In order to get a great workout, one that incorporates both cardio and strength training, it can feel like you need to spend hours at the gym.
And in order to stay on top of your fitness game, it can feel like you need to exercise every day. But do you really?
You have questions. We have answers.
How Long Should You Be at the Gym?
Generally speaking, working out for two-plus hours most days is too much. “Unless you’re there for a sports-specific reason, training that long is not effective, and it could lead to damage and injury,” explains Luke Lombardo, RCAA certified run coach, instructor at Studio Metamorphosis in Los Angeles, and Ironman. So unless you’re training for something like a triathlon, workouts that last multiple hours may do more harm than good.
The physical activity guidelines put forth by the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion state that adults should exercise at least 150 minutes each week, focusing on moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity like brisk walking. If more vigorous physical activity like jogging or swimming is your preference, shoot for at least 75 minutes each week. On top of that, individuals should be strength training all major muscle groups at moderate or high intensity two or more days a week.
Unless you’re training for something like a triathlon, workouts that last multiple hours may do more harm than good.
Training should be judged less on the amount of time than on the level of intensity, Lombardo explains. “A good general rule of thumb is that it’s better to do an intense workout for a shorter period of time than a really long workout where you never put full intensity into it,” he says. For example, if you’re looking to get maximum results regarding caloric and fat burn as well as build muscle, it is better to do high-intensity interval training (HIIT), where you have periods of maximum effort followed by short periods of less intensity. Contrary to popular belief, “a 10-minute HIIT workout could burn more calories and fat throughout the entire day and build more muscle than standing on the elliptical for 60 minutes while reading a magazine,” says Lombardo. A recent study found that HIIT workouts even have a better effect on your cardiometabolic health, too.
Most group-fitness classes range 45 minutes toan hour, which should be enough time to get you warmed up, give you a good workout, and then cool you down after.
How Many Days Should You Exercise?
The amount of days you exercise in a week really depends on your fitness level. If you’re just getting back into fitness or just starting out at the gym for the first time, three days is probably enough, Lombardo explains. “Working out four to five days a week is ideal for overall maintenance and those individuals for whom fitness is a very important part of their lives,” he says. “Six days is generally for the dedicated athlete.”
Hitting the weight rack more than six days a week? Lombardo wouldn’t recommend it. “Everyone needs a rest day, from the casual gym goer to the professional athlete,” he says. “Rest days allow you to recover, and you make gains during recovery.”
Finding Your Routine
The most important thing about a fitness routine is having one. In order to maintain your health and fitness level, you need to do something you like so that you stick with it. Overtraining can quickly turn into boredom and a lot of the time results in chronic injuries, whereas undertraining becomes a yo-yo pattern with no results. “It’s easy to fall off the wagon, so to speak, unless we schedule it into our day. So pencil it into your planner or put it on your iPhone calendar and commit to it,” says Lombardo.
Other suggestions include setting an alarm to leave work on time to make that group class or having a workout buddy who keeps you accountable in the morning. “Once you have a regular workout schedule, you’ll become a creature of habit and you’ll go crazy without it,” says Lombardo.