One question that pops up fairly often from clients is how often they should be working out. The answer is: it depends. It depends on a variety of factors, including (but not limited to) your individual goals, your current fitness level, the intensity at that you exercise at, current stress levels, etc.
As a health baseline, the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines state that adults aged 18-64 should accumulate at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity each week. Moderate to vigorous activity ranges from exercising that causes you to breathe harder and sweat a bit, to exercising that causes you to be out of breathe and sweating more. This can include all forms of exercise and workout activity. Keep in mind this is the minimum goal, and you can certainly do more minutes than that each week.
When we look at this from a workout perspective, this is how we can start to break those 150 minutes down. These minutes divide to just over 21 minutes per day over 7 days or 25 minutes over 6 days. Why 6 days, you ask? That is where recovery comes in, which we will talk about in a bit. Based on the guideline’s recommendations, you could work out for 25 minutes per day, 6 days a week at a moderate to vigorous pace and achieve significant impact on your overall health. This does not mean though, that you need to workout for 6 days a week.
If you are seeking to improve fitness levels, change body composition, get stronger (basically if your goal is any kind of change through your workout routine), you can see results by working out anywhere from 3-5 days per week. I know that is still kind of vague, but it really does depend on the individual person. Individual A will likely not progress the same as individual B even if they are following the same program with similar goals. This is because their genetics and body chemistry are different from one another.
In order to maintain current fitness levels, most people can get away with working out 2 days per week. To meet the physical activity guidelines, you might have to engage in some other form(s) of physical activity in your week to reach the 150-minute moderate to vigorous activity minimum, unless you are able to make those two workouts slightly longer (75 minutes each).
Back to what I mentioned earlier: recovery. This is a very important factor to keep in mind, no matter what your fitness goals are. It is during recovery that our bodies repair and recover from the stress that exercise puts on it. This is the phase that really allows our bodies to respond positively to our workouts. Active recovery should be a part of fitness, no matter what your workout regime looks like. Recovery can include any form of light activity (walking, light yoga, stretching, foam rolling). Rest and relaxation are also important parts of the passive recovery process.
So, when determining how often you should work out, spend some time determining your specific goals and what will work for your current lifestyle. Work towards building at least 150 minutes of some intensity and be sure to include both active and passive recovery in your week.
By Caitlyn Jones – BPE, CSEP-CPT
Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines, CSEP and Participaction. http://www.csep.ca/CMFiles/Guidelines/CSEP_PAGuidelines_adults_en.pdf