I ran into a colleague this week who I haven’t had a chance to catch up with in nearly a year. As he approached, I noticed we was badly limping and in need of some help. It turned out the limp was the result of a groin strain he had suffered kicking a soccer ball back to the neighbor kids. So naturally, we shared a good laugh at his expense. Then he told a story we hear all too often. Over the past month he had been working to close the biggest deal of his life. He spoke of long hours, minimal sleep, and high doses of caffeine before proudly stating, “I’ve still been getting in my 60 minutes of cardio every day.” After digging a little deeper he said, “You know it’s funny, every time I close a deal and the adrenaline wears off, I get sick.”
Why would that be? To him, his cardio workout was one of the few things he could control during a challenging time. It was part of his routine on a normal day and therefore would help him feel “normal” during his negotiation. The problem is, it wasn’t normal. He was in the midst of a prolonged peak performance that robbed him of recovery time, forcing him (in his mind) to use coffee and soda throughout the day to stay afloat. With his cortisol (stress hormone) levels already through the roof, he tacked on 60 minutes of intense daily cardio.
Interestingly, we’re starting to learn that there can actually be detrimental effects to too much exercise, even when not under extraordinary stress. One study from the journal Heart found that 30-year-old men who exercised more than 5 hours a week may actually increase their risk for irregular heartbeat later in life. Just one 60 minute or greater bout can stiffen blood vessels and decrease antioxidant levels. That could certainly be a contributing factor to illness, especially if we are already under-recovered and dehydrated.
Additional research from the journal Heart on stable coronary heart patients found that although the highest risk patients were sedentary, there was also an elevated risk of heart attack and stroke in patients who performed daily high intensity exercise.
What’s even scarier is preliminary research is indicating that long-term excessive endurance exercise (lifelong endurance athletics) may cause adverse health effects such as myocardial fibrosis, irregular heartbeat, anxiety, depression, and an increased mortality rate.
So does this mean you should completely stop running or training hard? Of course not. In fact the body of research surrounding the cognitive benefits of movement continues to grow by the day. What it does highlight is that more is not always better. In each of the groups that were researched, the common element was a lack of recovery between workouts. When we aim to sustain high performance, movement needs to be used strategically. In the world of strength and conditioning this is called periodization. Athletes’ training programs are built into blocks based upon the demands of their sport. When they have a peak performance, their volume of training drops substantially to allow for recovery so they are maximally resilient to the stress their performance will require. At Tignum we call this oscillation.
For my colleague to sustain high performance and avoid illness, I recommended he consider some alternative movement strategies in order to include recovery (in addition to hydration).
Some of the strategies included:
_Decrease his training leading up to and during peak performance from 5 down to 2 or 3 nonconsecutive days.
_Reduce his intensity during his workouts if he wants to stay at 60 minutes (by the way, this was the most difficult for him, as with many of our executive clients).
_Shorten the duration and increase the quality of his workouts by utilizing ESD (interval training).
_Utilize his “off” days for low intensity activities such as foam rolling, daily prep, and walking on recovery breaks.
It’s up to each of us to design our own strategy when it comes to how we utilize movement to sustain high performance. It’s clear that even with a great Performance Mindset (as my client has), compounding increased home or work demands with insufficient Nutrition, Recovery, and excessive, ill-timed Movement can not only sabotage our performance right now but potentially our health in the future.
I hope you find this helpful and as always, we’d love to hear what you think.
By Jake Marx
Tignum // Performance Coach