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Stop Exercising So Hard! Why Moderate Workouts Really Do Work

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Have you noticed how intense workout programs have become in recent years? The top-selling fitness DVDs are by "America's Toughest Trainer" Jillian Michaels (think 30 Day Shred) and also include P90X and Insanity (advertised as "the hardest fitness program ever put on DVD"). Even Crossfit, which combines gymnastics, power lifting, and plyometrics and was originally used by athletes, firefighters, and soldiers, is gaining popularity among unfit beginners and housewives alike. The ever-popular "Biggest Loser" TV series also depicts people exercising to the point of injury, hospitalization, and vomiting.
I remember a time when commercials for fitness products used to show how easy and effortless it was to lose weight and tone up in just minutes a day. But now, we see the sweat and strain and want to be a part of it. Are we crazy? Am I the only one concerned about this trend?
As a certified fitness professional, I can tell you for a fact that it is both unsafe and very risky for the average Joe (or Jane) to jump into high intensity exercise when just starting a fitness routine. Yet workout programs like these aren't marketed to regular exercisers who want to take their fitness to the next level. They target people who are overweight and obese, out of shape, and/or not already exercising consistently. To go from sitting on the couch to performing high intensity exercise is contraindicated by all reputable fitness organizations, including ACE (American Council on Exercise), ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine), AFAA (Aerobics and Fitness Association of America), NSCA (National Strength and Conditioning Association), The Cooper Institute and more. All reputable fitness organizations say that one must start small with lighter and shorter workouts and then very gradually build up their fitness level before attempting the types of workouts I see being sold to beginners every day.
But safety concerns and risk aside (not that I want to downplay that), what bothers me most about the trend toward high intensity fitness programs is that they are shaping consumers' ideas of what exercise should be like and what it takes to lose weight and get healthy.
Many people believe that this is what exercise is: sweaty, messy, painful, breathless and intense—and that these are requirements for losing weight or getting fit. How likely are you to jump on board if this is what you truly believe about fitness?
Well I'm here to tell you that the ill-conceived ideas of exercise that are shaped by reality TV, late night infomercials, and consumer fitness trends don't hold much water. They sell DVDs and ad space, but they don't help the average person.
Intense workouts set most people up for failure. You fail at the workout itself when you can't keep up. You fail on any day when you can't commit to the full length of the program since most of the workouts are "all or nothing." You fail when you're too sore or tired to want to exercise. You fail when you don't get the fast and amazing results you felt you were promised. And you fail when all of these things combine and make you dread working out.
Here's the truth: Exercise doesn't have to be painful. It doesn't have to leave you tired, sore or breathless. And to be perfectly honest, it should never make you puke. Exercise doesn't have to take hours a day or cost a lot of money. It doesn't have to leave you in dread of your next workout. And it doesn't have to be boring or torturous.
For someone who gets winded walking up a flight of stairs; for the person with mobility issues that has trouble just getting around; for people with diabetes complications that affect their feet; for individuals whose excess weight hurts their joints; for the very people who still aren't exercising regularly for whatever reason—I design workouts, review products, and share fitness tips with YOU in mind. I want you to feel successful on day one, encouraged on day two, excited about day three, energized on day four, confident on day five…
These feelings are far more important than chiseled arms and calorie burn, because these are the things that will keep you coming back to make exercise a habit. Once it's a habit, then you can think about doing more or working harder or challenging yourself with more intense workouts like the examples above (if that's what you like), but first and foremost—you have to just get started. And the beauty of this approach is that YOU CAN DO ANYTHING.
You can walk, dance around your house, try a yoga class or hula hoop in your backyard—regardless of whether it's easy or hard, short or long, or even if it only burns 2 calories per hour. Those intense workouts only burn the hundreds of calories they claim if you're actually doing them regularly, not when the DVDs are collecting dust in your media cabinet.
It's time we stop focusing so intently on the end result and start enjoying the process more. Find a way to move your body that you LOVE and I promise you'll achieve the goals you have in mind. Here are some more workouts and tips to get you started:
What do you think about the trend toward intense exercise? Has it helped you, hurt you or not affected you?

