May 24, 2022

Exercise Alone Is Not Enough

Exercise is a broad term, with varied aims for different people.  For many of us, we exercise with the goal of improving something.  Maybe that means being able to lift heavier things, or maybe that means being able to walk farther without having to take a break.  Regardless of our specific goals, we typically have the expectation that our exertion equates to something getting easier.  Which it should, and in most cases does!  But while we generally tend to make a direct connection between our work and improvement, it’s a bit of an oversimplification.  Exercise leads to improvement, when combined with another key component – recovery.  Our bodies get stronger in response to healthy amounts of stress, not from exposure to the stress alone.

We can think of our bodies as having a budget of energy.  A good chunk of that budget will go to just getting through the normal things you need to do during the day; some research estimates 20% of our energy use just for our brains!1  If exercise is part of your routine, then it’s likely been adapted into your budget.  But if you’re starting a new exercise program, or if you’re ramping up the intensity of an existing program towards your goals, you might be taking out a loan to meet your energy needs.  Similarly, if demands at work were higher over the week, or there was a late Friday night out to celebrate with friends, you may be spreading your resources a bit thin.

This is not to say that things need to feel perfect during every bout of exercise; far from it.  However, if you’re consistently feeling worn down with your exercise routine, or that the same amount of exertion is getting harder to deal with, it may be a sign that you need to give your body a bit of a chance to catch up.  Luckily, we’re pretty resilient organisms, and it may not take much of a change to bring things back into a better balance. And if we’re going to be honest, for most of us, it’s probably the exercise portion of the improvement equation that needs the most attention.  However for those that have the exercise part down and feel a little stuck on the path towards your goals, don’t forget about the recovery!

-James Gillan, DPT, CSCS, OCS



K. Rojkova, M. Thiebaut de Schotten, Principles of Neuroanatomy: A Short Introduction, Encyclopedia of Behavioral Neuroscience, 2nd edition, (54-59), (2022).