“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!” — Benjamin Franklin
There’s a good chance many of us are either exercising too much or too little. So, how many days per week should you work out? There’s no one size fits all answer that works for everyone. However, I offer some ideas and tips to commonly asked questions that might help you achieve your fitness goals.
As a Personal trainer for over 17 years I have been asked some interesting questions from many people trying to achieve their fitness goals.
Hence, I thought this would be a great opportunity to share my knowledge around the three most common questions that seem to consistently get asked:
- ‘How many times a week should I exercise?’
- ‘How long should my workouts be?’
- ‘How long does it actually take to see results ?’
How Many Times a Week should you Exercise?
“Don’t count the days, make the days count.” —Muhammad Ali
This is one of the most regular asked questions, especially from first-time gym-goers. However, when it comes to how many times you should be exercising per week, there’s not a simple cut and dry answer.
There’s not one formula that works perfectly for everyone. For example, if you are new to visiting the gym you’ll probably see some results fairly quickly from just one day a week visit to the gym. Alternatively, if you’ve been a consistent multi visitor to the gym each week and you decide to cut back to one day a week I can guarantee you will be challenged to stay in peak shape or make any progress.
Ultimately, there needs to be an increase or overload from whatever is your base line starting point. So, like the previous example, if zero is your starting point 1 or 2 visits to the gym will be great to get things moving. However, if you visit the gym 4 or 5 times a week and see no positive results you will need to look at changing other areas of your workout, such as duration and intensity.
The goal is to find a balanced workout that challenges you enough to give you the desired results. After each workout you should feel energised and motivated to go again for next time. It is detrimental to the cause to feel so exhausted that you can barely move.
Over the years I have seen too many people push too quickly outside their comfort zone. Long term this impacts their enthusiasm and enjoyment to keep exercising. They become mentally destroyed before they have even started.
An example of this is where I have had new enthusiastic clients asked me to train them five days per week. Financially for me that would be amazing. But realistically I see these types of requests from new gym-goers as red flags. Trying to go from zero to full speed is an accident waiting to happen. It’s a short term strategy. All fitness goals should be long term with short term targets.
So how many days should you be working out per week?
The response I always have to this type of question is to ask another question: “What is your goal?”
- lose weight
- combat anxiety and depression
- build endurance
- strengthen muscles
- feel good
- combination of all of the above
As you can see there are a number of factors that need to be considered before offering a definite answer to the question. As a general rule, when goals are not defined or specific, I would always suggest scheduling exercising every second day. This equates to training three to four times per week for a general wellbeing plan in line with most health study recommendations.
This type of plan is a useful guide for any new gym goer for a period of time. However, your body will adapt quickly and the goal posts will need to be moved. To keep the positive momentum and results you will need to delve deeper with your questioning to find the best strategy for you.
How Long should Each Workout be?
“All great achievements require time.” —Maya Angelou
Workouts don’t need to be marathons. ‘More is better!’ is probably the biggest misconception in the fitness industry and of most people starting out on a fitness journey.
As a general rule for most new gym goers, 30 minutes of regular moderate physical activity is a good starting point. If you want to lose weight, or meet specific fitness goals, you may need to exercise more.
There’s no particular workout duration or type that is perfect for everyone. Nevertheless, there is a way to determine how long you should spend in the gym.
Here are 3 factors to consider before you schedule your next gym session.
1. Fitness level
The most important consideration when considering how long you should work out is your overall fitness level.
If you’re new to working out or exercising, spending an hour in the gym will probably not be the most beneficial approach to achieving those fitness goals.
The potential of injury or over training has the potential to bring any great plan crashing down. Workouts should be short to start. 30 minutes or less is ideal until you feel your strength start to build. Then, each week you can start to add a few more minutes to each workout to build to a level that will keep giving you progression and improvement.
Research guidelines by The American Heart Association suggest regular weekly activity for most healthy adults should include 75-150 minutes of aerobic activity and two strength training sessions per week.
Based on these recommendations, and assuming your strength sessions are around 20-30 minutes in duration, you should be aiming for around 3 hours of exercise per week.
