Everyone is busy – but finding a few hours every week to exercise is a great way to stay healthy, control your weight and improve your mood (thanks to the endorphins!). If you’re new to the gym or getting used to a new routine, you might be wondering though: how many times a week should I work out? Am I overtraining, or maybe not training enough? Here a few principles to follow, to get the most benefits from your training schedule.
1. If you’re new, don’t over-do it
One mistake people often make when they start training is going all out – going to the gym or classes every day, hoping they’ll make tremendous progress. Unfortunately, you will probably feel great for a while, then your motivation & performance will go down, and you’ll struggle to drag yourself to your sessions, being exhausted and reluctant to move.
Why? Because you’ll be overtraining. Your body needs to rest, especially if you haven’t exercised in a while. It needs some time off to rebuild your muscles and replenish its energy levels. You will get better results and faster progress if you allow yourself to recover.
Beginners and people resuming working out after an extended period should aim for 2 to 3 sessions a week, at moderate intensity.
2. Don’t train more, train smarter
If you already have an active lifestyle, you need to think about what you need to achieve: is it about weight loss? Do you want to get better in one specific discipline, or learn some new techniques? Just having fun with some friends? You need to set up your goals first and plan your workouts accordingly.
Doing so, you have to be very honest with yourself: What do I want to achieve, and why is it important to me? How much time am I ready to dedicate to this goal?
Find yourself a precise, reachable, quantifiable and time-bounded objective. “Losing weight” is vague and not very motivating – “losing 2kg by the end of next month” is both doable and easy to keep in mind.
Most goals won’t require you to train every day – recovery is essential, and if you’re not aiming to become a professional athlete, taking a few days off the gym a week to do other activities you enjoy isn’t a bad idea. But there’s one golden rule…
3. Aim to work out at least 3 or 4 days a week
To make a difference, you need to invest time & effort. It is true for pretty much everything – playing the violin, cooking, learning a language – and it also applies to sports.
If you want to get any results from your hard work, you need to make it a part of your daily life – and within a week, always try to get more days on which you work out than days on which you don’t.
Of course, you can still get results with 1 or 2 sessions a week, but they will be much slower, and you could lose your precious motivation.
You can also choose to train more often, but make sure you give your muscles enough time to rest. If you want to train every day, divide your sessions between muscle groups, so you don’t hit the same group twice in a row. You can also slot in some active recovery days, where you stay active without asking too much to your body – It could be a light jog, some cycling, a dance class.. just pick something light and easy.
Finally, and even if it can be hard for athletes & gym addicts, remember that you need a full day of complete rest once in a while.
4. Keep it FUN & challenging
At the end of the day, working out should be something you enjoy doing, not a chore. If you have your training schedule in place but are dragging your feet every single day, there’s something wrong with it. It’s ok not to enjoy lifting weights or running, everyone has their preferences. Find something YOU like and that you see yourself fighting a bit to get better at.
My personal advice would be to find something you enjoy doing and sign up for a competition in 2, 3, 6 months. Something you can keep in the corner of your head, that you can use as a reminder of “why” you’re doing this. Challenging yourself is the only way to get better at something – it is also a fantastic opportunity to achieve something big, and be proud of yourself. Everyone needs a reason; you just need to find yours!