How many days should I workout a week and what should I do? This question comes in many forms. How many days should I run? How far? How fast? How many days should I do strength work? Upper body? Lower body? Heavy? Light? Should I take my yoga class every day? Can I do back squats more than once per week? I walk every day, is that ok?
All of the science out there will tell you different things. I feel like the best way to figure out how often to train is to follow some simple cues that will force you to pay attention to how you feel and what behaviors you have associated with working out.
Move everyday. What kind of movement should you do? Really, it’s not that important. Some of you love to get in the gym. Some of you prefer solo work. Some of you prefer a group. Just make it something you like.
Get out of breath. Each time you move, you should get out of breath, probably even break a sweat.
Crush yourself 2x per week. If you are very active, you should do something that is challenging about two times a week. What that means is something that makes you stop because you can’t do it anymore. A few examples: My parents like to walk and they are in their 80’s. A couple times a week, they walk faster, and by the time they finish their walk, they need a break, they need to sit down and rest, they couldn’t continue for much longer. Some of you like to workout in the gym. A couple of your workouts should be tough, tough enough that you can’t do another squat, burpee, or KB swing, tough enough that you have to lay down on the floor right now to catch your breath. You should be tired enough that you can’t or don’t want to do any additional exercise that day, and the next day you might still be tired and a bit sore. Remember, this is for those of you who are very active.
If you haven’t built up to this point, then don’t go out and crush yourself right now. You’ll have to build towards that. One of the best ways to do that is to work with a coach to help you figure out how to set up a safe and effective progression. It’s important to build a base before you reach really high like my parents do with walking or like the guy you see in the gym that just finished his 100th burpee in under 6 minutes. And, by the way, again, this doesn’t have to be complicated. If you are just getting started, go for a walk and slowly speed up until you get out of breath, walk a little more and then slow down and head home.
Don’t crush yourself the other days. So, the big question for some of you is, what do the other days look like. Those days are just as important. On those days, you should be able to finish your workout and feel ok; you should actually feel like maybe you could do a bit more. That doesn’t mean you should do more. You could get out of breath and sweat, but you should finish your walk and feel like, if I had to, I could keep going. You should finish your last deadlift or pull up and feel like you could do another set if you had to.
It’s important that both these peak and non-peak days exist for everyone who is moving each day. You need the stimulus of high intensity, whatever that is for you, and some recovery. So on the non-peak days, it’s important to continue to maintain your fitness, but if you turn each day up too high, you’ll end up regressing in your fitness. Likewise, if you don’t ever turn your intensity up enough, you won’t grow in your fitness.
The best advice I can give you is to play around with these capacities. Try getting out of breath and sweating a bit if it’s new to you. You don’t have to overdo it; just get there and then stop. On the other side, if you train hard, see what it’s like to take it down a bit on those non-peak days and watch your peak days soar!