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Developing A Workout Strategy That's Right For Your Body

Learn how many days per week to exercise, how to select weights for strength training, when to rest, and much more!  

 

How Many Days Per Week Should I Exercise?

Exercise is not one size fits all – which is actually great because you have tremendous flexibility and autonomy to decide what works best for YOU! Your goals, your schedule, your level of fitness, and quite frankly, your interest. It's important to create a fitness plan that is sustainable and enjoyable so you can stick with it over the long term.


Follow these guidelines to determine how to set your perfect schedule:

  1. Set health & fitness goals: Your goals will play a significant role in determining how often you should exercise. Are you looking to lose weight, build muscle, increase endurance, or improve flexibility? Your fitness goals will dictate the type of exercises you do and how often you do them. If your goal is to maintain a basic level of fitness, then 2-3 days per week of exercise may be sufficient. However, if you are looking to lose weight, build muscle, or train for a specific athletic event, you may need to exercise more frequently.

  2. Consider your fitness level: If you are new to exercise, it's important to start slowly and gradually increase your activity level. You may want to start with 2-3 days of exercise per week (ideally spread out, not consecutive) and then gradually increase to 4-5 days per week as your fitness level improves. This will set you up better to maximize your workouts when you do participate, rather than having reduced energy.

  3. Be realistic about your schedule (more on this later): Your schedule will dictate how much time you have available for exercise. Consider your work schedule, family obligations, and other commitments when designing your exercise schedule. Your schedule can also impact how many days per week you can realistically commit to exercising. If you have a busy schedule, you may need to start with a lower frequency of exercise and then gradually increase over time. Consider scheduling your workouts for times when you are least likely to be interrupted.

  4. Listen to your body: It's important to pay attention to how your body feels during and after exercise. If you are feeling fatigued or experiencing soreness or pain, you may need to reduce your exercise frequency. On the other hand, if you are feeling energized and motivated, you may be able to increase your exercise frequency.

  5. Exercise preference: Choose exercises that you enjoy and that fit your personal style. If you don't like running, for example, you may find it difficult to stick to a running-based exercise schedule. On the other hand, if you love yoga or swimming, those exercises may be a better fit for you.

  6. Incorporate variety: Variety is important to prevent boredom and to challenge different muscle groups. Consider incorporating a mix of aerobic exercise, strength training, and flexibility exercises in your schedule.


How Do I Stay Consistent With My Exercise Program?

The most important thing when setting an exercise schedule is to be realistic about your calendar.


If you commit to workout out 5 days per week but realistically have other commitments, you’re going to set yourself up for failure.


Look at your calendar and reflect on the past month, then project out the next month. Can you fit in 2 workout sessions? Great! Maybe you have a 30 minute window 3x per week? Perfect.


Write it out.


There’s power in writing out your exercise schedule. Whether this means registering for a class so you’re accountable, writing it in a calendar, or entering your workout times into your phone, don’t underestimate the importance of writing it down for adherence.


The second most important thing is understanding it’s not always about motivation to exercise, sometimes it’s just good old fashioned discipline that will get you there.


Remember, feelings follow actions: convince yourself to put your shoes on, tell yourself if you hate it you can stop, start the warmup – I guarantee 9/10 times you’ll finish the workout and be so happy you did. The other one time? Your body probably genuinely needed the rest.


Lastly, monitor progress. Tracking progress can help you stay motivated and make adjustments to your exercise schedule as needed. Consider using an app or journal to track workouts, progress, and any challenges you encounter along the way. You can only improve what you measure.


Selecting Exercise Weights: How Heavy, When To Back Off, When To Push

This is a loaded topic!  

  • Rule #1: First of all, listen to your body. Yes, it’s cliché – but it’s true. There’s a fine line between pushing yourself for a good workout and running the risk of injury. Your workout buddies, group class partner, and trainer are there for motivation but at the end of the day, only you feel what’s happening in your body. Leave your ego out of exercise. Pushing heavier weights one day could lead to injury and be a major setback on your health and fitness journey.

  • Rule #2: Only use heavier weights on exercises you feel most confident in performing properly. A new exercise may not the place to increase weights unless you are positive you are doing it with good form. A trainer can help you identify whether you are doing a movement correctly.

  • Rule #3: Generally, compound movements (such as a squat or deadlift) which use multiple muscle groups can be loaded heavier than isolation movements which target a smaller, specific muscle (such as a bicep curl).  

  • Rule #4: There are many ways to improve strength and build muscle. Lifting heavier weights doesn’t necessarily get you where you want to go, but volume does. As long as you are working to the point in your set where the last few reps are challenging, you’re in a good place. Choose the route that works best for your body and current fitness level – If you are reluctant to use heavier weights, don’t! Instead, focus on getting a higher number of repetitions at a lighter weight.

  • Rule #5: Not all workout days are created equal. Bad night of sleep? Stressed out? Feeling distracted? Poor nutrition? These are all things that will impact how heavy you should lift and how hard you should push that day. Sometimes showing up and moving is the accomplishment, and that is ok.

  • If you’re still unsure about what weights to use, consider starting light. If you complete the first set easily, increase little by little until you end up at the right weight.


Understanding The Importance Of Rest Days

The concept of days off may seem counterintuitive when considering your exercise and fitness goals. Rest and recovery are essential components of any exercise schedule. Make sure to include rest days and recovery periods in your schedule to allow your body to heal and rebuild. Think of it this way: if you obsess over the number of workouts you do per week but not the quality of the workouts, what have you really accomplished?


Not everyone recovers at the same pace. A tough workout can leave one person energized and refreshed while exhausting someone else. This is partly genetic, it’s also related to lifestyle factors like quality of sleep, nutrition, and really, what the other 23 hours of your day look like.


I’m telling you this with 100% honesty – my physique and energy both improved when I reduced the number of times I exercised per week.


I don’t tend to recover particularly fast so the rest helps me make sure I’m maximizing my workouts when I hit them. My current schedule is something like: strength training M-W-F, low stress cardio/active recovery Tu-Th. Keep in mind, I’ve been working out consistently for more than 10 years. I vary as needed based on energy, sleep, travel, etc.


What Does A Rest Day Look Like?

I’m encouraging you to take days off from strenuous exercise. This does not mean I want you to watch TV and sit on the couch!


Try a walk or bike ride (as long or short as you’d like) at a comfortable pace. Maybe a gentle yoga or stretch class is in order. Move with intention! In enjoyable, restorative ways for your body.

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