How often should we be training, and how long should each session last? Fitness trainers fill us in.
It’s only natural to reflect on your fitness goals when January rolls around. And, while you might be looking to set yourself new challenges like running your first 5K or upping the ante with your strength training, it is also a good idea to make sure you aren’t hitting the gym too often or working out too infrequently to see the progress you want to see.
As with everything health and fitness related, there are no hard and fast rules, though. The NHS does have some recommendations for how much exercise people should be getting in order to benefit their physical health, whether that be walking, running or weight training. It suggests that people should aim to do either 75 minutes of vigorous exercise or 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week. And we should always remind ourselves that any movement is good movement, not only for our body but for our mental health.
So, does that mean that those of us who work out five days a week are overdoing it? Or are those of us who hit the gym once a week just not doing enough? We decided to ask the experts – and their answers show that there’s never a one-size-fits-all.
HOW MUCH EXERCISE SHOULD YOU DO IN A DAY?
“One session a day is more than enough. If you’re doing more, or even one every day, you’re probably going to crash,” Tess Glynne-Jones, personal trainer at Rowbots explains. “When you train you become weaker because you’re fatiguing muscles. But after you let yourself recover, you build more strength than you had before. If you’re training more than once a day, you’re never really going to achieve that ‘super-compensation’ (the term for improving performance and strength over time) because you’re always going to be in a fatigued state,” she reminds us.
Emma Obayuvana, fitness trainer and member of the Strong Women Collective also says that we shouldn’t ever really do more than one workout a day, particularly if you’re new to training. “If you’re somebody that genuinely enjoys spending their time working out and you’re no stranger to exercise (so it’s not putting any unfamiliar stress on your body) you could move more regularly,” she says.
However, these workouts should be complementary. For example, “you could do a long walk or a gentle run in the morning and resistance training with free weights in the evening. Or you could do strength-training in the morning with yoga in the evening. Don’t do exactly the same workout twice a day because you’re over-exhausting the same muscles and it’s not beneficial,” she says.
SHOULD YOU DO CARDIO IN THE SAME SESSION AS WEIGHT TRAINING?
However, Emma does think it’s important for us to take a break between sessions. “You need your body to have optimal recovery in order to have beneficial training sessions. You’d get more out of your run if you are fully recovered from your weights session,” she says. “If you don’t have the luxury of time then I’d suggest shortening the length or intensity of one workout so you’re not over-fatigued. You could do a light jog for 20 minutes, followed by a weight session.”
Tess agrees that “doing full cardio and strength sessions on the same day is a lot – particularly if you are working a full-time job.” She also suggests combining the two rather than attempting to do two separate workouts with maximum effort. “You could add more cardio work into your weight sessions, such as adding in a fast-paced circuit after performing your big lifts, so that you get cardio and resistance done in one go.”
“If you want to increase your cardio performance, I’d say take the stairs, walk more or cycle. That’s a good way of getting your heart rate up when you’re too busy to get to the gym.”
HOW LONG SHOULD A WORKOUT BE?
“A good strength session doesn’t need to last longer than 45 minutes,” says Emma. “Structure it by including a mobility warm up, then two blocks of three exercises done back-to-back. Always make sure you take time to cool down and stretch.”
For Tess, the length of training depends on your goals. “You can get an efficient session within 45 minutes from start to finish. This is best done with supersets, one exercise straight into another followed by resting. But if you’re having a strength-based session, where you’re lifting around 80% or more of your max weight, then your session may take longer as you need time in between to rest. I recommend keeping these as single exercises rather than ‘super-setting’ as you’ll be pretty fatigued from working at a high percentage. These sessions can take up to two hours but 60 minutes is sufficient. You may start flat-lining if you go for two hours – it’s not necessary unless you’re a serious athlete and have a programme that requires you to train to that intensity.”
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Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).