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See more: fitness DVD tv trends


BONNIE1552 2/27/2021
Starting slow and small here. Report
Good to know. Report
PATRICIAAK 11/10/2020
:) Report
When my leg finally heals, I will have to start exercising again. I know I'll have to go slow. I have little energy now. I'll be even more out of shape then. Report
Great Report
Great info! Report
Good info and do some of them Report
I so agree. I switch out my workouts pretty often Report
thanks for sharing Report
Thanks for the great article! :) Report
Excellent article. Good need-to-know information, thanks! Report
I am glad to see you put are getting that word out on those workouts. I worked out with a great trainer e made sure his clients did not do those routines. His was a tough enough but didn't make people sick or too sore to move-just stronger. Report
Thank you for pointing out this trend and thank you for considering those with diabetic complications, the elderly and the movement-challenged. You're making it much easier for us to embrace exercise like we need to! Report
Thanks for the info Report
This is good to know. What a great blog. Thanks Coach Nicole. Report
I loved reading this! I’ve always exercised and pushed myself to make sure things where intense or HIIT. I had to take a week off because of my back and all I could do was walk. I broke through my plateau!!! I think it’s good to mix it up and I find I prefer moderate exercise! Report
Great article! Report
Great article! Report
Slow and steady wins the race. Report
Clearly,my experience is different than a lot back in the day.Yes we trained to exhaustion and then completed the other half of the class (sparring) NO I don't think it damaged me yes I wish now I hadn't stopped. Report
It is a fallacy that exercise only helps if you take it to exhaustion Report
Well said...Thanx! Report
It was a great article and teaches me not to get obsessed and burn out. Report
Good to know...I have felt pretty worthless when I can't keep up with the program. Thxs Report
This is so true a tough workout puts me off so Hurrah for Spark Coach Nicole Report
Good information to know. Report
Amen! I like to change up my routine, maybe try something new once a week. You never know - it might be my next favorite. Report
Moderate exercise does work and is so much easier to handle. Report
Great blog Report
"exercise is: sweaty, messy, painful, breathless and intense". My doctor actually said this to me and would ask me at every visit "are you breathless" when you exercise. Well no. I'm lucky I can walk a mile. Thank you for this article. I am now working out at my own pace. And feeling better every day. :) Report
Thank you, Coach Nicole. This needed to be said, and loudly. I hope people listen!! Report
Good article Report
Good article Report
Not everyone is young eternally. Report
GREAT article! Report
Personally, I LIKE pushing myself as hard as I can. It's NEVER made me puke or feel dizzy, and I love how I feel afterwards. Of course, as an out-of-shape 54-year-old, my "hard as I can" probably ISN'T very hard compared to some of the workouts cited. Report
And I love your workouts. Report
I walk a lot and go to yoga 1 time per. week. I have low blood pressure 80/50 so I can not do any hard workouts at the gym as it lowers it more. I do go to the gym sometimes and workout slow at the fat burning zone. This slightly raises my blood pressure & walking raises it also. I have a blood clot in one lung also. I have to also add salt to my meals to keep my blood pressure up. Report
Totally agree that this Cross Fit/P90X/HIIT trend is not only the reason many people don't start exercising at all or give up exercising completely after they complete whatever random number of days or weeks they were told they needed to do, I also think it's dangerous. You literally CANNOT do some of the exercises safely and with proper form if you're not already at a certain level of fitness and yet these exercise programs push you to work beyond your ability to protect your body from bad form -- even if you're already fit, but even worse if you're just starting out or getting back in. It's been gratifying to see the number of studies that have come out showing that moderate but more frequent exercise has better outcomes in general than these more intense programs. Report
Oh, how I miss Coach Nicole. (Hope she's happy, whatever she's doing now.) I love her common sense approach and her encouragement, without ever exhorting you to push too hard, as many other trainers--yes, even on Spark videos--too often do. Report
The Sparkpeople resources are perfect for someone like myself that was essentially a couch potato for two years. Since joining Sparkpeople and using Coach Nicole's exercises for beginners I'm excited about exercising every day. Report
I don't know. I took dance classes three times a week when I was in my mid-20s. It was challenging (it was barre and Pilates), but I looked great after a few months. And I never vomited once. If you have to barf, maybe you're not as fit as you think. Report
The current popularity of "boot camp"-style workouts really dismays me, especially when people exercise to DVDs where no one is checking their form. Even a lot of Spark videos go too fast and long for me (I'm 62 and have spinal injuries), so I don't do them. We want to work our bodies, but if it hurts or we feel as if we can't catch our breath, something is wrong. Walking will stay my bag. Report
Great blog. Sometimes I have felt inadequate for NOT going into the real intense workouts. I've tried some, but they just aren't for me. I enjoy and look forward to Leslie Sansone and Jessica Smith workouts and programs for every level, with great variety and modifications. They are very effective without going overboard. I'm getting toned and fit, but not going crazy. I feel good about it and I feel good about me! Report
AMEN sister! Those workouts are selling a fantasy to the majority of their customers. Sure it's cool to look and be an buff young sculpted athlete but you don't get there till you've been doing those routines (and reached optimal weight) a looooong time. And as you said - the promoters of those workouts are selling dvd's, not offering magic on a disc.

