How Much Cardio Per Week Is Too Much? The Risks Of Overtraining

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I have been working as a Certified Personal Trainer for 15 years, and the majority of my clients are not competitive athletes at the get-go, but rather relatively inactive adults looking to get back into a fitness routine, lose weight, or get in shape to reduce the risk of diseases.

More often than not, long-term clients are transformed from being completely sedentary and someone who self-identifies as “hating exercise,“ to someone who I have to rein back because they are doing too much exercise.

But, can you do too much cardio? Is too much cardio bad for you? How much cardio per week is too much? 

In this workout guide, we will discuss whether too much cardio is bad for you, factors that impact how much cardio you can do before you are doing “too much,“ and guidelines for how much cardio per week is ideal for you.

Let’s dive in! 

A person running on a treadmill.

Can You Do Too Much Cardio?

The message about the importance of getting enough exercise is pervasive.

It seems like almost every year, additional studies come out demonstrating not only the benefits of exercise but also the deleterious consequences of a sedentary lifestyle.1Panahi, S., & Tremblay, A. (2018). Sedentariness and Health: Is Sedentary Behavior More Than Just Physical Inactivity? Frontiers in Public Health6(258). https://doi.org/10.3389/fpubh.2018.00258

Many people assume that the benefits of aerobic exercise operate on a never-ending linear relationship and that the more cardio exercise per week that you do, the healthier you will be.

As a personal trainer and UESCA-certified running and triathlon coach, I would love to say that you can never do too much exercise. However, like other healthy behaviors, the truth is that cardio exercise is an example of where it is possible to do too much of a good thing.

You might then imagine that cardio exercise benefits operate according to the law of diminishing returns. In that, you will see increasing benefits of aerobic exercise the more you do in a fairly linear relationship up to a certain point.

This is true to some degree, but we can actually see an inverse U relationship with the amount of cardio exercise per week versus the health benefits of cardio. This means that doing very little cardio will not improve your health significantly.

Then, as you increase how much cardio exercise you get a week, benefits increase up to a certain point at which they peak.

After this, if you do more cardio exercise, which we might deem to be “too much cardio a week,“ you will see a decline in your health status such that you start to experience the health consequences of overexercising.

A person on a fan bike.

How Much Cardio Per Week Is Too Much?

Deciding how much cardio exercise to do per week depends on numerous factors.

Similarly, what might be too much cardio a week for one person may be reasonable for another based on individual characteristics as well as the type of cardio that you are doing.

While there are no universal limits for how much cardio per week is too much that will apply to everyone, we can start at the baseline with the minimum amount of aerobic exercise you should get each week.

At a minimum, adults should aim to meet the guidelines for physical activity for adults set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention2Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, June 2). How Much Physical Activity do Adults Need? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/adults/index.htm and the British Heart Foundation,3Understanding physical activity. (2022). Bhf.org.uk. https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/publications/being-active/understanding-physical-activity# which are to accumulate either 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity cardio exercise per week.

A person running up stairs.

This is the general threshold of physical activity demonstrated to reduce the risk of lifestyle diseases such as obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, and premature all-cause mortality.

Note that these physical activity guidelines for how much cardio per week to do are doubled if your goal is weight loss such that you should shoot for 300 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week or 150 minutes of vigorous physical activity per week.

You can mix and match or combine the intensity of your cardio workouts to meet the physical activity recommendations.

For example, if you are just trying to meet the minimum cardio exercise requirements for health, you could do 100 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity a week and 25 minutes of vigorous physical activity, as this would be 2/3 of the moderate and 1/3 of the vigorous physical activity recommendations, for a total of 100%.

The upper limit of how much cardio exercise a week you should do varies from person to person based on numerous factors but is generally no more than two hours a day or 14 hours a week for even the fittest athletes.

A person on a rowing machine.

Factors That Impact How Much Cardio Per Week You Should Do

The recommendations for the maximum amount of cardio exercise you should be doing will depend on the interplay of these various factors in your own personal circumstances.

