No matter if you're training for a marathon or if you're just trying to live a healthier lifestyle, knowing when, how long, and how often you should be working out is easier said than done. Sure, we can all tune in to our own bodies, judge how they're feeling, and thus, adapt our fitness routines accordingly, but it's hard not to second-guess ourselves. Are we feeling too tired and worn out to train today or are we just lacking the motivation we need to hit the gym? Are we pushing ourselves to our goals or overtaxing our bodies by amping up the consistency of our workouts? They're simple questions, but the answers are quite complex.
That's why we reached out to fitness experts to find out more about the "ideal" number of times we should be training each week. As it turns out, the answers to our questions are even less straightforward than we initially thought.
Meet the Expert
How Often Should You Workout?
We wish the answer was simple, but it's not. According to Kasen, "There truly isn't an exact answer on how many times each week someone should or shouldn't be working out. It all depends on the person's goals, current level of fitness, and what they are looking to achieve."
Overall, some physical activity in your routine is better than none. You can, however, benefit greatly when you combine two different types of exercises according to a 2019 study.
Muscle strength is important to do, well, pretty much everything. Every day tasks, like walking, can get easier with improved muscle strength and consistent training.
In terms of frequency, the CDC recommends to add strength training to your routine at least two days per week. Make sure you're working various muscle groups in your body including back, chest, abs, shoulders, and arms. No skipping leg day either!
Strength training shouldn't be an easy task. To reap the benefits, do muscle strength activities to the point where it's challenging to get in another repetition without assistance.
Cardio (Aerobic Activity)
Get your heart pumping with some aerobic activity. The CDC recommends either 150 minutes per week of moderate-intense aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intense aerobic activity each week.
Moderate-intense activity gets you breaking a sweat, but you should still be able to talk. Examples include fast walking, riding a bike on ground level or with few hills, and pushing a lawn mower. If you're doing vigorous-intense activity right, you will only be able to say a few words before needing to take a breath. Examples including running, swimming laps, and playing basketball.
Pros of Working Out Every Day
Staying physically active on a regular basis can benefit you in many different ways. Here are just a few that you may notice.
Improved thinking and cognition can show up immediately after crushing a workout. Keeping it consistent can also improve anxiety, depression, and stress.
Keep your melatonin in the medicine cabinet. John Hopkins Medicine states getting in moderate aerobic exercise can increase slow wave sleep, the kind that rejuvenates both the body and the mind.
Reduce Health Complications
Risk of developing cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers can all decrease with regular exercise. The CDC also mentions implementing 150 minutes of exercise per week can reduce mortality by 33 percent.
Cons of Working Out Every Day
You can have too much of a good thing, and exercise fits in that category. Pushing yourself too hard and too far with exercise can wind up backfiring on all of its benefits.
Your muscles need extra oxygen during exercise, which is why your heart beats much faster in order to provide that. When you're overdoing cardio you can progressively damage your heart, which may result in sudden cardiac death.
Not only does your heart get worn out, but your body can, too. Many long-term endurance athletes have dealt with overuse injuries such as stress fractures, shin splints, and plantar fasciitis.
Our immune system helps fight off foreign invaders, like bacteria and viruses, that enter our body. Too much intense exercise creates certain hormones, which temporarily lowers immunity. This increases risk of illness.
How Do You Find Balance?
Here's the thing. The consistency with which you work out depends on a lot of factors. According Kasen, "The workout should be personalized specifically to their goals and what they are looking to gain within their workouts. Everyone is different." Clearly, someone who is training for a marathon will exercise with a different consistency than someone who runs two miles every now and then to stay in shape. In general, the loftier your goal, the more consistent you have to be.
Aside from your specific goals, it also depends on the type of workout itself. "If you perform strength training by splitting muscle groups per session, such as arms and shoulders Monday with legs on Tuesday, you can get away with training five to six days in a row. This is because you're inherently giving your muscle groups a day off while working the other muscle groups," says Bullock. Things change, though, if you're a runner, biker, or cardio lover. "If you enjoy high-intensity and cardio training, these typically work all the major muscle groups of the body and require more days off depending on the intensity of the workout," she says. "Try to limit yourself to performing intense full-body workouts to every other day. This doesn't apply to a slow run or lighter cardiovascular activity. Your cardiovascular system doesn't need extended recovery time like your muscles do."
Rest and recovery are essential to ensure your glycogen levels have time to replenish to prevent muscle fatigue.
How to Tell If You're Overtraining
All of us want to realize our potential and ensure we're doing everything we can to promote better health, which is why we build ourselves a fitness routine. Just know that working out too often can be damaging to your body just like working out too little. "Recovery is as important as your workout. In fact, you could end up slowing your progress if you don't give your muscles enough rest," Bullock says. "After intense strength or cardio training, your body needs time to repair tissues that have broken down and restore glucose storage. When your body rests, it's actually being super productive. During the rest periods is where you gain the results you worked for in the gym."
So embrace rest days and be honest and transparent with yourself. If you're feeling physically tired and run-down, don't think of it as a failure. Instead acknowledge it as a success, knowing that your body is trying to reap the rewards from your previous training sessions. "If you're a person who gets antsy sitting on the sofa all day, recovery time doesn't have to be completely sedentary (although that's fine too)," says Bullock. "Light activities like walking are fine to do every day."
If you're still not 100 percent sure whether your body needs rest or movement, pay special attention to your muscles and joints. "If you're overtraining, you'll feel it," Bullock says. "You will go from feeling acute soreness to chronic pain in joints and muscles, you can have difficulty sleeping, and it can lead to some major injuries. In addition, if you don't allow the body time to reload its energy, all your efforts can backfire and you may stop seeing results."
If your muscles are sore from overtraining, take the day off and treat yourself to a professional massage. Even a relaxing bath at home can soothe your aches and pains.
The Final Takeaway
The consensus seems to be to listen to your own body, because if you're honest with yourself and receptive, then you'll know. It also helps to see a fitness expert for a consultation. They can help you develop a personalized routine. With that being said, there are some guidelines you can follow on your own. "A good exercise plan should mix workouts with strength training and cardiovascular training," Bullock says. "If you plan the workouts correctly with some active recovery days, you can work out four to six days a week—either taking a day of rest after intense exercise or taking a walk or light jog on the day after an upper-body workout."
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Cleveland Clinic. 7 signs that exercise is actually hurting your health. Updated October 22, 2018.