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30 minutes of exerciseIf you’re anything like most women, you probably think that ‘more is better’ when it comes to exercise.  The more hours you spend in the gym, the more calories you’ll burn and the greater results you’re likely to see, right?

Do you try to do 2 hours in the gym whenever you can so you can lose weight and get fit faster?  Is this the only way you’ve ever been able to slim down?  Stick with what works, right!  Right???

Do you even sometimes feel guilty if you don’t spend more than an hour at the gym?  Feel like anything LESS than an hour isn’t a real workout?

Is more really better?  The answer is NO.  Quality versus quantity is the name of the game, and when it comes to exercise, quality equals intensity!

Overexercising and Damage

Before we go into the topic of intensity, let’s talk about those 2-hour gym sessions. Forcing yourself to commit to long hours at the gym can actually be counter-productive in two ways: psychologically and physically.

First, unless you’re a professional athlete, two hours is a huge chunk of your day, and some days life will get in the way, and it just won’t be possible.  If you only have 30 minutes today, will you bother going to the gym?  Will you say you’ll do a shorter home workout, and then actually DO it…or does it sort of end up on the backburner?  Sometimes when we create hard and fast rules for ourselves, we tend to rebel against them when the going gets tough.  When we can’t live up to our own standards, no matter how unsustainable they may be, we start to feel guilt, and that guilt is NOT motivating.  Hang around with Guilt often enough and it will start to invite its rotten cousins to the party – All-or Nothing Mentality, Self-Criticism and Sugar Binge.

But aren’t the two-hour workouts making you stronger?  Just how much is too much depends on the individual, but for most women, two hours at the gym is actually overtraining and putting you at risk for injury.  You may find yourself pretty sore following these long sessions, which could keep you from getting to the gym the next day.  But maybe you’re hard-core enough to work through the pain the following day!  While you may feel tough, you could be creating weakness in the body.

When we work the same muscle groups over and over day after day, as we do with our legs in most cardio exercise, we are inhibiting the body’s ability to repair muscle and joint tissue.  This can put us at risk for muscle or tendon strains or even stress fractures.  Stress fractures in the legs can take a long time to heal (more than a year) – and this will certainly keep you away from your favorite physical activities!  Too much training can also weaken your immune system.  Prolonged intense exercise can release a chemical called cortisol, a stress molecule in the body that depresses the immune system and puts you at risk for colds and other infections.

Chances are if you’re spending 2 hours at the gym, you are burning a TON of calories, but what affect does this have on the body?  Too high of a calorie deficit can create some nasty problems.  First it can destroy your energy levels, tank your blood sugar levels and make you SUPER hungry.  In this starving state, you may end up overeating following a heavy workout without realizing it.  Often these intense hunger levels lead us to reach for large amounts of refined carbs to quickly raise blood sugar levels and replenish lost calories.  Obviously this is the not the way to improve our metabolism.  Speaking of metabolism, a super high calorie deficit on a regular basis can bring yours practically to a screeching halt!  When we don’t eat enough, our body reads this as a signal that it’s time to go into survival mode and it may start storing more calories for fat instead of burning them, bringing your weight loss to a stop.

Calorie Burn

What if you’re trying to lose pounds?  Don’t those long gym sessions make you burn calories faster and lose more weight?  Not as much as you might think!

Here’s what happens…in a longer workout session our intensity is lower.  It has to be in order for your body to make it through the longer timeframe.  This lower intensity means calorie burn per minute is lower too!

Let’s have a look some calorie burn comparisons from an article today on Yahoo! Health by Lucy Danzinger of SELF Magazine.

Low-Intensity Endurance Activities

This would be your 60 minute steady treadmill walk or jog, stationary bike ride or dance fitness class.  These activities burn around 4 calories per minute or about 240 calories per hour-long session.  At this pace, you can sing or chat with a friend while working out and not get too winded.

Medium-Intensity Endurance Activities

If you take a spin or kickboxing class or bump the treadmill or elliptical up a notch, you’ll be in this zone burning about  6.5 calories per minute.  At this level of intensity you may be able to hum a few lines of a song, but it’ll be tough.  At this medium intensity a 35-minute workout burns the same amount of calories as a 60 minute low-intensity workout does.

HIIT or High Intensity Interval Training

Take an interval-based spin class or do intervals on the treadmill or elliptical and you’re burning 8 – 10 calories per minute.  You only need 24 minutes of these to reach the same level of calorie burn as your leisurely walk!

explosive movementExplosive Moves

Wow!  Did you know jumping jacks blast a whopping 13.5 calories per minute!  Another great strength-building calorie scorcher is step-ups onto a box or a stair at 14.5 calories per minute.  Try to find one higher than a foot for maximum calorie blast.  While you should only do about a minute of these at a time, try them on a HIIT training day, and you’ll certainly get an idea of just how powerful they are!

As you can see, wiping yourself out at the gym day after day for 2-hour sessions isn’t the best tactic for losing weight and getting fit.  In fact, it can really stall your progress.  The calorie comparisons above illustrate that 30 minutes or less of intense exercise is just as effective if not more effective than those long, exhausting low-intensity workouts.

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