Phone: 03 8822 3723

How Many Times Per Week Should You Exercise For Best Results?

Written by: Nick Jack
Category: 2014
on 22 May 2015
Hits: 20426

This is one of the most misunderstood questions within the Health & Fitness community and where many people still think you have to train everyday to get good results. As Personal Trainers and keen sports enthusiasts we love to train. But in order for the body to adapt it must have a period of repair. If you cannot adapt to and cope with the physical and mental demands of training, you will quickly become exhausted. So how can we reach the limits of human performance without tipping over the edge? The key lies in one of the simplest yet most neglected training principles: recovery.This is something that took me a long time to understand, I had the same belief as everyone. More training = better results. The no pain, no gain attitude. It was about the age of 35 that I started to realize there was a smarter way to train, that actually took a lot less time and produced much better results. It was also about the age of 35-37 that I set all of my personal best times for running, cycling, triathlon and lifting in the gym. But it was not from training more but from training less! My training volume was significantly less than it had ever been. For the first time I began to actually use what is known as the principles of progressive overload. This is not a new concept by the way; it is a key component of everything coaches and elite professional athletes should be trying to achieve, and is a big part of our Sports programs, but in the Fitness industry and in the media, it is not understood very well at all due to the fact that many still believe in the no pain no gain way of training. By the end of this article I will prove to you that less equals more!

What Is Progressive Overload?

The picture below illustrates the principle of progressive overload. Training stimulus is added and after 1-2 days of recovery there is an adaptation that improves performance and begins to decline if no new stimulus is added again. The key to getting better results is to assist the recovery stage by using strategies to enhance the repair process. If you were to introduce a recovery method at the point of fatigue, you can expect to reduce the length of time it will take to recover from training. So you can move ahead with your program more rapidly. The body actually responds to stress by adapting to cope with it better? The body does not get fitter through exercise; it gets fitter through recovering from exercise.? Training too often leads to fatigue, illness and injury. Exercise is stress to the body which many people do not realize. When we have too much stress in our life already from work, family, poor food, not enough sleep we now have limited reserves to adapt to the training program in a positive way. By working out too hard or too often you will not be able to get the results you want.

Quality over quantity every time.

To ensure success with your program the body must continually be challenged with more difficult tasks or exercises in order for it to continue to adapt and grow. The body will adapt only to the level of challenge that you give it and will not improve any more until it is given a greater challenge. It is not always about lifting heavier weights, sometimes completing more repetitions, performing the exercise for a longer period of time doing the exercise faster or slower can be all you need to enforce change. The key is to use a lot of various methods to continually overload the body’s systems so that you continue to make improvements.

We find that people perform best with 3 weight training sessions per week as a maximum. Combined with one aerobic training day or 1 short interval session would make for a great week. However this will vary depending on specific goals and needs as we will explore later. In my younger years I was trying to do weights 5 times per week and run 3-4 times per week. This is just way too much training and not enough time to recover. This is also where I was becoming dangerously addicted to exercise and why I started to develop stress induced problems like psoriasis. Read the article on how I got rid of skin problems if you are someone suffering from this.

Principles of Progressive Over Load

Training is designed progressively to overload body systems and fuel stores:
- If the training stress is insufficient to overload the body?s capabilities, no adaptations will occur
- If the workload is too great (progressed too quickly, performed too often without adequate rest), then fatigue follows and subsequent performance will be reduced
- Work alone is not enough to produce the best results; you need time to adapt to training stress
- To encourage adaptation to training, it is important to plan recovery activities that reduce residual fatigue; Eg Schedule a massage or stretching session the next day
- The sooner you recover from fatigue, and the fresher you are when you undertake a training session, the better the chance of improving

Be Careful Of Pattern Overload

Pattern overload is a term I first heard from Paul Chek and he explains this in great detail in many of his articles and You Tube videos you can watch. Basically this describes an injury to soft tissues resulting from repetitive movements used too often or from restricted freedom of movement when using certain machine based training. This is classic concern with sports like running and cycling that are extremely repetitive, people who do too much gym work and never change their program and occupations that are very repetitive with certain movements.

Pattern overload is caused mainly when there is

  1. An inability to correctly sequence a movement
  2. Being isolated or restricted to a specific movement without freedom to use more planes of motion
  3. Overuse of any particular pattern of movement

Faulty movement sequencing is related to postural problems and faulty techniques. To learn good technique you must never train to failure and you must not be too fatigued. Otherwise your brain will only remember the poor form. If you are a beginner or someone on a rehabilitation or injury prevention program your weekly schedule is best to be kept to small workouts with adequate rest to ensure perfect form. Read our article on exercise technique here to examples of perfect technique. I cannot stress how important technique is. We have proven with hundreds of rehabilitation clients and more recently with older clients that 2 times per week training with perfect form is far better than 5 times per week with bad form. Watch the videos below of real life client examples of good technique versus bad technique. In both cases these clients were able to significantly improve strength, lose weight, reduce pain and move freely. Not from training more, but training better!

