How often do you need to exercise to get in shape? 

What’s the recommended amount of time you need to work out every week to get good results and get into shape? And, is it possible to benefit from only one workout a week? 

 Aerobics (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Aerobics
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)

Professional athletes train a lot, between 10 and 14 workouts a week. 

This is more than a workout a day, and most days they work out twice. But for ordinary people, who don’t train for international competitions, but just want to get in shape or keep fit, such a hectic training schedule is unnecessary. Most of us can settle for much less training - but how much less? 

Is two workouts a week enough? Three? And what if someone can only cram one workout into their weekly schedule, is it effective at all?

The frequency of training doesn’t stand on its own and is influenced by other factors: What’s the purpose of the exercise? How intense do you want to work out? Do you have a history of injuries? 

The type of training or sport you do also affects how often you need to practice to get the best results.

Exercise creates stress and strain on some body systems, which makes you feel tired, yet it can also make the body stronger, depending on the type of stress that the training produces. For example, resistance training (weight training, for instance) helps the body build muscle strength, but is less conducive for cardio-pulmonary endurance, because it focuses on the skeletal muscles and not the heart.

But to even see specific benefits of each workout, rest is required. You’ll have a hard time seeing a physiological improvement from working out if you don’t rest enough. Also, if we don’t take breaks to recover the physical loads in regular and frequent training, improvement won’t last. So, the body should be given time to rest between workouts … but not too much time.

In short: the key to improving physical fitness is to train at regular intervals which will find the right balance between frequency of training and the required recovery time.

(Credit: Ingimage)(Credit: Ingimage)

Sounds simple, yet here's where things start to get complicated. Some body systems take longer to recover than others. For example, activities which strain the body's nervous system such as running sprints, HIIT training, or very heavy weight training will require a longer recovery time than lower-intensity activities like light running, which mainly involves the heart and lungs.

This means that the number of your weekly workouts and the differences between them may be higher or lower than you think is worthwhile, and should also be determined depending on the type of activity you do and the movements you perform during them.

Endurance training

When training in endurance sports (long runs, cycling, etc.) regularly exercising at low intensity is more effective because this teaches the body to utilize its oxygen supply more efficiently. As time goes on, you’ll see that your training becomes easier, which means your endurance has improved.

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Professional athletes competing in these disciplines also build their training program in a similar way: about 80% of their training is low-intensity, while the more intense training is meticulously planned so that there’s a rest period of at least 48 hours between both types of workouts. This ensures that their bodies will have enough time to recover and also reduces the risk of injuries.

Resistance training

More training = more muscle building. If your goal is to increase muscle strength and mass you’ll benefit from extra workouts each week. Remember: rest, recovery and nutrition are also crucial factors to your success.

The general recommendation is to do muscle strengthening exercises at least twice a week, to improve muscle and bone health. But if their goal is to increase muscle mass and size, it’s recommended to divide the training so that each day you’ll work on a different muscle group. This way you’ll challenge your muscles constantly, and at the same time each muscle group will have enough time to rest and recover.

And what about one workout a week? It can also be really beneficial. In such a situation, it’s recommended that training includes exercises that activate the whole body and combine several muscle groups at the same time such as squats, lunges and more.

Note: The “pop until you drop” approach (multiple and strenuous repetitions until the trainee is unable to do even one more repetition) has been found to be ineffective and won’t effectively build muscle.Skill training

Swimming, tennis, martial arts and more are considered skilled disciplines. These are sports in which technique and refinement are really important. The prevailing belief is that in these disciplines one must do frequent, focused and consistent training. The danger with such training that is repeated frequently is that there’s an increased risk of stress injuries. 

If you do these activities, vary training intensity and make sure that you also have rest days in between.Extremely strenuous activities such as sprints or repetitive wrist motions as you work on swinging a tennis racket affect the peripheral and central nervous systems which are important for improving skill and technique.However, the level of intensity that is essential requires working out for short time periods. To avoid injuries, perform these activities only for a small part of your workout but do it consistently in order to improve without risking injury. In these sports the secret is to train smarter, not harder.

Health and fitness

For the average person trying to get in shape, what matters is not the quantity but the quality of the training. For example, HIIT, or high-intensity interval training, has been proven to be very effective in improving health and fitness. These workouts include very strenuous exercises that are performed for short periods of time, and short rests.

A recent study found that performing four to seven intense exercises for one minute each, with 75-second rest breaks between them, at a frequency of 3x/week, led to improvements in physical and mental health. So, for people who don’t exercise regularly, even 30 minutes of training during the week can be beneficial and show noticeable changes.

The number of your weekly workouts depends on all sorts of factors, one of which is your free time, and some workouts are realistic for you to do per week, yet pay attention to the purpose and intensity of the workout. The general recommendation is to vary types of exercise during the week and keep rest days in between. 

The bottom line: the most effective training program is one that you’re happy to do and will stick with for a long time.