[This article was originally published in 2017.]
Keeping active is crucial for staying healthy, and considering 27 per cent of Britons aren’t exercising at least once a week, according to a 2020 YouGov survey, you might be inclined to up your activity levels.
But it’s hard to know just how much exercise you should be doing to reach your fitness goals, be that weight loss or bulking up.
“The type of workout you do ultimately depends on your ability, goals, likes and dislikes, equipment available, what injuries you have, and how much time you have available,” personal trainer Tom Mans explained to The Independent.
Whilst there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach, there are principles and guidelines that you can follow and apply to your training to ensure you have a balanced, effective, safe and enjoyable workout regime.
How many days a week should you train?
Unless you’re a fitness enthusiast, you probably want to spend as little time in the gym as possible to achieve your health and fitness goals. But Mans says training only once or twice a week won’t give you more than a low level of fitness.
“You should train at least three times a week if you want to achieve your health and fitness goals in a reasonable amount of time, and stay fit and healthy,” Mans explains.
Training four or five times a week is ideal, but most people find that unachievable due to time constraints, so Mans says it’s best to aim for three: “This exposes your body to a large enough training stimulus throughout the week, which enables the body to adapt, get stronger, leaner and fitter.”
How long should your workouts be?
Some people argue that you can get an effective and efficient workout in half an hour if you use the time wisely, but Mans believes that if you want to make real progress, you should be working out for 45 minutes to an hour.
He recommends spending 10 minutes warming up and mobilizing your body, 30-40 minutes weight training, and five-10 minutes cooling down and stretching,
That said, half hour workouts can be useful for conditioning sessions or interval training.
Can you weight train two or three days in a row?
Mans recommends taking a day’s rest between sessions if you regularly lift weights. “You can train two days in a row but definitely try to avoid doing three days in a row unless you are an advanced lifter.”
If you don’t give your muscles time to recover, you’ll overload your joints and tendons which could become sore – or worse, you could give yourself an injury such as tendonitis.
However it is OK to weight train on consecutive days if you’re training different body parts every time – Mans believes whole-body workouts are best for the general population who want to lose fat and improve their fitness though.
A well-balanced exercise regime should include a mixture of weight training and cardiovascular (aerobic and anaerobic) work, but Mans says that if you don’t have time for both, focus on doing two to three weights sessions a week.
How important is sleep?
In short: very.
“For everyone – and especially people who train on a regular basis – getting seven to eight hours’ sleep on average per night is vitally important,” Mans says.
“After you train during the day, the body then grows stronger, burns fat and rebuilds damaged muscle tissue when you sleep.”
So if you don’t get enough sleep, you’ll be putting yourself at a disadvantage, your workouts will suffer and you won’t have enough energy to train.