Being isolated or restricted to a specific movement is a classic example of a person who uses machines on training equipment or trying to isolate muscles too much as in bodybuilding. The body is designed to have freedom to move in 3 planes of motion. Using cables, swissballs and free weights forces the body to adapt to different angles and positions that are impossible to make identical. The take home point here is never train with machines.

The last part is a key problem area with pattern overload, and one we see these days a lot with occupations that are very repetitive and also sports like running and cycling. It is very important for this person to use the gym environment to help encourage weaker muscles that are often being missed in these movements receive adequate training and avoid the using the overloaded muscles and tissues.

Also another common problem we see for people in the gym is performing the same exercise every week with the same sets and reps. Many people have a particular exercise or two that is their favorite and they tend to do this almost every session. Constantly stressing the joints, connective tissues and muscles with the exact same exercise, loads & tempos will eventually create a pattern overload. You rarely see this in sports like tennis, basketball, football because it is near impossible to replicate the exact same angle, speed, force of movement over and over. But in sports like running, cycling, swimming and even gym work you can replicate an exact movement. In the gym environment the bench press, with guys would be the most obvious example here. Read our article on better ways to develop a stronger and explosive chest for more details on alternatives to the bench press. It is important to always constantly change equipment, angles, sets, reps, tempo to allow different muscles and tissues to adapt to new stimulus. Again more does not equal better.

So What Is The Ideal Amount Of Workouts Per Week For Best Results?

Before giving you some great examples I suggest getting a copy of our Little Black Book Of Training Secrets for this not only explains this entire article in much more depth but gives you over 100 DIFFERENT WORKOUT IDEAS! 101 to be exact. I created this special report specifically for the person who does not change workouts or methods enough and also the gym junkie who does too many workouts and wonders why they do not get results. To see what is inside this go to the article that shows you all the chapters and provides a video trailer by clicking here

To get it straight away go to our Online Store by clicking here or on the image below. Trust me this will be the best thing you do this year.

Okay getting back to the question of what is the ideal amount of workouts to do. This is a difficult answer as it really depends on what your goal is, if you have any specific needs such as injuries, how much stress you have, your age and to some extent your gender. But what you will find there is a common theme to all of the examples, there is always a recover element included. And the harder your workout the longer the recovery needed. To help you out let's take a look at a few different examples.

Weight Loss Program Optimal Training Sessions Per Week For Best Results:

The key component of this program is adding muscle. The most important part of the training as a result is the strength training workouts. Skills like speed, agility and power are not needed for this person. Strength training techniques that build strength for everyday movements using multiple joints in a standing position. This gives vitality, energy and a huge metabolic effect for this person in desperate need of all these things. If you have to cut back a workout, it should be the interval training. Below I have suggested a way of splitting the days up in order to get adequate rest and ensure you speed up the repair process. Walking I would not regard as exercise but unfortunately for many people overweight it is a form of interval training due to their lack of overall fitness. This builds endurance, helps to get them outside and source Vitamin D and provide them with an ability to last longer in their key workouts of strength and interval training.

  1. Functional Strength Training workout of 30-45 minutes x 3 times per week. Eg Monday, Wednesday & Saturday
  2. Interval Training workout of 15-20 minutes x 1-2 times per week. Eg Thursday & Sunday
  3. Walking 45-60 minutes everyday
  4. Stretching every day
  5. Tai Chi, Massage or Yoga once a week

To find out more about how to address the factors contributing to weight gain you can get a Free copy of our Top 10 Reasons Why People Don't Lose Weight ebook.

Running Fitness & VO2 Max Program Optimal Training Sessions Per Week For Best Results:

As mentioned earlier I spent a lot of time developing programs for myself and it took me nearly 10 years to discover that the art to getting faster was not training more. Like many runners, I was addicted to it and just wanted to keep turning out more and more miles in the belief that it would make me faster. It did improve my endurance but the best results were from completing hard interval training that really depleted me and could not be done more than 3 times in a week. Strength training could not be ignored here as the volume of running would create a catabolic effect on my body that would contribute to injuries and health problems. Learning how to improve posture, develop strength into the glutes and core are essential for the runner and prevent many of the chronic injuries like Piriformis Syndrome, Patella Tracking injuries and other achilles and plantar fasciitis problems. And how could I forget technique. Running is all about efficiency. The better the technique the less effort required to get from point a to point b.

See video below on Running technique.

If you would like to know more about specific exercises, technique drills and how we currently train distance runners and even sprinters again you will find all this and more in the Little Black Book or you can download our Free Running Report by clicking the image below.

As there are many different running events let's assume you are a distance runner of 5-10km. Here is how I would break up my week.