These include your age, fitness level, the type of cardio you are doing, the intensity of your workouts, your stress tolerance and overall workout routine, your diet, sleep, and length of your cardio workouts.

Older adults typically need more recovery between workouts and thus, the max amount of cardio seniors should do per week is typically less than younger individuals.

Aspects of your lifestyle such as your diet, how much sleep you are getting, your stress levels, how active your job is or lifestyle outside of your planned workouts, and your general health status also significantly impact your ability to recover from cardio workouts. 

If any of these lifestyle factors are less than ideal, your body’s tolerance for lots of cardio a week will be compromised.

People in a zumba class.

Beginners or those who are returning from an injury or illness should also do less cardio per week. It is important to give the body time to adapt to the physical stresses imposed by exercise.

Perhaps most importantly, the intensity of your cardio workouts will have a major impact on how much cardio per week is too much. 

The more vigorous your workouts, the greater the resultant stress on your body. 

This is largely why the physical activity guidelines are distributed in terms of the intensity of the exercise with the amount of aerobic exercise recommended for high-intensity exercise being only half of that for moderate-intensity cardio each week.

How Do I Know If I’m Doing Too Much Cardio?

Because there are no objective or universal limits to how much aerobic exercise a week is too much, you should look for subjective signs of overtraining.

Your body will send you signals that you are doing too much and not recovering well from all of the cardio you are doing.

A person jumping rope.

Here are some common signs that you are doing too much cardio a week:

Signs You Are Doing Too Much Cardio Per Week

  • Chronic muscle soreness that doesn’t go away after 42 to 72 hours.
  • An elevation in your typical average heart rate4Carrard, J., Rigort, A.-C., Appenzeller-Herzog, C., Colledge, F., Königstein, K., Hinrichs, T., & Schmidt-Trucksäss, A. (2021). Diagnosing Overtraining Syndrome: A Scoping Review. Sports Health: A Multidisciplinary Approach14(5), 194173812110447. https://doi.org/10.1177/19417381211044739
  • Easy workouts start to feel hard or you are having difficulty maintaining the same intensity or duration of your normal cardio workouts at the same effort level
  • Depression, anxiety, agitation, irritability, or other mood disturbances.
  • Difficulty sleeping5Pulopulos, M. M., Hidalgo, V., Puig-Perez, S., Montoliu, T., & Salvador, A. (2020). Relationship between Cortisol Changes during the Night and Subjective and Objective Sleep Quality in Healthy Older People. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health17(4). https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17041264
  • Low energy
  • Joint pain or increased frequency of getting injured
  • Lack of progress or hitting a fitness plateau despite continuing to train at a high volume and intensity
  • Mental burnout, loss of motivation, and mental fatigue are signs of overreaching in your exercise routine6Weakley, J., Halson, S. L., & Mujika, I. (2022). Overtraining Syndrome Symptoms and Diagnosis in Athletes: Where Is the Research? A Systematic Review. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance17(5), 1–7. https://doi.org/10.1123/ijspp.2021-0448
  • Depressed immunity, such that you are getting sick a lot or frequently feel under the weather
  • Increased appetite and increased body fat storage, particularly in the abdominal area.7Hewagalamulage, S. D., Lee, T. K., Clarke, I. J., & Henry, B. A. (2016). Stress, cortisol, and obesity: a role for cortisol responsiveness in identifying individuals prone to obesity. Domestic Animal Endocrinology56, S112–S120. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.domaniend.2016.03.004

Keeping a workout log and monitoring your resting heart rate, energy levels, muscle soreness, and body weight can be helpful to assess if you’re doing too much cardio exercise.

However, it is also important to work with your doctor or a personal trainer to develop an individualized exercise plan if you have concerns about how much cardio you should be doing. 

Moreover, if you are concerned that you might have an exercise addiction, there are resources that can help you.

Seek the support of a mental health provider so that you can find a healthy relationship with exercise.

To learn more about the different types of exercise you should be performing as part of a well-rounded fitness routine, check out our guide to the five components of health-related fitness here.

People running on treadmills.

References

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Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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