Establishing how much exercise you need to do can be a difficult endeavor. Like protein requirements, public health data about exercise is fairly black and white. Cookie cutter. One size fits all.
But we are not all the same size, whether we are talking about physical size, or obligations-on-the-calendar-size, or enjoyment-of-exercise size.
To find what “size” fits you, let’s discuss practical considerations for your training program. We’ll cover:
- How much exercise you really need to do and what to do if you don’t have much time
- Why you need a plan
- Whats the best training split to use
- How to gain muscle, spot increase, aka get a bigger butt, and not get “too bulky”
How Much Do You Need to Exercise?
First things first: how much do you need to exercise? My new clients ask me this all the time and it’s a very logical question. The CDC says adults need 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity aerobic physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise, and two weekly sessions of “muscle strengthening activities” of moderate or greater intensity. WHO, Harvard Health and The American Heart Association recommend generally the same, with a few more helpful guidelines like “limit the amount of time you spend being sedentary.”
Not terrible advice. If most people followed these guidelines, they’d probably do fine. But I don’t trust the CDC, WHO, or Harvard Health after their disastrous guidelines these past two years. There are more important things to consider when you first start than what a governing body that doesn’t know your name tells you to do.
Let’s make you a plan that’s better than the one-size-fits-all aimed at billions of people.
If you take more into account than just that blanket goal, you’ll have a great chance of consistency, and therefore long term success.
Your Current Situation
To begin, let’s consider your current situation.
- How much time do you have to allocate toward training?
- What can you currently do?
- What are your goals?
- What is your family history?
In athletics, it’s called strength & conditioning. Very performance based. For non-athletes, that’s lifting and cardio. Plan to do both.
We should also take into account what kind of exercise you enjoy. I’ve found with my clients that most people have a distinct preference for a strength or conditioning feel. They prefer either a heavy 2 rep deadlift set or a gut checking extended sled push & pull, all day erry day. Take that into consideration. There will be some parts you don’t love, but if you hate it all, chances are you won’t do it.
How Much Exercise Do You Need to Do?
The CDC says you should do 150 minutes + 2 lifting sessions, but the better question is, “This week, what are you certain you can do?” Can you do a training session on 2 days? 3 days? Plan on that. Start with what fits your life now. Adjust as you go.
Please consider practicalities: commute time, the extra time to wash/dry your hair, get dressed, redo your makeup if you’d like. Factors those variables in because this program has to work for you.
You can say you’ll train 7 days this week, but if that’s not reality, I’d rather you say you’ll do 2. Nail it. Plan on 2 sessions, do 2. Get them done by Thursday. Then, you can adjust to more sessions a week. You’ll be much more successful this way than saying you’ll do 6 days, 7 days, or following a structure that a governing body says to follow, and then failing because it doesn’t fit in your life right now.
There are seasons in life for everything. If you are a new mom, over committed at work, in a busy semester, it’s hard to do 4, 5, 7 days a week. Don’t look at this like a cop out. Your kids will grow up, mama, your semester from hell will end, and the job will change with time.
Do the best you can, give yourself grace, and adjust as you go.
Unpopular opinion, but if you only exercise twice a week for the rest of your life, that’s way better than nothing. That’s 100+ training sessions a year. Better than average, although we don’t compare ourselves to average.
So how many times a week do you need to train? You pick that right now. Make a plan, nail it, and reassess and make another plan. You can always have an end goal in mind and work toward it, but set yourself up for success first.
What is Your Strategy?
Sometimes all you need is a plan. The structure of having a plan will help you execute on said plan. If you need help with this please let me know. I have seen many many clients succeed in a variety of ways. We can find a way for you too!
Message me here if I can help you or if you have questions.
The Garage Squad
Do you need a program that tells you exactly what to do? The Garage Squad is made for the independent lifter who has gym access and wants to follow a program that uses barbells and some machines.
About the author
Kathryn Alexander is a strength coach and personal trainer in Austin, Texas. She loves hiking, college football, and the feel of a perfectly knurled barbell. Read more about Kathryn here.