Can exercise be bad for you?

We’ve all heard that exercise is good for us.

Regular physical activity can reduce stress, improve cognitive function, strengthen muscles and bones, reduce risk of chronic conditions, help maintain healthy body weight, improve mobility, and about a million other things that increase our lifespan and improve our quality of life.

But can exercise be bad for us?

It might come as a shock, but the answer is a resounding yes.

Exercise can most definitely have negative effects… but please don’t stop reading here!!!

This article is not intended to ward anyone off doing exercise. It is an absolutely essential, fundamental part of life, and we should all find ways of integrating both incidental and structured physical activity into our everyday lives.

OK … so how the hell can exercise be bad for you???

Well, this article is going to look at 4 different ways that exercise can have anything other than positive effects on your body and mind:

  1. Too much exercise.
  2. Not enough exercise.
  3. Poor exercise choices.
  4. Using exercise as your primary weight loss tool.

{Side note: This is a pretty long blog … you may want to get comfy … or just skip to the one that interests you the most}

 

  • 1. Too much exercise.
  • You might have guessed this one - because too much of anything is normally a bad idea (except sex … no such thing as too much sex!)

    Over-exercising can lead to compromised immunity, low blood sugar, fatigue, insomnia, increased risk of injury and chronic conditions, elevated blood pressure, decreased performance, and a host of other issues.

    But more importantly, what does over-exercising look like? Working out every day? Twice a day? What about athletes… don’t they train every day?

    Overexerting oneself physically is different for everybody, but there are some telltale signs that most will experience. These include headaches, constant tiredness yet difficulty sleeping, frequent sickness, mood swings and constant soreness.

    Generally speaking, having adequate rest is the only way to ensure that you don’t over-exercise. Having at least one rest day each week (i.e. a day where you don’t workout) is an integral part of most exercise programs. Even then, if you are exercising 5 or 6 days a week, make sure you are either training different muscle groups, at a different intensity, or in a different style each day to avoid overexertion.

    In particular, if you have a penchant for high intensity exercise or HIIT (read more about it here), just remember that the higher the intensity the greater the rest required, and that when it comes to high intensity exercise, less really is more.

    So don’t train your way out of results - your best approach is a varied exercise week in conjunction with following advice from a qualified professional.

     

  • 2. Not enough exercise.
  •  

    ... well... duhh!! I hear you say. We know that not enough exercise can be bad for us … but isn’t that just the flipside of saying that regular exercise is good for us??

    Close, but not quite.

    I put this in here because of what not exercising enough can do to your relationship with physical activity.

    Let’s paint a scenario.

    There’s a bloke called Bill. Bill is slightly overweight, starting to go bald, single, and lives an ordinary but satisfactory life. Bill doesn’t have a physical job, nor does he have any physical hobbies.

    Bill has just had his 30th birthday, and like most people do when they turn 30, Bill freaks out a little bit and decides he needs to change a few things about his life. So, Bill signs up to his local gym (he got the first two weeks free, and a low rate contract… Bill is a bit of bargain-hunter).

    As he walks out of the gym, Bill feels great. He has never really been a gym guy before, but he has a friend, Tim, who goes all the time. Tim is totally shredded, constantly smiling, and gets alllllllllllll the ladies. Bill can’t wait to look and feel like Tim.

    In the 1st week of his membership Bill goes to the gym, smashes a workout he downloaded from bodybuilding.com, and heads home. Unfortunately, that is the only time he goes to the gym that week, because he is so sore from this first workout that there’s no way he can go again!

    2nd week rolls around, and Bill plucks up the courage to go to the gym again. He doesn’t go quite as hard this time, so after a couple of days rest to get over his DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), he heads again. Twice in one week.

    In the 3rd week he plans to go three times, but something comes up at work (and by something, I mean someone invites him to post-work beers), and he only makes it twice.

