Today I thought I’d answer a question that I got a lot while I was doing my internship hours: how often should I workout? Unfortunately there’s not one easy answer for everyone, but I’ll be discussing some guidelines that should help.
It would be easy if there was a one size fits all answer to this question. Regrettably, that’s just now how it works in the fitness world. It all depends on your fitness level, goals, your body, your intensity, and any injuries that you may have. I’m going to break down each of these below, so read on to get the scoop on how often you should be working out.
Fitness level // I think it should be common sense that someone who’s just starting out on their fitness journey won’t be working out as much as someone training for a triathlon or someone who’s been at it for years. It’s all too common for people to get a gym membership and do way too much way too fast, get injured, and then have a hard time getting back into fitness.
For instance, a complete beginner should be starting at 3 or 4 times per week for 10 to 25 minutes. I know that might not sound like much, but it’s important to start slowly if you previously haven’t been very active up until this point. In terms of a novice, they should be spending anywhere from three to five times per week working out between 20 to 40 minutes each time. Someone who wants to maintain their fitness will be looking at three to five times per week from 30 to 60 minutes. (These guidelines are from the Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology.)
Goals // If you’ve just signed up to run a marathon, that’s a very different goal that someone who wants to keep up with their kids. Marathon training involves different kinds of runs (tempos, hills, long slow runs), not to mention cross training (so important for preventing overuse injuries). In contrast, increasing general fitness will probably be less time intensive. Talk to your coach or personal trainer for some advice and guidelines.
All bodies are different // Another reason why the number of workouts in a week might vary between two people is how their bodies work. One person might have no problem running five times per week, while the next person would get plantar fasciitis from that much high impact exercise. Someone who’s pregnant probably shouldn’t be doing a ton of hot yoga (pregnancy can increase flexibility – to the point of injury if you take it too far). Someone with a shoulder injury most likely won’t be playing tennis 4 times per week. What works for your friend, significant other, or fitness superstar that you follow on Instagram may not work for you.
Intensity // How hard you’re working during each workout also makes a big difference in how often you workout. Doing three high intensity or heavy lifting workouts in three days is asking for an injury. Hard days should always be followed by easy ones or even a day off. If you do a heavy strength or powerlifting workout, it takes 72 hours for your nervous system to recover. That means that you’re only doing two power workouts per week. Sure, you can add in some cardio days, but 4 or 5 days of powerlifting in just one week is asking too much of your body, no matter how fit you are.
In terms of cardio, that’s usually measured by heart rate or rate of perceived exertion (RPE). For heart rate, that can vary between 40% of your maximum heart rate for a beginner or easy day, to 85 or 90% for someone who’s maintaining their fitness. RPE is measured on a scale of 6 to 20. 6 is super easy (think sitting) while 20 is giving it your all, you can hardly even think. Needless to say, you can maintain a less intense pace (10 or 12) for a lot longer than you can a 19 or 20.
Injuries // Once again, injuries are different for everyone. If you haven’t had any injuries, consider your self lucky, but I think most of us have been hurt at least once. Even after it’s been treated (whether that’s with surgery, physio, or just taking it easy), those injuries can still affect us even after they’ve healed. Whether that means your have a smaller range of motion after a shoulder injury or a consistently tight hip, those little things will have to be factored into how often you workout and work those body parts.
Rest days // Lastly, everyone, no matter how fit or lofty the goal that they’re training for, should be taking at least one rest day every single week. Giving yourself some time to recover (both physically AND mentally) will allow you to come back stronger to your next workout. Your body needs time to recover to reap the benefits of your workouts.
Just like how each individual is different from the next person, so is how often and how hard they should be working out. Not sure where you should start? Find some guidance from a personal trainer or exercise physiologist. They’ll be able to give you some guidelines that work for you and your goals, body, intensity, and injuries. I think it’s well worth the money to get a good plan and advice to keep injuries and over training at bay.
How often do you workout?