Maintaining balance in life seems to get harder as life goes on. Work, family, kids, nutrition, training, trying to have fun once in a while and doing it all in a high-pressure, fast-paced world amounts to lots and lots of stress, and that’s what you have to get a handle on in order to effectively do all those things you want or need to.

Keep in mind that training is stressful on your body, and if you’re swimming in a sea of stress already, you may be doing more harm than good by training hard. Some people can get away with it, but for most of us, adding the stress of hard workouts on top of the rest of our stress is too much to handle for long. Your body responds to all kinds of stresses in the same way. Whether you’re getting attacked by a tiger or you’re coming up fast on a big work deadline or someone cuts you off and almost causes you to crash on your way home, your body responds with the same hormone changes.

The primary hormone that is produced by your body during times of stress is cortisol. And while cortisol is good and necessary, having too much of it hanging out in your body for too long is detrimental to your health. It lowers your immune system, makes sleep difficult, causes blood sugar problems and weight gain, and a bunch of other problems. If you’ve ever gotten bloated for a couple of days after a hard workout, you can thank cortisol for that, too.

Unless you’re very lucky, you need to find balance in life and that means not adding to more stress with too long, too frequent or too intense training. In order of importance, you need to be eating right first, then sleeping and managing stress properly, getting regular movement, and worrying about a specific training regimen last. You don’t have to collapse into a pool of your own fluids (and, sometimes, solids!) every workout, or be sore for days on end. When you do, you’re overdoing it. For most of us, aiming for a few strength training sessions, and one or two each of short, high-intensity and longer cardio workouts per week is plenty. It challenges the various energy systems of the body and isn’t overdoing it for most people.

Your training should be mostly fun, energizing and invigorating. If it’s not, it’s simply stressing you out even more. Don’t be afraid to just go for a nice long walk when you get home from a particularly hard day, or play with your kids or run around at the dog park or anything else that is active. Consistent activity is a better approach than working out like you’re insane, getting bloated and sick, being sore for several days, and then hitting it harder the next time because you “let yourself down.”

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