Too much of a good thing?

Drinking water is a good thing, right?

By Aqua Mechanical [CC BY 2.0 (], from Flickr

By Aqua Mechanical [CC BY 2.0 (], from Flickr

An adult human body is composed of about 60% water and we must take in water to survive. It regulates our body temperature; it’s used as a building material; it flushes waste; and it lubricates our joints. So it may be surprising to hear that drinking too much water can be bad for you. If you drink more than 1 liter per hour, the kidneys can’t keep up and your body experiences hyponatremia, which causes seizures, organ failure, and in rare cases, death. From too much water…

If that doesn’t prove that too much of a good thing can be very bad, nothing will.

It demonstrates that we have to practice moderation in all things; we have to think about the end goal and moderate our activities to make sure that we are accomplishing our goal.

For the longest time, the common guidelines were that everyone should do 2-3 hours worth of cardio training, 2 hours of strength training, and 1 hour of mind-body training every week to “improve health”. People have tried to follow these recommendations to the letter, but carving out 6 hours per week is tough! And to what end? What if you’re doing this, but aren’t seeing the results you were looking for? Or what if your health is great; how long do you need to continue doing this? Can we burn ourselves out?

Now more than ever in human history, there are tons of options for working out. And in spite of that, now more than ever in human history, there are more obese people, more injured people, more people with poor body images. And the answer we hear most often is that we need to work out more, but is that really the case?

A recent study from the journal, Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, took a look at three groups of individuals doing the same workout, varying the speed of the exercise. So, one group did a chest press for 2 seconds on the way down and 4 seconds on the way back up; another group did 10 seconds on the way down, 10 seconds back up. Every group did their workout to momentary failure. The shorter duration exercisers did more reps than the slower exercisers, but all of them spent approximately the same length of time under load, about 90 seconds. The researchers found no significant difference between the three groups, even though the slowest group was only doing 1.5 reps of each exercise. You read that right: ONE AND A HALF reps at 30 seconds down and 30 seconds up during each workout.

In another study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, three groups of experienced lifters were put through the same regular workout with the only difference being the volume of exercise: one group did a single set, the second group did three sets, and the fifth group did five sets. They all used a weight that took them to momentary failure after about 8 to 12 reps. The researchers found that all of the participants experienced the same strength gains, even though the single set only took about 17 minutes to finish and the five sets took about 70 minutes to finish. Those participants that did more repetitions experienced greater muscle hypertrophy; in other words, their muscles grew bigger.

Both of these studies confirm what we’ve known all along: it’s not quantity, it’s quality.

In both studies, the key was reaching momentary failure; if you get to the point where you experience momentary failure, you will experience strength gains, regardless of the length of the workout.

But we get so caught up in spending hours at the gym. And often, because we’re expecting to stay for a period of time, we never push ourselves to momentary failure, saving some in the tank so that we can last the full duration. If strength is the goal and you consistently practice reaching momentary failure, you could spend as little as 20 minutes in the gym a couple of times per week and get the job done.

By Marina Shemesh [CC0 1.0 (], from

By Marina Shemesh [CC0 1.0 (], from

This is one of the reasons I love Les Mills BODYPUMPⓇ. Each muscle group is given anywhere from 3 to 6 minutes of isolated work. When I take the class as a participant, I focus on maintaining perfect technique every rep and I select a weight that takes me to momentary failure by the time the workout for each muscle group is done. That’s been the recipe that I’ve used to get stronger and accomplish my goals.