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How Much Exercise is "Too Much"?

A historical perspective on exercise, my thoughts on the 75 Hard challenge, and 6 smart tactics to help you exercise more.

How Much Exercise is "Too Much"?


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Today we’re covering a popular fitness challenge (75 Hard) and what it can tell us about:

  • A historical perspective on exercise and how often humans “exercised” in the past.
  • How the modern world has changed what we consider hard.
  • Six smart tactics to increase your exercise for better and more sustainable health and performance

Let’s roll …

The New York Times recently ran the following story on the 75 Hard program:

For the unfamiliar, 75 Hard is a 75-day fitness/health program created by Andy Frisella, the CEO of 1st Phorm and host of Real AF podcast. Here how 75 Hard works:

  • For 75 days straight, you must:

    • Exercise twice a day for 45 minutes each session. (Note: A walk counts.)

      • At least one of those exercise sessions must be outside.

    • Pick a diet—any diet—and stick to it.

    • Not drink alcohol.

    • Drink at least a gallon of water a day.

    • Read at least 10 pages of a non-fiction book each day.

    • Take a progress picture every day (you don’t have to post them anywhere).

  • The catch: If you break a rule on any day, you have to start over.

Thousands of people do 75 Hard each year.

The Times took their typical trend story approach to 75 Hard. They explained the what, why, who, etc of 75 Hard and covered some possible upsides and downsides of the program. I thought it was a generally fair story for their audience.

The biggest pushback 75 Hard gets is that it’s too extreme—especially the exercising twice a day part.

For example, the Times story explained:

Another example: The NY Post warned that the program is extreme and can be dangerous.

Let’s explore that.

I think our reaction to 75 Hard’s exercise requirements say says less about the program and more about modern humans in general—and how the modern, comfortable world has changed us.

Human activity: a historical perspective

In short

The average human in the past did far more physical activity than is required by 75 Hard. They did this every day of their life to survive. It’s like we were all on the “Life Hard” program.

The details

My book The Comfort Crisis reveals how our increasingly comfortable world has changed us—and not always for the best.

One of the most obvious changes is that we’re far less physically active than we were in the past.

Even just a couple hundred years ago, survival took serious physical effort for most of the world.

But this effort wasn’t “exercise.” In fact, we evolved to avoid any unnecessary activity, so we wouldn’t waste precious calories.

This was activity we put in to survive: from hunting and gathering (which all the world did for about 2.5 million years) to, more recently, farming or other manual labor.

Just how active were we? To answer that question, researchers study groups who still live like humans did in the past.

Most of the research is on hunter-gatherer tribes. But scientists also investigate farming communities who haven’t adopted modern technology, like the Amish.

For example, scientists will strap GPS monitors, activity trackers, or heart rate monitors to hunter-gatherers or the Amish as they live daily life. They’ll do doubly-labeled water tests to see how many calories they burn across a day.

Here’s what they find:

  • We used to take at least 20,000 steps and walk 10 miles a day.
  • When we walked, we usually carried items like tools, food, kids, and more.
  • We did what we now classify as “exercise” (based on the intensity of the movement) for about 200 minutes a day.
  • We burned about 40 percent more calories per day than we currently do.
  • We were even active at rest. Researchers note that when hunter-gatherers “rest,” they usually do so in the squat position, which still activates low levels of muscle.
  • All this activity happened outside. Humans lived outside and were always exposed to the elements. Exposure to excess heat and cold causes your body to burn calories as it regulates its temperature.

And by the way, it’s not just the young people who are highly active.

“In hunter-gatherer tribes even the older adults are getting unbelievably high levels of physical activity,” David Raichlen, an anthropologist who conducts hunter-gatherer studies told me. One of his colleagues wrote, “80-year-old grandmothers are still strong and vital.”

“They have no other option (but to stay active), really,” said Raichlen. For most of history, if a person couldn’t sustain activity and contribute to resource allocation, they wouldn’t survive.

Modern activity levels

In short

Humans are much less active now. Much, much less active.

The details

Humans were highly active for all of history. Then the Industrial Revolution happened. We created machines that began doing our physical labor for us.

The result was great overall. We could leave the drudgery of fieldwork and focus on other kinds of work.

