One question I hear a lot from folks new to weight training is “How many times a week should I work out?” The answer to that question really depends on the desired return on investment; the “investment” in this case being, of course, time. And then there’s the question of how long each training session should be. I’d like to address both.
How much is “enough,” and what’s “too much”?
We’ve all heard about those big-time body builders who spend hours a day in the gym, or that fitness fanatic at work who hits the pool before work, pumps iron during lunch, and runs 3 – 5 miles each night. Those schedules are demanding, uncommon, and likely unnecessary.
According to an article published in the ACSM Health & Fitness Journal *, spending too much time in the gym will likely lead to “decreased or impaired performance and increased fatigue, both during training and daily life.” Personally, I find the fact that training too much can negatively affect not only one’s gym performance but also his or her living performance to be pretty significant!
The article goes on to suggest that overtraining ultimately reduces overall fitness levels because it often leads to burnout and possibly injury…either of which “prevents one from working out.” If you’re trying to make fitness a part of your lifestyle, being forced out of the gym would be a pretty huge setback.
So how long should a session be, again?
Well it’s not really so much about counting minutes (or hours) in the gym…though that does matter. First you need to decide what it is you want to achieve, because it’s all about how you spend your time in the gym.
I want to lose body fat…
Cool. Good for you for acknowledging a potential health issue and taking positive action! Before you get started on creating “the new you,” there’s something you should know about cardio, weight training, and calorie counting.
If you want to lose weight (fat), cut your calories to create a daily (i.e. sustained) caloric deficit. Be sure to eat enough, though, because you need a certain number of calories (energy) each day to maintain or build lean muscle mass and sustain basic bodily functions. Check out “Feed the Beast!” from May 2012 for some helpful info on calorie planning.
You can lose weight with or without exercise. But whether you simply cut calories or do so in addition to long hours of cardio (walking, running, elliptical, etc.), you probably won’t get the kind of results you really want. As the mysterious “Drink Me!” tonic did for young Alice, cardio and dieting will most likely just affect your size. That’s what Fitness Coach, Simon Rabinovich, suggests anyway.
In a 2011 article posted at Serious Fitness Results (dot com), Rabinovich states that when traditional cardio is the centerpiece of any weight loss effort, “it is completely common for people to lose a lot of weight, becoming a smaller, yet still fat version of their former selves.” Remember that the next time you go to the gym. Compare the physiques of serious runners to those of serious lifters. In the end, though, it’s all about what you want to achieve.
So…how much time should I spend in the gym?
Right. You said you want to lose weight. I assume that means unwanted fat. Try to hit as many body parts as you can during each weightlifting session. If you go that route, be sure to give yourself ample recovery time between sessions (recommend about 48 hrs). Maybe throw in a light cardio session in between weightlifting days. Also…for fat loss, each session should be pretty high intensity.
So to finally answer your question, shoot for a Monday-Wednesday-Friday weightlifting split (45 – 60 min each) with light cardio (20 – 30 min) on Tuesday and Thursday. Saturday should be a “fun day” — a day for active play (think golf, dog park, beach volleyball, pick-up games, etc.). I will offer up some routines in a later post. So stay tuned.
How to gauge intensity…
You can gauge workout intensity in a variety of ways. For example, if you’re not sweating, it’s not intense enough. If after 20 minutes you’re not dripping with sweat, it’s not intense enough. If after 45 minutes you’re not nearly out of breath, it’s probably not intense enough.
I highly recommend investing in a good heart rate monitor (watch and chest strap). HR monitors offer immediate, real-time feedback that will tell you exactly how much effort you’re really putting into a workout (sometimes the mind plays tricks). HR monitors run anywhere from $60 – $500 at your local sporting goods store. I suggest you do some online research first, though. Not all monitors are alike. You probably don’t need an expensive monitor that doubles as a smartphone, but you also probably don’t want a monitor that only calculates HR when you touch a sensor on the device itself.
Don’t make the mistake of buying into the common misconception that low weight, high repetitions will do the trick (15 or more reps per set). It won’t. You’ll be wasting your time and frustrating the guy or gal waiting patiently (or maybe not so patiently) for you to vacate the dumbbell area.
Instead, go heavy as often as possible; shooting for the 8 – 10 rep range. Do no more than 4 sets of any one movement, and stick to 2 – 3 different movements per body part.
For example: a good chest component might be 3 sets of dumbbell presses, followed by 3 sets of incline dumbbell press, followed by 3 sets of angled dumbbell flys. Then you might move on to a series of lower body movements before returning to hit another upper body component like back and biceps. Again…I’ll post some proven workout routines later.
With all that in mind, try not to train to failure. If you’re not completing a third set of 8 reps, you may be going too heavy. Make a note of that and go a little lighter next time.
There is so much more to say on this subject, and I’ve only hit on the subtopic of fat loss (aka “cutting”). Before I move on to building (aka “bulking”) and then maintenance, I’ll make good on ponying up some beginner, intermediate, and advanced cutting workouts for you to try out. Until then, read up and check my statements for yourself. Get informed and get fit!
Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net
* Paige Kinucan and Len Kravitz, Ph.D., ACSM Health & Fitness Journal “Overtraining: Undermining Success?”, Vol. 11, Issue 4, Jul-Aug 2007, 8-12.