Great Great blog - one of your best. (btw, I seriously heart your 5 minute workouts. Great for getting real focus back into my life on a sleepy afternoon sitting at work. Thanks!) Report
I enjoy pushing myself, but for some people, walking up a flight of stairs might be pushing themselves. Thank you for reminding people that these difficult exercise videos might not be right for everybody.

That being said, I've done some of these videos, and in general, I think that they can be helpful for many people, if used sensibly. Many of these programs have beginner levels (like Tae Bo), and you can modify them as needed. I've never seen a program that I couldn't do, but I always start with the beginner level, and I modify as needed.

Of course, it is never a good idea to push yourself to the point where you are injuring yourself. Safety is important. Report
I have to agree. You need to go at your own pace and people do work too hard. We want a quick fix and all these ads PROMISE to burn so many calories per however long. If you want to do something so intense, by all means, go for it! BUt you also don't have to THINK that you have to kill yourself to lose a few pounds. Do what is comfortable, that's all. Report
I get the whole argument for not going zero to 120 at takeoff, although there are many people who successfully do just that.
The only thing I truly disagree with is your statement that, "to be perfectly honest, [exercise] should never make you puke." Ever ran a 5K for a PR time? Pushing yourself hard during cardio -- regardless of your fitness level -- will make you throw up. (Or at least dry heave, if your stomach is empty.) It's just a thing. Some people don't show up to a workout to just "play it safe, go slow and make it through." Some people show up to a workout to push their limits. Maybe it isn't safe to push one's limits or challenge oneself during a cardio workout. But you know what? I'll risk it. And I'm not alone.
Vomiting during cardio is simply representation of effort, not problems. I'm not in the habit of doing it regularly, but I'm not afraid to push myself to that point, either. Report
"See your doctor first" is a warning that should be heeded! I didn't and was fortunate not to have had a stroke. I found out a few months after starting that my blood pressure was sky-high. I am not sure what came first: high blood pressure or over-exercising, but it's better to be safe, even if you've been told many times in the past (like I was) that exercise was fine. I know I started out way too intensely, and even the "modified" exercises were too much for me. I dropped out of that program and am taking it slower now. I will never do that level, even if my fitness increases, because a "ripped body" is not my goal. I want a body that functions well in the activities of daily life. Report
I think everyone needs to remind themselves to adapt workouts to their current physical condition. I tried to do too much in a 3 day period and ended up stressing my body out and crashed for 3-4 days after that. This article is correct that all of the information that you read and hear is geared to want us to lose weight, but the bottom line is that you shouldn't have to kill yourself to do it! That being said I am still going to exercise but in MODERATION. Lesson learned. Report