    The 4th week, Bill’s mate Tim suggests they go to the gym together, so they do. Yep, you guessed it, Bill is sore again for days after his workout with Tim. So again he only makes it to the gym once, although he does go for a long walk that week as well, to work off the guilt of a cheeky tub of ice-cream he accidentally ate one night.

    The 5th week rolls round, and although Bill does actually make it to the gym three times this week, he is really starting to wonder if all of this gym nonsense is worth it. He’s been working out for over a month now, and yet he still doesn’t look or feel much different at all, let alone resemble Tim the Tricep God.

    By the time the 6th week rolls round, Bill has pretty much lost all motivation for the gym. He goes once, out of a feeling of guilt for still paying for the gym membership, but his workout is lacklustre, and he spends most of the time looking at his phone or trying to catch the eye of any one of the hot gym bunnies working out in their yoga pants and crop tops.

    The 7th week and Bill has absolutely zero motivation. He hasn’t seen any results, and he hasn’t formed a solid routine or habit of exercising. He doesn’t go to the gym at all that week, and starts to try to remember what the exit clauses were in the contract he signed 7 weeks ago ...

    So, did Bill enjoy exercise and feel like it was worth it? Probably not. Was Bill guilty of not doing enough exercise? Yes. And has this little episode given Bill all the more reason to stay away from exercise entirely? Probably!

    Not doing enough exercise, but still doing some, can be very damaging for your relationship with exercise, just like Bill.

    People want results. And normally, people want the most results in the least amount of time with the least amount of effort. We tend to expect that even just getting a gym membership or downloading a Running playlist on Spotify will somehow magically turn us into a fitness god/goddess.

    But frequency and consistency are two fundamental factors when it comes to achieving your fitness related goals.

    Doing just a little bit of exercise here and there? Well, that’s just a really good way to achieve nothing, and then say “See, I knew exercise wasn’t worth it”.

     

  • 3. Poor exercise choices.
  •  

    So this one was the main reason for the article, because you see it at every gym, every bootcamp, every studio… sometimes even when people are being instructed by a trainer!

    Poor exercise choice is probably the most common way that exercise causes negative effects on people’s physical being.

    So what is a poor exercise choice? Resistance vs cardio? High intensity vs low intensity? Group workouts vs solo sessions?

    All of those are valid forms of exercise, so if you enjoy them - go for it!

    What this point is referring to is exercise choices that don’t suit your musculoskeletal structure, posture, biomechanics, movement patterns, and strength/muscle imbalances.

    OK, OK, OK sllooowwww down. What the hell does that all mean?

    What this means is that although most of us have the same number of muscles, bones and joints (except for those born with defects/abnormalities - and if you do - then massive props to you for exercising and killing it at life!), we are all actually put together slightly differently. Our bones are different shapes and sizes, our muscles are different lengths, and our joints have different angles and ranges of motion.

    More importantly, if you put two biomechanically identical newborn babies next to each other, and then got to watch their bodies adapt as they lived two completely different lives, you would be amazed to see how different their bodies ended up looking and working by the time they are in their 20s, 30s, 40s and so on.

    Our bodies are adapting machines. They physically adapt so that you can complete ‘normal’ tasks with less effort and less demand on your structural components. Make your body climb a tree every day, and it will be become very good at climbing that tree. Work as a furniture removalist every week, and your body will become very good at lifting and carrying furniture. Force your body to go underwater for long period of times, and soon you will become a fish (not really, but you will be able to hold your breath underwater much longer than your average person).

    And, as is the case for a lot of us, sit there staring at a computer screen for 50 hours a week, and your body will become very, very good at it.

    The problem here is that the position and patterns that our bodies assume to become good at certain movements (or lack thereof) are not always good for us in the long term.

    Forward head position. Increased curvature of the spine. Hip displacement. Rounded shoulders. Bowed legs/arms. Flat feet. Knock knees. These are all common terms for body positions that (normally) develop over time in response to external stimulus. And for each of these ailments, and lots of other muscle imbalances and less-than-favourable movement patterns, there are most definitely do’s and don'ts in terms of exercises.

