Client Tip – How Often Should I Workout

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‘How often should I workout’ is probably the most common question I get. As you’re about to see, the answer isn’t as simple as you’d think.

There’s this notion that you need to live in a gym in order to get in shape. Since that’s pretty unreasonable, most people give themselves a free pass when it comes to their fitness. Let me burst that bubble first: you don’t need 10 hours a week of working out to see results.  

Let’s get the tough love out of the way first: getting in shape is nasty business. That difficulty factor doesn’t discriminate either; it’s tough for you, me, and everyone else.

With that being said, there’s a smart way (and conversely a hard way) to get in shape. Let’s stick with the smart way.

Here’s something interesting: a meta-analysis of exercise prescriptions discovered that people needed to exercise to the point of burning off 500-700 calories every day (1). That averaged out to an hour per day, which is quite a time commitment. Don’t expect many to be jumping at the opportunity to do that, me included.  

Then there’s that whole food thing.  A review on fat loss discovered that exercise combined with nutrition intervention led to 20% greater weight loss (2). Even with all that work, 50% of all subjects had regained the weight they lost within a year.

Kind of makes you want to throw the towel in on this whole exercise thing, right? Well, hold that thought.

I brought up these studies because they exclusively used aerobic exercise. You know, that whole jogging at a steady pace thing.  So exercise type matters. Your body adapts to aerobic exercise fairly quickly. To burn more calories you now have to run farther and longer (keep in mind I’m talking about calorie burning and not things like cardiovascular changes).

We now know that a mix of resistance training, high intensity work (think rower or kettlebell swings) and a bit of leisure time (walking the dog) go a long way towards losing –and keeping- the weight off. Think a 33%/33%/33% split between the three. Look at it like this: you want to build a body that burns calories at a high rate even when you’re not working out.

Where does all of this leave us? About 3-5 hours a week. Keep in mind, that’s 180 to 300 minutes a work of purposeful –distraction free -training. The issue is that it doesn’t happen overnight. If you can commit to 5-6 months of this, you’ll be surprised at the results you’ll get.  

References

1. Donnelly, J.E. and Smith, B.K. “Is Exercise Effective for Weight Loss With an Ad Libitum Diet? Energy Balance, Compensation, and Gender Differences.” Exercise and Sports Science Reviews (2005) 33;4 169-174

2. Curioni, C.C. and Lourenco, P.M. “Long Term Weight Loss After Diet and Exercise: A Systematic Review.” International Journal of Obesity (2005) 29, 1168-1174

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