20 July 2015

Callum’s Blog #2 – July 2015 – Exercise Frequency – What is the Optimal Amount?

Greetings friends,

One of the most common questions I receive relating to exercise is “how many times per week should a person workout?”

Before I share with you my views, I would like to set the scene with some interesting facts about our home. One of our longest serving members and Boroughmuir club stalwart Norrie was kind enough to give me a few historical nuggets about Meggetland. The facility was built in 1928 and at this time it was the largest council run (local authority) centre in the whole of Europe. The soil was imported from Redford Barracks, and the original changing room facilities were an old WW1 aircraft-hanger! This is wonderful information which I hope will stimulate your imaginations to think back to the past and take a moment to ponder how much the world has changed.

Back in the 1920s humans expended far more calories and energy walking from place to place, with vehicles being a real luxury. Food was produced in the garden and fields and cooked from scratch. There were no major super-markets to buy food from, or microwaves to blast your food in minutes. Family meals were a regular fixture.  These days, convenience food, hectic lifestyles with disproportionate work-life balance, engender a ‘time poor but cash rich’ population. Sedentary lifestyles, and office based jobs (with elevators an option to the stair case) make an exercise routine outside of work and everyday tasks an essential requirement to health, fitness and well-being.

I return now to the main topic. What is the optimal amount of times to exercise per week? My opinion is that the amount will vary depending on your individual goals and objectives. A baseline requirement in my opinion is to exercise 3 times per week, performing a mixture of aerobic/cardiovascular exercise (cycling, fast-walking, jogging, running or swimming for example), muscular strength and endurance, and stretching for flexibility and mobility.

If your objective is to lose bodyweight and or body fat, a more structured and planned regime is necessary. Whilst the exercise planning may require more detail and coaching to learn, the formula remains simple: move more, eat a bit little less. Expend more energy than you input via food and drink. Exercising a minimum of 4 times per week for at least 1 hour will help to produce results.

An athlete such as: a runner, a bodybuilder, or a CrossFit competitor will require a much higher volume of training, with a larger calorie intake requirement. I work with athletes who train 5 or 6 times per week. Some people exercise 7 days a week. For power-lifting and strength training, repeating and executing exercises and high volume and heavy weight is necessary. Many will squat 5 times per week, whereas a bodybuilder will perform squats 1 or 2 times per week, with less volume but greater intensity. The training principle of specificity is one to keep in mind.  For example if you are an athlete training for a marathon, clearly your focus is to run many miles, at a fast pace, to maximise your race winning changes.

My view is that whatever category you fall into, make a plan, document your results, and importantly listen to your body. If you have energy, exercise more. If you are tired, from work or your young family, train a little less on that day, and utilise the time to rest. I could write 10,000 words on this topic, and if I was to ask 10 of my colleagues and peers, I would likely get 10 answers with interesting variation. As a rule of thumb, I believe 4 exercise sessions per week covers the largest percentile of the population.

I will finish with a story about 2 men who challenged each other to a wood chopping contest in the forest. The contest took place over a full day, and the objective was to determine who would chop the most wood. They started at the same time, and finished at the same time. The 1st chap worked flat out taking only a short 20 minute break for lunch then continued frenetically chopping wood with his axe. The 2nd chap took a longer lunch break and a few regular breaks in the morning and afternoon. At the end of the contest it was the 2nd man was victorious chopping the most wood. Disappointed with the outcome, the first man turned to his competitor and asked how he managed to chop more wood when he was relaxing and chilling out during lunch and on his breaks. He thought he had one because he worked for longer and harder. The winner patted his friend on the back and said “I was not just resting, I was sharpening my axe!”

The moral of the story is to take time out during each week to reflect on your journey. The time you spend planning and organising will pay of 10 fold in efficiency! If you are a keep fit novice or a professional athlete, I council all of you, no matter what your goals and objectives, to take time out and listen to your inner voice. Review your goals, write them down, and then make a plan! Life in 2015 can feel very hectic and at times maybe even stressful. Take time out for yourself each week, and sharpen your own axe! I look forward to hearing your stories when I see you in the gym.

Thanks for reading, and God bless you all.

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