How many days a week should you work out?
Unlike the rich and famous, few of us have infinite time to exercise. Which means getting to the gym can be a chore, despite its importance. We need to do 30 minutes of exercise a day. For some, that’s setting the bar low. For others, it’s likely to be a real struggle. No matter where your fitness lies, you likely want to do more, which begs the question: how much is enough?
“It is important to note that this is the minimum recommendation for maintaining good health and that more exercise can provide additional health benefits.” But, if you’re looking for someone to tell you ‘Do x many exercises x times a week’ it turns out, there is no right answer…
And then comes the question….What’s more important, quality or quantity?
There’s a saying that there’s no such thing as a bad workout. But is that true?
“There are studies that explains, when participants performed strength training exercises with proper form and intensity, they experienced significant increases in muscle strength and size,”
In other words, proper form of workout leads to better gains. Plus, by exercising with good technique and at an appropriate tempo, you’ll reduce your risk of injury.
So you are left with an answer…..“Focusing on quality over quantity in your workouts is important because it can help to reduce the risk of injury, increase muscle activation and growth, and help avoid overtraining,”
So, if you’re fitting in five sessions a week but one is a bit rushed and you aren’t really feeling it on two others, you probably aren’t getting the most out of your time in the gym…
How many workouts do I actually need to do?
How many workouts you should be hitting is entirely subjective, based on your age, fitness level, health conditions and goals. For many of us, though, the reason we go to the gym is because we feel like we have to look a certain way. Which isn’t great…
“When we feel we have to do a certain number of workouts a week, it is often driven by external factors such as societal expectations or a desire to meet certain physical standards,” says Dillon. “In these cases, the motivation to exercise is often not internally driven and may be based on a sense of obligation or guilt. In this scenario, it can be easy to beat ourselves up if we miss a workout,” he continues.
Instead, it’s healthier to set yourself a goal. Maybe you want to compete in your local gym’s CrossFit comp? Maybe you want to run a marathon? By setting these goals, you’re no longer working towards (e.g.) getting a six pack with no real road map of how to get there. With a specific end in sight, you can work on a viable training plan, either alone or with the help of a coach or online communities. Suddenly, your workouts have structure and the answer to how many sessions you ‘need’ to be doing becomes clearer.
“When we are actually training for something, the motivation is on the end goal, the progress, and the journey towards it,” Dillon adds.
Don’t fancy signing up for a couch to 5k? There is another way to set goals.
“Focus on progress rather than perfection,” advises Dillon. “When we do this we are more likely to be motivated by our progress and to be less discouraged by setbacks.”
How to prevent working out becoming a chore?
Even with a goal to work towards there’ll be days when going to the gym is the last thing you want to do. Dillon advises that you shouldn’t beat yourself up if you miss a session – that’s normal. But, in order to sustain your fitness, it’s important to find activities we actually enjoy; not everyone wants to go to the gym and bench press for hours, for example.
“When we find physical activities that we enjoy, we are more likely to make time for them in our schedules and engage in them consistently,” explains Dillon. “This is important because a consistent exercise routine is necessary to see the physical and mental health benefits of exercise.”
With an activity we don’t like, we can feel dread, and can quickly stop going, or stop trying. Meaning it soon becomes pointless.
Try signing up for your local boxing gym, bouldering wall, swim club or whatever else excites you. These types of activities will usually have set sessions each week, so you can choose to go to one or more, throwing in the odd extra home or gym workout as you like.
A rough guide based on workout goals
Now you’ve established your goals, you can set out trying to achieve them. As Dillon explained, the specifics of your workout plan will depend on you as an individual and you should always consult a professional before setting out. But, as a rough guide…
For weight loss:
“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, or a combination of both, per week,” says Dillon. ”Additionally, the CDC recommends incorporating muscle-strengthening activities that involve all major muscle groups at least two days a week. This could include weightlifting, resistance training, or bodyweight exercises. Your week can be split into 5, 30 minute sessions of moderate intensity activity which will leave you with 2 rest days.”
For muscle gain:
“To gain muscle, it’s important to engage in regular resistance training that targets all major muscle groups. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends 2-3 days per week of resistance training for muscle gain. Each session should include 8-12 repetitions of each exercise, with a weight that is heavy enough to cause muscle fatigue by the final repetition,” says Dillon, adding that: “It’s important to note that muscle growth and recovery can take time, and consistency is key.”
For cardiovascular fitness:
“The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, or a combination of both, per week,” says Dillon. “Five workouts a week of 30 minutes will be enough for you to achieve your cardiovascular fitness goals. Four sessions of more intense workouts paired with adequate rest and recovery will also improve your cardiovascular fitness.”
Before you rush out to the gym, Dillon has some last words of advice. “It’s important to note that no matter what your fitness goals are, working out should be balanced with recovery days and adequate sleep, so that the body can repair and adapt to the stress of the workout,” he warns. “Overtraining can lead to injury and burnout, and it’s important to listen to our bodies and adjust the workout routine accordingly.”
In short: set your goals, make a plan, don’t beat yourself up if you have a day off, and make sure you’re giving your body time to recover. You got this.