2. Planning your Workout
How long you work out for isn’t the only thing to consider!
How hard are you pushing yourself? The duration of your workout should depend on the intensity of the exercises.
Maintaining a brisk walk on the treadmill for 40 minutes is doable; maintaining a full sprint on the treadmill for 40 minutes is impossible!
Before you committing to a lengthy gym session, you need to plan the types of exercises you’ll complete while you’re there.
I generally recommend to my clients to focus on high intensity short workouts during the week when time is limited. On the weekends, when they have more time, they can hit the gym for longer, and focus on low-intensity workouts.
3. Mixing things up
Experts in the field of Health and Fitness, such as qualified Personal Trainers, have a strategy when it comes to prescribing workout program to clients. There are 3 variables that need to be changed on a regular basis to see results:
- Type of workout
- Intensity of workout
- Duration of the workout
The body adapts over time, therefore you need to make sure you mix up the 3 variables regularly or the results will start to slow down. The potential loss of momentum is enough to see many derail off course.
We all have those exercises we love doing on a regular basis, however constantly repeating the same thing again and again can be disadvantageous to the cause.
It’s too easy to go with what we know and what we have perfected over time. The key to success in the gym is spicing things up.
There needs to be a challenge otherwise things get boring and stale. I would say boredom is the number one killer for most people who lose their way with going to the gym.
How Long Does it Take to See Results?
“It’s going to be a journey. It’s not a sprint to get in shape.” —Kerri Walsh Jennings
Results matter! It’s what motivates people. However, in this age of instant gratification aligning people’s expectations around realistic timelines can be challenging.
This question is probably the toughest to answer due to a number of factors. The most important thing people need to appreciate is exercise alone cannot meet all needs.
For example, if the goal is to lose weight but the calorie intake via food is higher than the calorie expenditure through exercise then there will be minimal positive change over time. Alternatively, if the goal is to build muscle to achieve that beach body you’ve always dreamed of, then higher calorie intake of the right quality foods is critical to the outcome.
The bottom line is everyone has different needs. What works for one person may not have the same impact on someone else. It’s a matter of focusing on the process, not the outcome. The 2 keys words are patience and discipline.
Theoretically, the 4- to 6-week mark is a realistic time to check things are moving in the right direction and make any adjustments if weight loss or body composition is the primary goal.
Needless to say not everyone’s goals resolve around body transformation and weight loss. I have had new clients whose goals related to:
- Being able to have enough energy to play with kids
- Being able to take the stairs at work or running for the bus and not feeling out of breath
Time frames for achieving results for areas such as mental health, general wellbeing and improving aerobic fitness are easier to quantify.
MENTAL HEALTH: While there are many physical benefits from regular physical activity, it also benefits our psychological health too. You can start to notice positive effects after as little as 10 minutes of aerobic training.
BLOOD PRESSURE – positive changes typically occur with a few weeks. Exercise causes modest reductions in in those who have borderline or moderate levels of high blood pressure. The average reduction in systolic and diastolic blood pressure for those who have high blood pressure and perform regular aerobic activity is 7 and 6 mmHg respectively.
This may seem small, but a 5 mmHg drop reduces the chance of death by stroke by 14%.
AEROBIC FITNESS- Typically 1 month is a good bench mark to see improvements in cardio fitness. By challenging the body’s aerobic endurance over time you can gradually improve its ability to do more with less effort. Improvements range from 5-30% with a regular, sustained training.
Things To Remember
It’s important to focus on enjoying the physical activity you do. Exercise isn’t just a way to lose weight or reduce high blood pressure!
Try to look at physical activity as a lifelong journey rather than a short-term project. For example, think about how weight loss will improve your long term health, rather than just help you fit into that dress!
Find something that you’re excited by and motivated to do. That might be social team sport l or a class at your local gym. If you’re looking forward to it then there’s a greater chance you will stick to it over the long-term.
If you’re still curious about the many benefits of regular physical activity or you’re struggling with the motivation to stay active, please feel free to reach out.
I am a qualified Personal Trainer now working out of a small private gym in North Sydney.