Minimum Effective Dosing of Exercise


Minimum Effective Dosing of Exercise

"Let exercise alternate with rest." -Pythagoras

More is not always better. This applies to exercise just as it does to ice cream. There is clear benefit to physical activity, however fanaticism does not generally bring about good results. Some people become so obsessed with exercise as an end unto itself that they seem forget it’s purpose. Shouldn’t doing something “good for you” actually be good for you?

I listen to a podcast called Iron Radio. It’s about the strength sports- powerlifting, bodybuilding, strongman etc. While the hosts are erudite fellows with deep experience in their subject matter, they often blithely speak of catastrophic injuries to their bodies acquired as a direct result of their training. While I understand that if one is focused on competition, injury is an unfortunate and unavoidable by-product, I happen to think that the foremost governing principle of strength training should be primum non nocere. 

Without being judgmental of those who are OK with getting seriously injured, I promote exercise as a way to avoid injury. I have not always been on the right side of the line. Looking back over my training journals from years past, I come upon things like the time where in 1 session, I did the following:

Barbell Deadlift: 275×5, 345×1, 370×1, 390×1, 355×1, 345×1, 320×2, 315×2, 305×2, 295×2, 275×3

Kettlebell Military Press (each side): 53×5, 53×5,53×4, 53×4,53×4,53×4, 53×4, 53×3, 53×3,53×3,53×3

Pullups: bodyweight x 100 reps (max rep set-20)

Kettlebell Snatch: 53lb x 60 reps

While I was alive afterwards, I’m fairly sure that about 1/3 of the volume of that session would have had the same salutary effect. The point is that there is value in paying attention to what you are hoping to accomplish and discovering where you approach the line of diminishing returns.

In other words, if doing the Stealth Push-ups Challenge for only 2 days per week gets you just as good or better results than doing it for 5 days a week, why do it for 5? If doing a Power Run once a week makes you faster, stronger, and feeling good, why do it 4 times a week if the only additional result is soreness or overuse injuries?


Try establishing some fitness baselines that you feel good about. Things that make you feel better, more durable, stronger, agile. Perhaps the maximum number of pull-ups that you can do and at the same time, the fastest you can run a mile. Then, experiment to determine what is the minimum effective dosage of exercise necessary to maintain or even improve that baseline.

You may be surprised by how consistency, regularity, and attention to what you are hoping to accomplish can pay off. Being sore, achy, and injured does not make you the best athlete you can be.

Exercise dosing is an important aspect of physical fitness. Try a bit of strenuous moderation!



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