Is Over-Exercise Blocking Your Weight Loss Goals?

Written by

It is common to include a well-balanced workout schedule into weight loss plans. Unfortunately, many disregard the balanced aspect of their exercise plan and overly exert themselves in an effort to get an edge on fat burning. Interestingly, this often has the opposite effect by destroying muscle, interrupting hormone activity, and promoting weight retention.

In order to build muscle, it must first be partially torn or broken down and subsequently repaired. This is what happens when we exercise. When given the appropriate time to rebuild this increases muscle mass and improves strength. Skipping this time, known as periodization, can cause destruction of muscle tissue and promote fat acquisition and retention. It’s not uncommon for those who exercise too aggressively or too frequently to experience the muscle deterioration and even begin gaining weight.

Excessive exercise can also contribute to weight gain and retention through consumption of muscle tissue. When the body is overly active it must tap into energy stores. Many believe that by working out aggressively, the body will automatically start using fat to fuel the body thereby burning unwanted weight. However, if you are exercising too much, the body can begin cannibalizing muscle tissue for fuel while holding on to fat. This reduces the body’s ability to burn fat and promotes its acquisition.

How Too Much Exercise Can Disrupt Hormones

Hormones play an important role in regulating weight, building muscle, and burning fat. Two prominent hormones regarding exercise and its impact on weight loss are cortisol and testosterone. These two hormones influence how the body builds muscle and retains fat. When a person exercises, testosterone and cortisol are released to boost energy levels, build muscle, and improve focus. However, when a person engages in too much exercise at too high intensity issues can arise.

Heavy resistance or weight lifting exercises have been shown to prompt a notable and immediate increase in cortisol levels. If these levels are maintained for an extended period, various health issues including sleep disorders, digestive issues, depression, and memory problems may develop. Increased cortisol levels may also disrupt the adrenals which are responsible for producing many different hormones that affect weight gain and retention. This may be why studies show that excess cortisol promotes fat retention and storage around the belly. Therefore, because of its influence on hormone function, excessive exercise resulting in sustained and elevated cortisol levels can significantly impede weight loss and cause weight gain.

The Signs of Over-Exercise

Those who work out regularly and begin feeling like they are less capable of completing their typical routine may be causing more harm than good. When it feels almost impossible to complete a normal workout, it is likely that the body has devoured too much muscle due to overtraining. It is common for those who over-exercise to regularly feel fatigued throughout the day due in part to the excessive burning of muscle.

In addition to impeding weight loss, overtraining can increase the risk of contracting other illnesses because the body is not running as efficiently as it should. Rather than experiencing the benefits of healthy exercise such as more energy, having a better sense of self, and losing weight, those who exercise at an unhealthy rate are likely to experience a variety of symptoms and disruptions including,

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Difficulty thinking clearly
  • Digestive problems
  • Extended periods of fatigue
  • Increased storage of fat
  • Lethargy in the afternoon
  • Mood swings
  • Muscle loss
  • Poor sleep

To avoid these detrimental symptoms, it is important to maintain an appropriate balance of exercise and rest in addition to following a healthy diet.

Individualized Workouts

Each person has their own goals and reasons for working out. Furthermore, everybody is different and requires an individualized plan to achieve their desired results. Each workout schedule and routine should be constructed to fit individual needs. However, there are some general tips to follow that will help avoid overtraining.

Some techniques to keep in mind when constructing a workout plan is to establish the appropriate frequency, rotate the workouts, and allow enough time for the body to rest and rebuild between sessions.

Limiting the frequency of workouts can help ensure that the body does not become overworked and subsequently destroy muscle and retain more fat. Reducing the number of workouts does not necessarily mean that the intensity of the workout must be decreased. However, high intensity workouts that produce an increased volume of cortisol should only be done two to three times per week.

Engaging in different activities and working different muscle groups help relieve strain from individual areas, which helps reduce the risk of overexerting a specific group. Resistance training and weight lifting should always be done on a cycle moving from one muscle group to another. Furthermore, incorporating other activities such as swimming, running, biking, and even yoga into a routine can help limit strain and maintain appropriate cortisol levels. Stress reducing exercises such as yoga and meditation have been shown to improve relaxation and muscle repair.

Adequate rest is equally important as the exercise itself. When working out it is critical to allow time for the body to repair itself and build beneficial muscle tissue. An important part of this process is getting enough sleep every night. Sleep should always be a priority but even more so on workout days.

Everything in Moderation

Even though exercise is a major component of wellness it, like many other things, can be harmful if done too often or at too high intensity. Over-exercise can contribute to weight gain and retention by destroying fat-burning muscle tissue, disrupting hormones, and promoting fat storage. It may also trigger various symptoms that make weight loss more difficult. To avoid these issues try reducing workout frequency, engaging in a variety of activities, and allowing appropriate time for rest.

Every workout plan is unique and should be constructed to suit individual needs and goals. Establishing healthy workout guidelines and following through with them can protect your body from overexertion and promote better sustainable weight loss.


1. What Can Over Exercising do to Your Thyroid? The National Academy of Hypothyroidism.

2. Over-Exercising & Weight Gain. Livestrong.

3. Why You May Need To Exercise Less. Chris Kresser.

About Holtorf Medical Group

The Holtorf Medical Group specializes in optimizing quality of life and being medical detectives to uncover the underlying cause of symptoms, rather than just prescribing medications to cover-up the symptoms. We are experts in natural, prescription bioidentical hormone replacement and optimization, complex endocrine dysfunction, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome and Lyme disease.

We’ve dedicated our practice to providing you the best in evidenced-based, integrative medicine that’s not only safe and effective, but provides measurable results.