Top athletes – such as Jakob Ingebrigtsen, who won gold at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics for the men’s 1500m race – train almost ten to fourteen times a week, many hours on the track and in the gym. But for the rest of us, getting in shape doesn’t necessarily mean such a tough regimen.
How often you should train depends on many different factors, such as your training goals, the intensity of your training and any history of injury. The type of workout you do can also determine how often you should exercise.
Exercise stresses different systems in our body. This stress causes fatigue, but also leads to “adjustments” (improvements) specific to the stress we experienced. For example, while resistance training (such as lifting weights) helps us build muscle strength, it is less likely to improve our cardiovascular fitness because it puts more strain on our skeletal muscles than our heart.
But improvements only come with a combination of recovery and repetition. If we don’t repeat the training stress, improvements are lost. We also need to give our bodies enough time – but not too much – between training sessions to restore and “adjust”. In short, the key to improving fitness is to train consistently, which means finding a balance between exercising enough and recovering enough.
To complicate matters, some body systems take longer to recover than others. For example, exercises that tax the body’s nervous system, such as sprinting, high-intensity interval training, or very hard resistance training, will longer to recover from than a lower-intensity session, such as a gentle jog that primarily stresses the heart and lungs. This means that depending on the type of workout you do, you may need to move more or less than you think.
When training for endurance events, it is helpful to exercise regularly at a low intensity. Regular training with this intensity helps the body use oxygen more effectively, and over time it becomes easier to train with the same intensity. In fact, successful endurance runners perform the most (about 80% of their training) on low intensitiesHigher intensity sessions are carefully planned – often two to three times a week, with a minimum of 48 hours in between. This also helps athletes recover better and prevent injuries between training sessions.
Skill Based Sports
Many sports, including swimming, tennis, and martial arts, require a combination of physical and technical skills. While more research is needed in this area it is widely believed that consistent and purposeful practice improves performance for these types of sports.
For example, swim coaches appreciate a high-volume, low-intensity workout (focus on technique) to help their swimmers move through the water more efficiently and easily. But if we do the same type of training repeatedly, overuse injuries can happen, so it may be best to vary exercise stress to help the body recover – so balance high-intensity days with easier exercise days and recovery days.
High-intensity activities (such as sprinting or practicing a tennis serve) can alter the central and peripheral nervous systems — both are thought to be important for skill improvement. But these activities can only be sustained at the required intensity for a short period of time – so to avoid injury, it’s important to only do a little bit each training session, but consistent practice over time.
Basically, “smarter” not training harder is key in both endurance sports and skill sports.
When it comes to building muscle, doing more training sessions per week results in: greater gain in muscle strength. This is probably because more training volume leads to a greater increase in both muscle size and strength. But rest and recovery (including proper nutrition) are still crucial to helping muscles Increase in size.
In general, it is recommended to perform muscle strengthening exercises on: two or more days a week to improve muscle and bone health. If increasing muscle mass is your goal, working different muscle groups on different days can ensure that you’re still challenging your muscles enough to build strength, while giving yourself plenty of time to recover between workouts.
But while it’s helpful to do more days of resistance training, even just one day a week is effective in improve strength. Full-body moves like squats and lunges, performed with the right technique, can be great for building strength. It’s also worth noting that training at your absolute maximum until you can’t lift any more reps on a particular exercise — known as lifting to failure — provides no additional benefits for improving strength. Indeed, it could be cheaper for building strength to leave a little in reserve.
Health and fitness
For the average person trying to get in shape, what matters isn’t necessarily how much exercise you do, but the quality of that exercise.
For example, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) shows promise for: improve fitness and health. It involves performing exercises with maximum effort for a short period of time, followed by a rest period. A recent study showed that doing four to seven one-minute intense exercises with 75 seconds of rest between three times a week improved fitness and mental well-being. So for people who don’t exercise regularly, less than 30 minutes a week can be helpful.
Whether you should exercise more or less often depends on many things, including how often you are able to, your exercise goals, and the intensity of the exercise you do. We recommend that within a week, try to vary the type of training you do and allow adequate recovery between high-intensity or resistance training days — including at least one recovery day per week. But in general, the most effective exercise program is one that you consistently stick to over a long period of time.