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How Much Cardio Is Too Much? We Asked the Experts

Plus pros share tips for diversifying your fitness routine.

By Erin Bunch April 12, 2024


For many of us, cardio is fun. To some degree, this is due to the endorphins it releases, but it’s also a product of the fact that many of us are specifically obsessed with a type of cardio we enjoy, be it running, cycling, dancing, or swimming. In other words, our beloved choice of cardio is often just as much about enjoyment as it is about exercise.. 

This is a good thing because the feel-good vibes you get after a bout of cardio can make you want to exercise more, which is generally a win for your well-being. But how much cardio is too much? 

Below, we unpack expert recommendations around cardio, how to know when you’re overdoing it, and the best ways to diversify your workout regimen to avoid the negative repercussions of overtraining. 

Is It Possible to Do Too Much Cardio? 

While many people may struggle to get the recommended minimum amount of cardio for general health—more on that below—if you’re an avid exerciser, Dr. Charlotte Weidenbach, a Peloton Instructor and doctor, says it is actually possible to do too much cardio. “‘Too much’ refers to a situation where the body’s capacity to recover from the stress of exercise is exceeded. It’s called overtraining or excessive cardio,” she says. “This leads to negative consequences on physical and mental health.”

How Much Cardio Is Necessary? 

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that adults aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise per week, spread over several days. “This means approximately 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise five days a week, or 25 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise three days a week,” explains Dr. Charlotte. The American Health Association and the American College of Sports Medicine share this recommendation, says exercise physiologist Dr. Sharon Gam.

Moderate intensity, Gam clarifies, refers to a cardio pace at which your heart rate and breathing increase a little bit, while vigorous intensity is a cardio pace at which your heart rate and breathing increase a lot. “The simplest way to know what intensity you’re working at is by using the ‘talk test’,” she says. “At moderate intensity, you should be able to speak in full sentences but be too out of breath to sing. At vigorous intensity, you should be so out of breath that you can only speak a few words at a time.” 

These guidelines represent the minimum amount of cardio exercise recommended by experts. But to determine the amount of cardio you specifically need, and when you might be exceeding some sort of maximum, here are seven factors to contemplate: 

Physical Health

 “Consider your current physical health, including any pre-existing medical conditions or injuries,” says Dr. Charlotte. “Individuals with heart conditions, joint problems, or other health concerns may need to consult with a healthcare professional to determine safe levels of cardio exercise.” 

Fitness Level

Your fitness level also influences the intensity, duration, and frequency of cardio exercise that’s appropriate for you, says Dr. Charlotte. For example, beginners may be at risk for overtraining if they are too ambitious in their early workouts and don’t adopt an approach that involves gradually increasing duration and intensity over time as they build endurance and cardiovascular fitness. 


Age can affect your cardiovascular fitness and recovery abilities as well. “Older adults may need to adjust their cardio routine to accommodate age-related changes in fitness and recovery,” says Dr. Charlotte. 

Fitness Goals

The amount of cardio you need also depends on the reasons you’re exercising, and Dr. Charlotte says it’s crucial to clearly define your goals and then tailor your cardio routine accordingly. “For example, someone training for a marathon will have different cardio requirements compared to someone aiming to improve overall health or lose weight,” she says. 

Recovery and Rest

 Every individual’s body is different, so Dr. Charlotte says it’s important to listen to your body’s signals for fatigue and stress. These signals should help you determine whether or not you’re getting adequate rest and recovery.


“As you become fitter and more accustomed to cardio exercise, it's essential to periodically reassess your cardio routine and adjust intensity, duration, and frequency to continue challenging your cardiovascular system and avoid plateaus,” says Dr. Charlotte. 

Time Availability

“Consider your schedule and how much time you can realistically dedicate to cardio exercise each week,” says Dr. Charlotte. “Balancing exercise with work, family commitments, and other responsibilities is essential for long-term adherence to a fitness routine.”

How Much Cardio Is Too Much? 

There is no universal metric that can be used to determine whether or not someone is overdoing their cardio workouts. It’s best to estimate an appropriate amount for you based on the criteria listed above, and then pay careful attention to your body, which will send signals—outlined below—if you’re overexerting yourself. 