    Let’s look at a really common problem just mentioned above - often referred to as desk posture.

    Desk posture comes from, yep, you guessed it, spending too long sitting at a desk. In terms of body position, it normally exhibits a forward head position, internally rotated shoulders, increased kyphosis of the thoracic spine, and an anterior pelvic tilt. At a muscular level, it normally means short and tight pecs, hip flexors, quads and hamstrings, weak upper back muscles, and inactive core and glutes.

    How many people do you know that sit at a desk all day? And how many people do you know who go to the gym and lift heavyweights through traditional movements like the back squat, deadlift and bench press? Are some of those people in the same group?

    Do you think that someone exhibiting all of the movement flaws, muscular imbalances and poor biomechanics just listed above, is really getting benefit from lifting heavy loads? Do you think a spine that is already out of position in daily life, enjoys getting compressed when squatting a 50, 100 or 150kg load? Do you think that someone trying to lift something really heavy from the ground with good form, can do so well when they have tight hip muscles and weak primary moving and stabilising muscles? Do you think that shoulders that are out of position and surrounded by weak and tight muscles, are getting much benefit from pushing a heavy bar up and down?

    The point here is that we all have movement flaws. We all have problems with our biomechanics. We all have muscles that a too tight or too weak. Those of us that don’t … they tend to be professional athletes.

    The very person writing this article - me, Toby, an otherwise young, fit, male Personal Trainer - has a spine that is too straight (honestly I think somewhat from being short my whole life so always standing up very straight!) - and therefore does not enjoy compression at all. During compression, all of the pressure goes to the discs of my spine, rather than being distributed throughout the natural curves of the spine (that I don’t have). Do you think I squat or deadlift heavy? (I don’t, not anymore, after nearly rupturing my L5 S1 disc when I was 24). But don’t worry about me - I am slowly changing the shape of my spine back to its ideal curves.

    So, take Point #3 as a piece of sound advice. If you don’t know whether or not your exercise routine is actually benefitting your body and all it’s strengths, weaknesses, imperfections and imbalances, then please go see someone who does, before you do yourself more harm than good.

     

  • 4. Using exercise as your primary weight loss tool.
  •  

    Let’s just deal with this one really quickly... 

     

    YOU CAN NOT EXERCISE YOUR WAY OUT OF A BAD DIET.

    Full stop. Period. Finito. The end.

    No matter how much you exercise (especially keeping in mind Point #1), you simply can not lose weight if you are eating too much food.

    Notice that I didn’t say too much bad food? Just too much food. You can put on weight eating broccoli, you would just have to eat a lot of it. Just like you can lose weight eating Maccas… you just wouldn’t be able to eat much of it.

    Losing unwanted body fat comes down to one thing and one thing only. Spending more energy than you consume. It is simple maths, not rocket science.

    Our bodies use energy when we are resting, walking, talking, jumping, running, breathing, farting and &%#$ing. And we consume energy every time we eat and/or drink (something other than water). When our bodies have excess, unspent energy left over at the end of the day, we store it as fat.

    Want to lose weight? Move more. Consume less.

    But simply moving more won’t get you there, and is another really easy way to create a negative relationship with exercise. You might have been there yourself… Exercising 5 days a week but not losing weight? Track your calories/kilojoules for a week and see how often you are in a calorie deficit (i.e. where you are spending more than you are consuming). Odds are it is rarely, if ever. Try eating less, and see how you go.

    We hope this blog didn’t bore you, but if you are still reading by now, chances are, it didn’t.

    As always, please don’t take this as medical or even fitness/diet advice. We are just a bunch of educated, opinionated health and life enthusiasts. Consult a professional if you want advice tailored to your specific needs.

    DadBods, over and out.

    P.S. Want to learn more about how exercise is good for you, and perhaps even get stuck into some yourself? Register as a DadBods member here (it’s FREE) to receive information, support and details on upcoming opportunities!


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