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Is it safe to work out every day? Yes and no, according to a trainer

It depends on how you define working out.
young sportive woman training with an ab wheel
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As a personal trainer and weight-loss coach, I am constantly answering health and fitness questions from my clients, on social media and in our Start TODAY Facebook group. In this column, I address some of the most common questions and roadblocks that trip people up on their journey to establish a health and fitness routine. 

We're all looking for that sweet spot when it comes to fitness, that ephemeral balance between working out too much and not working out enough. Finding it can be tricky. Some of my clients ask me if it’s bad to exercise daily. The answer is yes and no — it depends on how you define working out.

As a personal trainer and weight loss coach, I generally advise my clients to move every single day. When we move our bodies, oxygen and nutrients are delivered to tissues and the cardiovascular system works more efficiently during daily tasks. But moving every day doesn't necessarily mean "working out." What daily movement looks like for each person will, and should, vary. Let's break it down.

Is it bad to work out every day?

If your question is whether you need to do a hardcore, sweat-inducing workout every single day, then the answer is no. Many people find this answer liberating. People are often intimidated by committing to a healthy lifestyle because they think that means intense exercise every day, but your workout plan may also include 20 minutes of walking, stretching, foam rolling or gentle yoga.

In fact, at the maximum, I recommend doing strength training three times a week for 30 minutes and cardio exercise five days a week for 30 minutes. Of course, if you are an athlete or training for a race, your workout schedule may be more intense than this. But those are my recommendations for people who are in generally good health and want to maintain a fitness routine.

How to start working out every day

For beginners, I recommend easing into a workout routine by starting with 30 minutes of exercise, five days a week. In the beginning, it doesn’t matter what that workout is. It could be a 30-minute walk, 30 minutes of yoga, 30 minutes of lifting dumbbells or body-weight exercises, or even 30 minutes of stretching!

On the two remaining days each week, I encourage people to do something leisurely, like walk around the block a few times — for a total of 20 minutes — or foam roll to loosen up their body.

Once you get into a workout rhythm, you can up the ante to cater your workouts to your goals. For example, if your goal is to lose weight, include HIIT workouts a few days a week and break them up with a few days of yoga. HIIT workouts are an effective way to burn calories and boost your metabolism and yoga helps reduce cortisol levels and help the muscles recover.

Beware of over-exercising, too. Listen to your body. If you find that your body is constantly sore or fatigued from exercising too frequently or too hard, give your body more time for recovery. You may find yourself craving a yoga session or a walk around the neighborhood — let that be your movement for the day!

Take advantage of the days when you feel energized to get in a more rigorous workout. In the end, a balanced, varied workout plan will leave you feeling not only stronger, but happier, too.

The benefits of working out every day

Daily exercise helps our bodies physically with things like improved circulation, heart health, muscle strength and flexibility, burning calories and speeding up the metabolism. And daily exercise can also help us maintain mental health and boost our moods. Prioritizing movement on a daily basis can improve your energy and reduce the symptoms of stress, anxiety and even depression. 

The cons of working out every day

Besides general fatigue, overexercising or pushing yourself too hard can lead to repetitive use injuries from doing the same type of movement incorrectly or with poor form. And if stretching isn't a regular part of your routine, exercise too frequently can also lead to strained or pulled muscles in the legs or a reduction in joint mobility around the shoulders and hips. 

In terms of weight loss, I find that when clients are over-exercising and pushing themselves too hard and thereby creating more stress for their bodies, weight loss slows or becomes stagnant. Your body can only handle so much stress and, while exercise is generally considered "good stress," too much of it can be taxing. That energy takes away from your body's ability to lose weight, improve digestion and a calm the nervous system.

Is it okay to work out multiple times a day?

 As a trainer, and also a yoga and Pilates instructor, I enjoy taking my morning walk for 20 minutes. Then, later in the morning I’ll do a yoga routine for 20 minutes. And I may play tennis for 1-2 hours or do a 15 minute strength training workout. Some days though, I only get in my walk or only get in 20 minutes of yoga. For me, each day is different. None of these workout times are overly strenuous. I'm not huffing and puffing through them or feeling sore from the workout the next day. Therefore, this type of exercising snacking works for me.

For others, taking stretch or dance breaks throughout the day, playing recreational sports — like tennis — and doing a nighttime yoga class fits with their needs and their schedules. Moving our bodies is something we begin to crave. If you don’t know what it feels like to be more flexible, after you add stretching into your daily life you’ll probably love how much looser you feel and that makes you want to keep doing it daily. Again, listen to your body. If you want to exercise 3 times a day for 20 minutes because it feels good, then do it! But if it’s torture, then don’t!

How can you tell if you are exercising too much?

If you are consistently sore from workouts, nursing injury after injury, don’t enjoy how much you’re exercising or you're not seeing the results you want to see, you might want to reconsider your workout schedule. These each on their own and collectively can be signs that you are exercising too much.

If you find that you're overexercising, you don't have to give up completely, though! Back off, train every other day, or change your workout altogether. If you do CrossFit or HIIT workouts and feel like you’re beating yourself up but not reaping the benefits like feeling better physically in your body, then back off and do lower impact HIIT workouts, Lower impact cardio (avoiding jumping!), and even Pilates or Yoga to take pressure off of your joints.

More of your questions, answered!