Is It Okay to Do Cardio Every Day?  

According to Gam, you can—and should—do light cardio, like walking, every day; however, engaging in moderate-to-high intensity cardio seven days a week is not advised. “I would recommend everyone, even the fittest athletes, be taking at least one rest day per week for recovery,” says Gam. As she noted above, you can tell if your cardio is moderate or vigorous in intensity by monitoring your heart rate and/or breathing. During moderate intensity cardio, you will be able to talk but not sing. When you reach high intensity, heavy breathing will impede talking. 

Signs You May Be Doing Too Much Cardio 

With any workout regimen, it’s important to listen to your body and make adjustments to your routine accordingly. After all, says Gam, overtraining can have health consequences. “Prolonged overtraining can keep cortisol levels elevated, which can contribute to the risk of developing chronic diseases, impair the production of other hormones like testosterone, and promote inflammation and excess fat storage,” she says. And excessive cardio can also result in loss of muscle mass—especially if you’re not also performing strength training and maintaining a healthy balanced diet. 

But if there’s no set prescription dictating how much is “too much,” how can you tell if you’re overtraining? Here, nine signs to watch out for: 

1. Persistent Fatigue or Exhaustion 

“Fatigue in the context of too much cardio is thought to be a consequence of chronically elevated inflammatory cytokines, which affect the brain and central nervous system,” says Gam. “It can also be a consequence of decreased sleep quality.”

2. Insomnia or Disrupted Sleep Patterns

On that note, Gam says losing Zzz’s can also be a sign of overtraining. Studies have found that increasing exercise volume and intensity can change the amount of time you spend in each sleep stage (for example, slow wave sleep vs REM sleep), which can have an impact on recovery and daytime fatigue levels,” she says. 

Meanwhile, overtraining-related sleep disturbances are believed to be the result of an overactive immune system response. “These could also stem from an imbalance between the two parts of the autonomic nervous system, the parasympathetic nervous system, and the sympathetic nervous system,” adds Gam. “Being able to shift between those two states is an important factor in the ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.”

3. Extreme Muscle Soreness and Stiffness 

While it’s normal to feel sore after a workout, extreme soreness or stiffness can be a sign you’re overdoing it on your cardio. “Exercise, especially repetitive high-impact activities like running, causes cellular muscle damage, which leads to inflammation.” says Gam. Normally, she says, the body repairs that damage, which helps you become fitter and stronger. But in an overtrained state, the muscles don’t fully recover, which you might experience as soreness or stiffness. “If your brain senses there’s too much muscle or joint damage, it can also change the signals it sends to your muscles to either create more muscle tension or decrease the strength of your muscle contractions, or both,” she says. “That’s a protective mechanism to avoid any more damage, but the end result is even more muscle stiffness and weakness.”

4. Frequent Illness or Weakened Immune Function

“Strenuous exercise creates an immune system response, mobilizing immune cells in a process that’s known as immunosurveillance,” says  Gam. “Those immune cells are essentially ‘guarding’ your body, looking for harmful substances and fighting the ones they find. That increased surveillance can last for several hours after an exercise session.” Normally, she explains, the immune response returns to baseline, but when you’re overtraining, the immune system remains constantly on guard. “You might notice a higher incidence of respiratory illnesses because your immune system is too overworked to fight them off,” Gam says. 

5. Mood Disturbances, e.g. Irritability or Depression

Exercise drives changes in neurotransmitters, including serotonin, which affect mood, says Gam. It also changes the brain’s sensitivity to those neurotransmitters. “That can often be a good thing, but with overexercising, those changes might be too large or go in the wrong direction, making the brain less sensitive to certain feel-good substances,” says Gam. Changes in the balance between the sympathetic nervous system (which controls the stress or “fight or flight response”) and the parasympathetic nervous system can also have a significant impact on mood, she adds. 

6. Difficulty Focusing

Changes in focus and attention can also be a consequence of changes in neurotransmitter concentrations and nervous system state, says Gam. 

