How Often Should I Exercise?
Tuesday, September 16, 2014
LifeTime WeightLoss in Cliff Edberg, Exercise, exercise advice, exercise frequency, fitness motivation, fitness plan, fitness professional, workout frequency, workout schedule

It seems like such a simple question, but the answer is far more complex than we assume. When club members ask me this, they’re often frustrated by the necessary response: “It depends.” Given that exercise is such a key component to health, a basic formula here would be convenient, but recommended frequency can vary based on everything from particular goal to health condition or even other lifestyle behaviors. In truth, the best routine correlates with a full composite picture and not a single consideration. For today, we’ll examine some of the most common factors that influence optimum frequency and sample regimens geared toward those scenarios.

First, let me throw out a more comprehensive list of what considerations influence an ideal training schedule. These are the very factors I’m thinking of when we sit down and design a personalized fitness plan for you.

All this said, let’s go now to the top scenarios I see as a fitness professional. See which one(s) you identify with. My hope is you’ll be able to gather some insights you can apply to your personal situation.

I want to exercise so I can eat my favorite foods.

As a young personal trainer, I struggled with this question because it seemed so counterintuitive. As I continued to educate myself and to evolve as a professional, however, I began to understand where this question comes from. Humans are wired to avoid pain (which can be exercise) and to seek calorie dense food (particularly sugar and fat) in order to avoid starvation. In this situation, most people are looking to inflict as little “pain” as possible to feed their mental and physiological cravings. The problem with this thinking is that calorie balance isn’t the solution most people think it is. All too often these “favorite” foods cause more metabolic damage than just calorie count.

Answer: First and foremost, if you’re trying to “out-exercise” bad nutrition habits, you will lose. I know, the bearer of bad tidings… I try to challenge my clients to re-frame their outlook on exercise and nutrition. We work on the 80/20 rule. True, some people might get away with 70/30 and some may need to maintain a 95/5, but most of the time we focus on 80/20. For example, I urge people to get moderate to high intensity exercise “most days of the week,” meaning 4 to 5 days. At 80%, this translates to 3 or 4 solid days of exercise per week. For nutrition, the average person eats about 21 meals per week, which at 80% translates into 17 great meals per week and 3 or 4 that aren’t quite on the plan.

By no means am I saying that just showing up at the gym will change your physique, and I’m definitely not recommending that you go hog wild during those few off-plan meals each week.  The core message I try to suggest is this. Approaching your food and exercise with a perfectionist, type A mentality will almost invariably result in “falling off the wagon” eventually. View your commitment as a long-term proposition (i.e. It’s a marathon and not a sprint.), do the best you can and don’t beat yourself up if you miss a workout here and there or have a few meal choices that don’t hit your healthy target. The mental stress acquired by over-analyzing these choices can cause just as much harm to your health (and metabolism) as actually consuming the unhealthy foods for missing a gym visit.

I really don’t like to exercise, but I still want to get results.

Again, it’s important to remember that we’re wired to avoid pain, and - for many people - exercise is associated with pain. Whether it’s from soreness, muscular imbalances, poor form or heavy exertion, exercise can cause or feel like pain. In order to maximize results with as infrequent experience of “pain” as possible, there’s a hierarchy of importance when it comes to exercise. The focus here is maximized calorie burn and increased metabolic rate during and after the workout.

Answer: Personal and professional experience shows me that 3 days of “high quality exercise” offers proven results for individuals looking to optimize their time at the club. The exercise I emphasize is “Metabolic Resistance Training.” I define this type of exercise as moderate to heavy weight loads using multi-joint exercises that are completed in a compound/circuit fashion with little rest in between exercises.” This approach can vary from traditional weight lifting to strongman training to Alpha training, the goal being a maximum return on your time investment.


Monday: Total Body Strength Training

(Perform 3 rounds per circuit, 10 reps per exercise, and rest 1 minute between sets and circuits.)

Wednesday: Total Body Strongman Training

 (Perform 3 rounds per circuit, 30 second per exercise, and rest 2 minutes between sets and circuits.)

Friday: Total Body Alpha Training

(Perform each circuit 3 rounds consecutively and rest 3 minutes between circuits.) 

I’ve reached a plateau and can’t lose any more weight.

This is a question I frequently encounter. Our bodies are lazy and tend toward the path of least resistance. In relation to weight loss, our bodies are fantastic at adapting over time to our current workouts and getting just efficient enough to be able to handle the added load. When our bodies adapt, then our celebrated gains plateau and frustration sets in. If we don’t continuously adjust overload variables, our bodies see no need to change.

Answer: In order to keep progressing, you need to keep adding “overload” strategies to your workouts, which will force your body to make adaptations. I have learned over the years that the body can adapt in as few as 1-6 workouts, and all too often we do the EXACT same workout over and over for weeks, months or even years. To prevent plateaus, be sure to adjust your workouts on a regular basis.

Here are some simple overload strategies you can add to your current workout regimen to break through your current plateau:

Lower your reps: Different rep schemes produce different results. The most common rep scheme I see when I walk around the club is 10-15 reps per exercise. By increasing the intensity, amount of weight used, and decreasing the reps, you’ll push your body to become stronger.

Increase your sets: Most members rarely do more than 2 or 3 sets per exercise. The amount of sets to aim for depends on the intensity and complexity of the exercise.  In general, the more difficult it is to perform the exercise, the more sets you should devote to it. Example: Squats – 8 sets of 3 reps, rest 3 minutes between sets

Adjust your tempo: Rarely do I see someone leveraging tempo during their workout. Tempo is the rate at which you move weight during any given repetition. Slow down the eccentric portion of the lift by lowering the weight for a 4-second count. Example: Take 4 seconds to lower the bar down to your chest on a bench press.

Decrease your rest periods: Rest periods are important, but those that allow for a full conversation are most likely wasting your time. By shortening your rest periods, you’ll get more work done and elevate your metabolic rate during and after exercise. Example: Use your heart rate monitor, and clock your rest period. Aim for 60 seconds or less between exercises.

Add high intensity interval sprints: Sprints can be difficult, which means few people leverage them in their programs. However, high intensity sprints will get most people the biggest metabolic return on their time investment. (Talk to a fitness professional for personalized guidance here, particularly if you’re under stress or have a health condition.) After a good warm-up, a full sprint workout can last as little as 15-20 minutes and push you beyond that plateau. Example: Do 20 seconds of maximum capacity sprinting followed by 40 seconds rest. Repeat 15 times.

Work with an expert: At your club you have fitness professionals who devote their careers to understanding all of the above principles and how to implement them appropriately with their individual clients. If you’re feeling stuck, frustrated or overly fatigued by your current routine, reach out and ask for help. Example: If you feel confident about executing the workouts but just need someone to put a plan together, talk to a Life Time fitness professional about myCoach.

Putting it all together.

Maximize your efforts at the club by eating well, sleeping well, exercising efficiently and adjusting exercise continually to prevent plateaus. Always look to incorporate new fitness strategies to progress your program and to keep yourself engaged. Seek out support for your journey from a fitness professional who can help you design a program that's optimum for your personal objectives and considerations. Most importantly, stay consistent in your efforts – whatever your ultimate goal is!

In Health, 

Cliff Edberg, National Education Manager, Nutrition, Metabolism & Weight Management, RD/LD, NSCA, BioSig, CISSN, Pn1

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

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