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Higher Intensity = Higher Risk?

Over the past decade or so, we have seen a massive increase in participation in high intensity exercise classes such as CrossFit, Orange Theory, Peloton, and more. These classes offer a very rewarding and competitive environment that leaves you feeling energized and accomplished. There’s nothing quite like a high intensity interval workout to really get your blood pumping! However, I have noticed that over the past several years there has been an overemphasis on high intensity training. In fact, some of my athletes routinely only participate in high intensity training. Meaning, they may perform 4-5 workouts per week but all of them are high intensity. They spend very little time in low to moderate intensity exercise. You can also think about this in relation to heart rate zones. My runners and triathletes will know all about zones for training and how to maximize training adaptations by staying within certain zones. But in regards to high intensity classes, how much is too much?

I like to describe this as a piggy bank. It’s pretty simple – if you do activities that take more out of you than put in, it is a withdrawal – and vice versa. So, for example, low or moderate intensity exercise is a net deposit, but high intensity exercise is a net withdrawal. The lines are not exact, but we can understand the concept simply enough.

In relation to our earlier discussion, you can now see that it is going to be a problem if we are only performing high intensity exercise. Eventually, you will make enough deposits to run out of piggy bank funds and we hit injury bankruptcy and overtraining. That’s not where we want to end up. We need to be sure that we are adding enough deposits to counteract the impact we are having from high intensity exercise or racing. Now, if you are someone who has routinely participated in CrossFit, Orange Theory, or Peloton then you know the propensity the programming has towards only high intensity. It is very challenging to program in lower intensity workouts or those may be the days you voluntarily skip because it’s not a “real workout”. This is a dangerous game to play because your piggy bank is going to be running really low.

What is the solution? Well, the solution is pretty simple. Start adding in more deposits versus withdrawals. Choose to do lower intensity exercise days. Spend more time on recovery and rehab. Be absolutely certain that you are not only performing high intensity when you exercise. You should have a well-rounded program that allows for easy, moderate, and hard days. Be selective on what days you go to class and what workouts you perform on the bike. Remember, your body needs time to recover to build! Some have even suggested that recovery is more important than training itself, because adaptations can only occur during recovery.

Need help figuring out how this looks in your exercise life? I would be happy to assist in any way that I can. Just remember: keep investing in your little piggy!

Thanks for reading,



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