7. Loss of Appetite 

You might expect to experience an increase in appetite with exercise, but overtraining can actually lead to a decrease. “Exercise changes the concentrations of appetite hormones like leptin and ghrelin. If the levels of those hormones don’t normalize, it can disrupt appetite and lead to a mismatch between energy intake and energy expenditure,” says Gam. “In other words, your body needs more nutrients to recover from excessive cardio, but because your appetite hormones are out of whack, you don’t feel a drive to eat enough to support recovery.” A major calorie or nutrient deficit is, then, itself a stressful state for the body and can create an even bigger stress response, which exacerbates the problem, she adds.

8. Hormonal Imbalances

Most of us aren’t checking our hormone levels on a regular basis, but if you menstruate, abnormalities in your cycle, such as amenorrhea (absence of a period), can be one sign you’re overtraining. “Chronically elevated cortisol and inflammatory cytokines can also drive down testosterone production,” says Gam. “Testosterone levels can be measured with a blood test.”

9. Higher Incidence of Injury, Including Overuse Injuries Such as Stress Fractures or Tendinitis

“Cardio generally involves high volumes of repetitive movements, which could increase the risk of overuse injuries,” says Gam. And because your body is fatigued, you might experience difficulties with balance or form, which can make you more susceptible to injuries as well. In general, not giving your body time to rest and repair can increase the odds of injury.

To stay in tune with your body, and alert to signs of overtraining, Gam recommends keeping a log tracking sleep quality, mood, energy levels, appetite, stress levels, and mental focus. “It can be as simple as jotting down a 1-10 rating for each factor every day,” she says. “You can also keep track of objective measures like resting heart rate or heart rate variability, as well as exercise performance.”

If you notice negative changes that persist for several days in a row, says Gam, it’s likely you’re not properly recovering and should consider taking a deload week or decreasing cardio volume or intensity.  

Doing Too Much Cardio? Try These Exercises Instead

When you’re a bonafide cardio addict, it can be difficult to integrate any other form of exercise into your routine. But the good news is that there are many different ways you can interrupt cardio overtraining—the key is to find what works for you. “Depending on what you enjoy, all of our Peloton classes can be great,” says Dr. Charlotte. “There is stretching to be done after any type of workout, meditation for in-between or mornings/evenings if you need a mental break, yoga for a wholesome mind-and-body-flow, and all types of strength training, with or without weights. Try things out, find what you like, and keep up the great work!” 

Should I Be Lifting Weights Instead of Doing Cardio?

One tried-and-true way to avoid overdoing it on cardio is to mix up your workout regimen by adding in other types of exercise. Specifically, Dr. Charlotte recommends adding strength training workouts into your routine. “Incorporating strength training alongside cardio can create a well-rounded fitness program that promotes overall health, performance, and longevity,” says Dr. Charlotte. 

And strength training is so beneficial that the experts say they would recommend mixing it into your workout regimen even if you aren’t in danger of overdoing your cardio. Specifically, those benefits are as follows: 

  • Balanced fitness

  • Muscle preservation

  • Metabolic benefits 

  • Improved performance

  • Injury prevention

  • Bone health 

  • Functional fitness

  • Reduced disease risk 

  • Psychological benefits 

  • Versatility

How to Incorporate Strength Training Into Your Routine 

Public health organizations recommend that adults perform a minimum of two strength training sessions per week, working all major muscle groups in each session. If this advice has you dreading dumbbells, worry not; Peloton offers a variety of classes geared towards this type of training, allowing you to mix it up based on what you enjoy most or what works best for your body. For example, you can choose from Pilates, Barre, weight training, or boxing-format classes. Some require the use of equipment such as resistance bands or free weights, while others rely on bodyweight only. Additionally, there are classes specifically geared towards those who are strength training as a supplement to their main workout format, e.g. “Strength for Runners.” There are also some great “twofer” classes that include both cardio and strength training in a single workout session, such as Tread Bootcamp, so you can get a completely comprehensive workout in one fell swoop.   

And just as is true with cardio, it’s important not to go overboard with strength training, either. You shouldn’t, for example, lift weights every day. Mixing it up, and allowing adequate time for rest and recovery, is the winning recipe.

This content is for informational and educational purposes only and does not constitute individualized advice. It is not intended to replace professional medical evaluation, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of your physician for questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition. If you are having a medical emergency, call your physician or 911 immediately.


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