Last post, I said I was starting the intense 1-hour-per-day, 6-day-a-week exercise program P90X. When I posted it, I was hoping that it would spur some people who actually know a lot about exercise to chime in on their thoughts on hormonal health and exercise so that we could get a discussion going about it.

I mentioned in the post that the person who inspired me to think about exercising a little harder was Amber from gokaleo.com, who basically claims that she got her hormonal acne and PCOS to vanish with exercise, particularly strength training exercise.

Now, it’s quite well known that exercise has a positive effect on the body, the mind, the hormones, and in the case of PCOS and the metabolism, exercise is a very important part of healing it.

On the other hand, there is the case where too much intense exercise can make hormones worse. Like female athletes who lose their periods, and anorexic “chronic exercisers” who lose theirs, for example. And I have read quite a few things saying that if you have hormonal problems, “moderate exercise” is better.

But what does that meeean? How much is too much? And does the type of exercise make a difference? Where is this fine line?

I was worried that P90X was going to be too much (at an hour of intense exercise per day), but I didn’t know. But with the help of some lovely commenters on the previous post and more reading on my part, I have realized that yes…. P90X as prescribed is too much. 

Admittedly, part of me doesn’t even want to get into this, because I’m going to bet money that exercise is exactly like nutrition – everyone’s different, and therefore no one can agree on anything, and everyone’s got their little opinions about what is the best way to do things, and everyone fights about it. I am hesitant to go down that rabbit hole.

So I can’t guarantee anything I’m saying is correct – especially since I am no exercise guru – but there are some things that I am going to throw out there about exercise. These are based on the opinion of some of the commenters in the previous article (including Go Kaleo herself, and Tara from Sweat Like a Pig), things I’ve been reading, and my own gut feelings.

So here are the collection of random things about exercise, so we can all come to our own conclusions (feel free to debate any of them):

Collection of Random Thoughts on the Best Way to Exercise:

  • Strength training for the win. It’s the best thing to do if you want to heal your hormonal problems (and acne), and get a sexy body too. If you want to lose weight, it will help you do that. If you want to gain weight, it will help you do that. Most importantly it will change your body composition so that you are actually fit and toned looking and not just skinny with saggy loose skin.
  • If you’re a girl and you’re worried that strength training will make you all bulky and manly, it won’t, unless you really, really try for that. We don’t have the same hormones as men to be able to bulk up, and besides – that doesn’t just happen by accident by picking up a few weights. Bulking up doesn’t just happen to men by accident either. Don’t worry – strength training and weight lifting makes you look svelte, sculpted and sexy. Not like Arnold Schwarzenegger.
  • Both Sweat Like a Pig and Go Kaleo say (and they have a lot of experience working with fitness clients and people with hormonal imbalances, so I am inclined to believe them): if you have a hormonal imbalance – and you can assume that you probably might if you have acne – it is best to stick to strength training with weights three times a week, and the rest of the time, just do light cardio like walking, bike riding, etc. Stuff that you can easily work into your day to day life, and is fun and convenient. Tara from Sweat Like a Pig says 30 minutes of intense cardio exercise per week max while you’re healing.
  • On the matter of intensity they say: the more intense it is, the shorter it should be (with both cardio and strength training). On the matter of strength training, you should lift the heaviest weights you can with proper form and without injuring yourself (start slow and work your way up if you are a beginner). You’ll get stronger this way, and have way better results with your body and hormones by lifting heavy for a shorter amount of time rather than lifting light things for a long time.
  • So why is it that intensity in high frequency can cause hormonal issues? Well although intense exercise has it’s obvious benefits and some vigorous exercise really is needed for health, it is a form of stress on the body (same but different than the psychological stress we usually think of) which releases the stress hormone cortisol from your adrenal glands. This is bad for hormonal health. So the longer you work out at high intensity, the more of that is released, which has consequences. Also, if your body fat drops below a certain percentage, apparently your body stops producing hormones.
  • I believe a big part of the hormonal problems many people have when exercising intensely is because they get in a starvation mindset when trying to lose weight and keep calories as low as possible. You need enough food and calories to fuel your body’s processes, including hormone production. You also need carbs, apparently.
  • So what if you want to lose weight? Strength train, bit of light cardio, and that’s it. Don’t emphasize cardio, like most people do to lose weight. Eating good, real foods will help you lose weight, while the strength training will change your body composition to something really sexy. Eat enough food so that you are within 300 to 500 calories less than the amount you burn each day, and not any less. This ensures you have enough fuel to support all your body procesess and healthy hormones, while still at a calorie deficit so you can lose weight. It might not happen as fast as if you were doing crazy amounts of cardio and eating like a bird, but it you will be much better off for it.
  • What if you want to gain weight like I do? Same thing – eat well, strength train, and skip intense cardio. Eat enough so that you are eating above the amount of calories you burned that day, so that the excess will be put on as healthy lean muscle. That’s the only way to gain healthy, sexy, curvy weight, whether you’re a man or a woman!
  • What about yoga? Well, I am not sure if yoga is cardio or strength… I think it’s a bit of both. But I have also heard that unlike other forms of exercise, it actually calms the nervous system and does NOT release stress (especially if you are making sure to breathe properly), and also has an extremely positive balancing effect on the hormones. Personally I think yoga is a really positive thing to alternate strength training with.

So… that’s what I’ve gathered. But of course it is not black and white. A different commenter from the last post said that she has found that intense running (ie. intense cardio) has an extremely positive effect on her hormones and her acne. However, the key seems to be that she only does it one to three times a week. She has noticed that her friends who run intensely for an hour every day end up losing their periods. So there you go.

So basically, I don’t want to screw up my hormones doing an hour of intense exercise per day. So I am going to modify P90X and cut it way down. Hopefully this will ensure that I get the benefits I’m after (nice sculpted muscle, energy, and hormonal balance) while avoiding overtraining which could hurt my hormonal health.

The general guideline for P90X is three days of strength training (each of which is followed by a 15 minute ab workout), two days of cardio, one of yoga, and one of stretching or rest. All an hour each (except for yoga which is an hour and a half), with a fairly high intensity if you are really giving it your all.

So what I’m going to do is cut each strength training session by half and use heavy weights. So it’s a half hour, plus the the abs workout.

Then I am going to replace one of the one of the cardio workouts with either yoga or a rest day, and cut the other one down to a half hour. It’s true that I really don’t need that much, because I also get a fair bit of cardio in the week since I have to walk and hike with my dogs.

For the yoga, I’m going to rock a different yoga video (somewhere between half and hour to an hour long) from www.myyogaonline.com each time, instead of doing the one from P90X. Because it’s just too long… personally I think an hour and a half of yoga is kind of excessive, but that’s just me.

So my schedule will go something like:

Sunday – Chest and back workout, abs (40 mins total)
Monday – Plyometrics (30 mins)
Tuesday – Arms and shoulder workout, abs (40 mins total)
Wednesday – Yoga (0.5 to 1 hour)
Thursday – Legs and back workout, abs (40 mins total)
Friday –  Yoga (0.5 to 1 hour), or nothing
Saturday – Stretch (1 hour)

Watch Me Talk About All This in Video:

Okay! That’s it! Give your thoughts, experiences, and criticisms on exercise, hormonal health, and acne 

 photos by Shelton Stevens, and Ultimate City Fitness