safe and realistic.

 

Listen to your body. Work closely with your coach or doctor and let them know how you’re feeling.

 

Visualize your workouts. “Using imagery and visualization can provide the rehearsal you want from training, without overloading your body and risking injury,” Dr. Roche says.

 

Keep a training log. Record your feelings of well-being as well as how much you’re exercising. “As you increase your training load, noting how you feel each day in a training log can help you recognize the signs of overtraining so you can reduce that load and prevent overtraining,” Dr. Roche says.

 

Balance training with time for recovery. Adequate rest is not a sign of weakness. You need at least one complete day of rest every week.

 

If you’re training for a specific activity, alternate hard and easy days. Incorporate cross-training and other forms of active rest into your training. As you increase the amount and intensity of your training, work up gradually.

 

Acknowledge when you’re overdoing it — and talk to someone about it. If you find yourself becoming obsessed with training, exercising despite injury or pain, or feeling guilty if you go a day without vigorous exercise, talk with someone about your feelings. You want to have a healthy relationship with exercise.

 

Make sure you’re getting enough calories and nutrients. Your calorie intake should cover what your body needs for training and muscle repair. Work with a nutritionist to evaluate your food habits and make sure you’re getting enough of what you need.

 

Drink lots of water. Dehydration contributes to muscle fatigue. Ensure adequate fluids with the goal of having light-colored urine. Be cautious with fluids that add to dehydration such as caffeinated and alcoholic beverages.

 

Do what you can to reduce your stress. Everyone deals with stress differently. When your stress levels exceed your ability to cope, your body will begin to break down. Look for opportunities to rearrange your priorities to reduce the effects of your stressors.

 

Consider getting help from a mental health professional to work through issues related to your training, job, family, social life, body image, finances, travel, time or anything else that impacts your mental well-being.

 

The bottom line

A 30-minute cardio workout is a safe activity for most people to do every day. However, people who have chronic health conditions may not be able to do as much cardio exercise. But it’s still important to try to be as active as possible.

 

If you typically do more intense and longer cardio workouts, a day of rest each week may help your body recover, and also lower your risk of injury.

 

If your goal is to lose weight, try to slowly increase the duration and intensity of your cardio workouts so you don’t hit a plateau with your weight loss efforts. Also, for best results, try to combine your cardio workouts with strength training workouts each week.

 

If you’re new to cardio exercise, or you have an injury or underlying health condition, be sure to talk to your doctor before starting a new exercise routine.

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