For example, here’s a wild stat I always return to:

  • Women in Mexico spent five hours a day hand-grinding corn to make tortillas.
  • Once we mechanized corn grinding and tortilla making, Mexican women got back five hours of their day and could pursue other things.

But! There’s always a but.

These advances had unintended consequences. We engineered a lot of physical effort out of daily life. And because we evolved to avoid extra movement, we didn’t make up the lost effort.


  • The average American now takes anywhere from 4,000 to 7,000 steps a day, depending on what study you read.
  • And those numbers are dropping. For example, daily step counts dropped by about 600 a day after COVID-19 lockdowns and haven’t bounced back.
  • Only 24% percent of Americans meet the federal exercise guidelines (which are rather low).
  • We no longer move our joints through a full range of motion, which is one reason why hip, shoulder, and back problems are rampant.

This is an incredibly low amount of activity compared to how active we were in the past.

When researchers run all the numbers, they estimate that our ancestors were at least 14 times more active than us.

Is 75 Hard … hard?

In short

Compared to how we lived in the past, 75 Hard is easy.

Compared to how we live and view exercise today, 75 Hard is hard.

The details

Our ancestors did 75 Hard every day of their life, save for the whole reading and progress pictures thing (and, probably, drinking a gallon of water a day because water wasn’t always easy to find).

Indeed, if a hunter-gatherer or Amish person saw the effort level required by 75 Hard, they might wonder why we’re only putting in about 15% of a day’s worth of work.

Why 75 Hard is now hard

In short

We’re all capable of being incredibly physically active. But we’ve engineered our lives to make that harder to do.

The details

Because we’ve tipped so far from our original activity levels, they now seem out of reach.

But we have to remember that hunter-gatherers and the Amish aren’t unique. They’re ordinary people born into an environment that forces them to be highly active.

We’d be just as active if you or I were born into that same environment.

We’re all capable of that level of activity. Our bodies evolved to take it on.

It’s just that our modern environments—paired with the fact that we evolved to avoid physical activity—have allowed our natural fitness to calcify.

Once we invented exercise, it became a separate and distinct time we use to recoup movement.

The implication was that we have our “normal time,” which is mostly sedentary. And then we have our “exercise time,” which is, say, 30 to 60 minutes where we do something physical.

And the cultural push has been to have that “exercise time” happen not everyday, but a few times a week.

Any exercise is undoubtedly helpful for our health. For example, a massive body of evidence shows that 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week leads to huge health benefits. More would, of course, be better. But 150 minutes is an excellent bare minimum to hit.

Yet that also makes exercising 90 total minutes every day—spaced into two sessions—seem daunting. The founder of 75 Hard compares the program to climbing Mt. Everest.

And it is daunting! Here are two examples of why:

1. We have competing interests

People have busy schedules. We’re used to working nine to five. And we’ve got families and chores and other tasks to attend to outside of our jobs.

75 Hard requires that you upend your morning, lunch, or evening and fit a new-ish habit in. Or, at least, significantly ramp up a current habit.

Two daily 45-minute sessions of ANYTHING out of your normal routine is tough. Meditating, crafting, woodworking, or solving puzzles in two 45 minute sessions a day would be just as much of a pain in the ass.

2. We do too much too soon

The University of Georgia kinesiology professor quoted in the NY Times piece is correct: “The biggest risk for injury is if somebody goes from very little to quite a bit,” he said.

He’s spot on. We covered this at length in our piece on running shoes and what really causes running injuries. People who take on big challenges often do too much too soon, get hurt, and quit exercising altogether.

I’m neither pro 75 Hard nor anti 75 Hard. But I am, generally, in favor of anything that helps people—so if 75 Hard helps you, I’m pro 75 Hard.

I do like that 75 Hard gives no exercise recommendations beyond just “exercise and here’s how often.” I.e., it lets you choose what exercise to do.

That allows you to ease in. If you ease in, you’ll avoid injuries.

That, of course, doesn’t mean people will actually ease in. When people commit to 75 Hard, they get excited and start scheduling grueling workouts lol.

Easing in makes exercising more sustainable. But how do you actually do that?

6 smart tactics to increase your exercise