It’s the question that has plagued athletes since the beginning of time:
“How many times a week should I work out?”
With the rise of social media and fitness tracking apps, it’s all-too-easy to compare your workout frequency and intensity with your friends’ and competitors’ efforts. This can lead to second guessing if you’re working out enough, working out too much, and questioning the effectiveness of your workouts overall. Bleh!
And as much as we’d all like a specific answer, as you’d expect, you won’t find one here. Instead, we’ll breakdown what questions you need to ask yourself and what you need to keep in mind to determine what’s the right number for you.
Long story short, what’s right for someone else isn’t always right for you.
As always, we turned to an expert to get to the bottom of this often-controversial question (and we mean expert). If you don’t know Obi Obadike, you should. He’s the go-to personal trainer for Hollywood’s biggest stars, a published author and fitness and coaching guru.
Consistency and Structure is Key
Let’s start with some general specifics — Obadike suggests the average athlete should work out at least three to four days a week. Notice the “at least” verbiage — these three to four days are the foundation for any athlete, regardless of their sport or specialization.
Don’t make it any more complicated than it needs to be.
Consistency is important, not just for staying in shape, but also for setting a routine and prioritizing fitness in your day-to-day schedule. But how should these workouts be structured and organized?
“I would break down the days as one day HIIT, one day steady state and one day HIIT and one day steady state,” says Obadike. “HIIT training is very intense so you need a day or two to recover from that, and doing steady state workout allows you to recover from your HIIT cardio day and it balances it out.”
Next, plan your workouts to fit this loose workout structure. The possibilities are virtually endless, so ask yourself what your fitness goals are, and how a workout will help you reach said goals. Don’t be afraid to get specific with your workouts.
Listen to your Body
While the three to four days a week guideline is a great starting point, it’s ultimately up to you how frequently you’re able to work out. If you’re just starting your fitness career, three days a week might be all you can handle. If you’re a serious athlete and have been training for years, it’s not uncommon to workout upwards of six (or even seven) days a week.
Don’t forget, recovery is just as important as the workout itself. You need to give your body time to manifest the performance gains after stressing your system — it’s always better to err on the side of caution if you’re not feeling quite right.
While skipping a day at the gym or at the track might seem counterproductive at the time, it’s a safer bet than training through the pain and potentially creating an injury that can sideline you for months.
The most important thing when you are recovering is to listen to your body
“Your body will always give you signals that you have trained enough or you have trained too much,” Obadike says. “If you are too sore then your body is saying I need a break — your body is your intensity gauge coach.”
A proper warm up and cool down can also make a big difference on how often you can work out during any given week. If your workout lasts an hour, designate fifteen minutes on either end solely for priming your system and recovering.
“Warming up is so important before you work-out to prevent injuries. And post-workout stretching and cool down is important to prevent your body from tightening after a workout.”
Monitor Your Training Load
As Obadike mentioned, listening to your body is the ultimate way to figure out how many days a week you can work out. Using technology is one of the best ways to “listen” to your body, as you can compare highly-specific metrics over time rather than just qualitatively self-diagnosing yourself as tired or sluggish. Combining the two will give you a well-rounded, complete picture.
You can use technology to monitor your heart rate before, during and after exercise and/ or monitor your training load to get a comprehensive view on how your training sessions strain your body in different ways. If you also monitor your recovery, you’ll be able to more optimally schedule and adjust your workouts as your recovery status will tell you whether you should keep doing what you’ve been doing, push harder or take it easier.
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Please note that the information provided in the Polar Blog articles cannot replace individual advice from health professionals. Please consult your physician before starting a new fitness program.