This is a familiar question by all who decide to embark on a fitness journey. 2 days…5 days…John over there seems to have taken up residence in the gym and is always pumping hard. The right answer is there is no simple formula! Unfortunately, it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. You didn’t think it was going to be as simple as 2 + 2 = 4 did you?
As cliché as it sounds everyone is different. What works for you may not works for others and it’s hard to know just how much exercise you should be doing to reach your fitness goals. You need to take into consideration different lifestyles. With work, family life and social commitments eating up your time, it's important not to get sucked into what John is or isn’t doing. We all have different body types, abilities and goals. A Bodybuilder will not train the same way as Footballer or Sprinter. What you need to do is hone in on your why?
Why are you working out? It could be you’d like to run a marathon or compete in an Iron Man challenge, maybe you’re interested in the gainz or want to drop some weight. Understanding your why will help you personalise a solution, figure out your days and shape your starting point.
If your job is predominantly deskbound and you typically don’t take part in much exercise, working out once or twice a week will harvest you some fruit. However, if your lifestyle is fairly active and exercise is already a part of your routine, you will be disappointed when one or two days isn’t that effective in helping you reach your goals.
So, ask yourself, what does exercise mean to me? What kinds of exercise do you enjoy and what are your goals? Then use your goals to drive your workouts in your allocated time. Doing this the other way around can most certainly lead to disappointment and frustration. Try to add variety to your workouts to beat that boredom and to breakthrough those plateaus.
Let’s say you’ve scheduled 5 days a week for training, work on both your strength and cardiovascular systems. Try starting out with three days strength training, two days of cardio, and two days of active rest. If you can’t do as much as 5 days or your goal is to add more muscle or improve your endurance; swap a cardio day for strength or vice versa. Alternatively, you could switch it up each week. Don’t forget you can work multiple muscle groups and energy systems at the same time. This has many advantages especially when strapped for time, helping you to get the most out of your workouts. However, if time is of the essence, there are other options to consider. Let’s say you’re working on endurance and can’t get to the gym, you could go for a run on your lunch or after work, even ride a bike to and from work. They are both great for cardio and could easily slip into one’s routine.
So, what is Active rest? Active rest means you don't have to hit the gym or break a serious sweat, but you are staying active. Active rest shouldn't require you to fully exert yourself, but it should get you moving. You could try some gentle yoga or swimming, Thai Chi or rollerblading; even shooting some hoops – if that’s your thing, or simply take a walk. Active rest will help reduce the build-up of lactic acid in the muscles, minimising that post-exercise discomfort – nobody likes doms so flush them out!
As fun as those active rest days can be, they are not a necessity in your training schedule. However, full rest days are. You need to give your body the chance to recover and repair. Your glycogen levels in your muscles have been depleted and your muscles fatigued, so avoid overtraining. Remember John over there, you’ll probably see him taping his muscles back together soon enough through lack of rest. Why not plan your week so that your rest days coincides with your busiest days of the week.
I’m hoping you can now see that your magic number of days is dictated by your lifestyle and goals, and that’s ok. Be realistic with yourself and the time you can commit to exercise and use it efficiently. This will ensure you have a balanced, effective, safe and enjoyable workout regime. Keep the sweat up, we have goals to smash!