People who start their first exercise program, and even those who have previously exercised in one form or another are often not very knowledgeable about many relevant matters. I have often opposed the idea that there is no such thing as a dumb question…I have heard some doozies…and asked a few myself. However, the dumbest thing of all is NOT to ask if you genuinely do not know.
Many people set themselves up for failure by beginning an exercise program without knowing how often they should exercise.
We are all different, and we will have many different reactions to exercise. As with many aspects of exercise, the frequency can easily vary a little from person to person. However, there are some guidelines which can be useful in determining how much to exercise.
Also, there are various other aspects which can become involved as well. For example, the homemaker or executive who want to become healthy and fit will have much different priorities than those of someone training for a major competition. Unfortunately, many exercise books, videos, and programs are designed for those seeking higher levels of fitness than others. Advice tends to be geared towards high performance, and, as a result, newcomers are often lured into attempting workout routines, and striving to achieve goals, which are far beyond their abilities and current level of motivation.
As a result, many decide that exercise is not for them and never fully reap the health benefits of exercise.
Still others, not quite sure of what or how much exercise they should be doing, simply do not do enough. As the results they observe are minimal, they too often “drop out”, deciding that exercise just does not work for them.
There is one thing every new exerciser should understand. It is, for most of us, better to start out at a lower level and gradually work our way up to higher levels of fitness and performance, than to try to do too much too soon. Also, exercise done properly trains the body to accept greater demands, and it is the act of moving to higher and higher levels of activity which result in attaining observable and rewarding fitness goals. When done properly, the upward moves will be within the abilities of the exerciser, but not necessarily “easy”. Nor will the improvements be on a straight line. There will be sudden rushes of improvement as well as plateaus which seem to last forever, as well as the occasional backward slide.
In the long run, however, it is exercise which is done regularly…er…in the long run…which creates the fitness levels and health benefits we seek. Exercise is not a short term fix, but a lifestyle, and lifetime, commitment if it is to actually be worthwhile and change the road we travel and the destination we arrive at.
There are three basic types of exercise:
While engaging regularly in any of these three forms can produce some of the effects of one or more of the others, depending on intensity and frequency, each has its own benefits and its own schedule for the most effective results.
An experienced exerciser can make use of the health and fitness benefits and capabilities of each, but I recommend that new exercisers concentrate on each one separately at first. I personally perform a strength workout twice a week which I have tailored to produce a cardiovascular benefit as well, but, despite being 65 years old, feel that my workout would be a bit much for someone just getting used to regular exercise.
While the total time devoted to exercise throughout the week may seem a bit much to a beginner, it actually is not nearly as much as it seems when divided into its various components. My weekly workouts take a total of approximately two and a half hours a week. However, I would like to point out that while those are the exercise periods I can measure, because I feel healthy and fit, I regularly perform activities which could be considered “exercise” but which I am actually performing simply because I enjoy doing them!
Here are some basic guidelines for the exercise beginner:
Flexibility exercises should be done every day. They do not need to take a long time, nor do they need to be intense. However, there should be a little warm-up prior to the actual exercises. Many people mistake flexibility exercises for warm-up exercises. Flexibility movements should only be performed only after warming up the muscles and the joints.
Strength exercises, generally in the form of resistance exercises using various forms of exercise equipment; barbells, dumbbells, resistance bands, or all-in-one exercise machines such as those manufactured by Bowflex or Total Gym, need only be done once or twice a week. My personal preference is twice a week.
Someone who chooses to do strength training only once a week will generally experience a slower rate of progress than those who choose two or three times a week. However, attempting to exceed one’s personal levels can actually result in a loss of strength as well as a loss of interest in proceeding.
Some confusion will arise here as many resources on strength training will emphasize the three-day-a-week scenario. If done properly, this may be of great value, especially to those attempting to achieve higher levels of strength, or a bodybuilder’s physique. However, someone who is seeking to become healthy and fit will find that twice a week is generally sufficient. In fact, even professionals often use this twice-a-week training method themselves, specifically working certain muscles and muscle groups on two days and working certain other groups on two other days. This allows them to perform very demanding workouts on each group while the other group is healing.
For the ordinary person, a strength workout does not need to take more than 15 minutes. While many resources on strength training will talk about doing three or more sets of each exercise, normal fitness will only demand a single set for each muscle or major muscle group. However, once you reach higher levels of fitness, you may wish to increase the demands by increasing sets or adding exercises which work on the same muscles and muscle groups.
Cardiovascular, or aerobic, exercise should be done at least three times a week for at least 20 minutes. Five times a week would be even better, and some experts simply say go ahead and do it every day. However, as I pointed out earlier, if you are exercising five days a week, you may find yourself doing “exercise-like” activities on your off days. I specifically do aerobic activities three days a week, perform my twice-weekly strength workouts in a “circuit” fashion which makes them also aerobic, and remain active on my off days.
In my case, having a bedroom on the second floor helps. I go up and down the stairs at least three times a day, every day, whether I exercise or not!
By the way, one more rule of thumb: 20 minutes of aerobic exercise at a time for health and fitness, 45 minutes for weight loss.
Eventually, you will have to determine a weekly exercise routine which works best for you. As you learn more about what you are doing, you will be able to answer the question, “How often should I exercise?” for yourself.