It seems like a simple question, doesn’t it? It really depends on where you’re at now.
If you are living a sedentary lifestyle right now, than any exercise is better than nothing. Start with a schedule that you can manage. If you make your ultimate goal be your first goal (let’s say, working out six days a week for an hour each day), you’re more than likely going to set yourself up for failure. If you’re changing from a sedentary lifestyle, how much can you realistically fit in and manage? Three thirty minute workouts per week? That’s great. That can be your first goal for the first few weeks.
If you’re working out a few days a week for thirty minutes or so, and you’ve been managing that alright, it’s time to step it up. The US Department of Health and Human Services recommendations for adult activity is 150 minutes of moderate cardiovascular exercise per week and resistance training for every major muscle group twice a week. WHAT does that mean exactly?
- Cardiovascular exercise is sustained rhythmic movement that increases your heart rate. “Moderate” means that you can perform the exercise and have a conversation—you wouldn’t want to hold a conversation, but you could without sounding like you’re gasping for air. A good test to determine if you’re working at a moderate level is if you can say the pledge of allegiance, or the Lord’s Prayer normally, without gasping for air.
- Resistance training is working those major muscle groups (chest, back, core, arms, legs, hips, bum) against resistance—free weights, bands, machines, body weight, etc. You should work out every major muscle group twice a week, but not two days in a row. Take a resistance training rest in between those days—you could fit in some of that cardiovascular exercise on that resistance training rest day.
So what if you do get 150 minutes of moderate cardiovascular exercise, and you do resistance training twice a week? What’s next? Well, you could step up your cardiovascular exercise from moderate to vigorous (note: if you have health concerns, e.g. cardiovascular issues, you should consult your doctor before attempting vigorous cardiovascular exercise). Vigorous cardiovascular exercise is sustained exercise where you’re working at a level that you could not hold a conversation. If you do vigorous exercise, the guidelines suggest 75 minutes minimum per week. More than 75 minutes of vigorous exercise, or a blend of the two levels (say, 100 minutes of moderate and 50 of vigorous) is great, up to five hours of moderate, or 150 minutes of vigorous. You don’t want to take it to an extreme though, and do cardio say, three hours every day—that’s definitely too much of a good thing. I would assume if you’ve been reading this to this point though, excessive exercise is not likely to be your issue.
For resistance training, if you’re doing each major muscle group twice a week, and looking to up your game, what do you do? You could do two things. One thing you could do is train the major muscle groups more than twice per week, always with a day of resistance training rest for the muscle groups in between sessions. The other thing you could do is increase the weight you are lifting—ask your muscles to lift a little more than they are comfortable with, and you will make progressions. Now, you could do both of these things, or just one of them. Both will help you to progress, but increasing the weight you are lifting would be my first choice if you really want to see results. More on why for that in a later post.
So. Bottom line. How often you should exercise. For most people, the simple answer is more than you are exercising now. If you want to know the official recommendations, the minimums are 150 minutes of moderate cardiovascular exercise (or 75 minutes of vigorous, or a combination of the two levels), and resistance training of every major muscle group two times per week, with at least a day of resistance rest in between. Work toward those recommendations, or work past them if you’re there.
If you want a trainer to help you design a program, I’m here for you. Contact me and we can get started. Fitness is attainable. You just have to know what you’re doing, why, and put in the effort. It's my job to help you with all three.