  1. Interval Training of 30-45minute sessions x 1 per week. 400m & 800m intervals would make up the bulk of my training here. Eg Tuesday or Friday
  2. Tempo Run or Hill Run x 1 per week. This means running hard for 6 minutes with good form and jogging for 4 minutes. Repeat 2-3 times. These type of runs build strength endurance. Tuesday or Friday
  3. Long Run x 1 per week - This is a slow run just to build endurance. Usually around 40-50 minutes at an easy pace. - Sunday
  4. Strength Training x 2 per week - Workout of 45 minutes including lunges, squats, and various multi joint exercises to build overall functional strength. - Monday & Thursday
  5. Massage, Tai Chi or Yoga x 1-2 per week for repair and recovery

Sports Performance Program

Training for sports we all know is essential to ensure you reach your potential and the gym environment provides a great opportunity to develop skills and abilities needed for your chosen sport. However a focus too much on strength is where people get this all wrong. By all means strength is an area that needs to be improved, but as I will show you it is not the only one, and in fact it is not the most important factor in a gym program. The days of just bulking up using body building exercises are over. You must evolve to using advanced techniques and methods that mimic your sport with the intention of creating improvement in speed, power, agility, balance and strength. Just adding bulk to someone does not improve any of these skills. In fact many of the more popular gym exercises such as bench press or leg press are performed lying down usually lifting weights at slow speeds. Most sports are played standing up and at high speed, usually on an unstable surface, while at the same time performing some complex movement, and possibly getting knocked or bumped! How then can lying on your back lifting a heavy load improve this type of skill? This type of training besides making you dysfunctional and likely to get postural injuries like hamstring strains, groin strains and shoulder problems WILL make players less coordinated and slower, as opposed to highly athletic and faster! A well designed program takes into account ALL of the variables a needed for your sport and prioritizes accordingly.

To explain this process let's use the example of a tennis player and evaluate what skills and abilities are needed to play tennis better. We assess each ability with a score out of 10 with 10 being the best it can possibly be.

  1. Strength - 6/10
  2. Speed - 8/10
  3. Power - 9/10
  4. Agility - 10/10
  5. Balance - 7/10
  6. Endurance - 8/10
  7. Co-Ordination - 8/10
  8. Flexibility - 5/10

This information is invaluable in determining where to start with a program and how to break up the week in terms of what needs to be trained. You will notice that Strength would be 6 on the list of important abilities, meaning our program  should have a stronger focus on agility, speed and power. Let's take a look at how we could break up the week.

  • Monday - Agility & Speed
  • Tuesday - Strength
  • Wednesday - Balance & Posture
  • Thursday Agility & Power
  • Friday Strength
  • Saturday - Balance & Agility
  • Sunday - Endurance

Make sure you check out our sports performance program if you live in the Melbourne area and fill in a contact form below to book a free assessment and consultation. You can also download our Free Reports for Tennis and Football below where I go into detail about specific exercises we use for these sports.

 

And below is a couple of videos to highlight how we relate different skills in their program

Seniors Training Program

We have seen the tremendous workload needed for sports players as the various skills and abilities needed for their sport means they need to break up their training program. However with older adults the level of skill is not as high. Don't get me wrong older adults still need to train speed, power and agility. It just does not have to be at the level of high level tennis player. The biggest difference with older adults is how often the train per week is a lot less, and this mainly due to a slower repair or recovery process. Research has proven as has our own program that Seniors progress more effectively with only 2 key workouts per week as opposed to 3-4. Completing stretches and postural training exercises daily are essential but the more skilled and complex exercises are best trained only twice per week. Recently we have been using exercises we refer to as Active Daily Living exercises in combination with functional strength gym exercises to enhance movement skills and the ability of their brain to co ordinate movement.

Watch the videos below for examples.

This is how I would break up a good week for one of our 75 year old clients

  • Monday - Stretches & Walk
  • Tuesday  - Gym session x 60 mins with Functional Strength Training & ADL movements
  • Wednesday - Stretch & Posture exercise
  • Thursday - Gym session x 60 mins
  • Friday - Stretch & Posture exercises
  • Saturday - Long walk
  • Sunday - Practice ADL exercise or stretch

To find out more about our older adults program go to Stronger For Longer where you can also download a copy of our Free Report on best exercises for Older Adults. Always remember quality is more important than quantity.

Rehabilitation & Injury Prevention

This would be the most difficult of all the programs to correctly determine how much training you will need. Way too many rehab programs focus on specific muscles, labeling them as weak or tight needing to be either strengthened with a specific exercise or loosened with stretching. And while this is correct it is also where many programs fail as they forget that the body is a complex integrated system of systems that are all reliant on each other for you to be pain free and healthy. A good program will use many tests and assessments across all of these systems to find all of the faulty patterns and dysfunctional areas. The focus is really on the end result that we are after – improved human movement and function. This takes advantage of how the neuro-muscular system is designed to work in the first place which is in a highly coordinated manner. Very, very rarely to muscles work in complete isolation or anywhere close to it. Some muscles contract to provide movement while some muscles contract to provide stability. This is all done at the same time. The don’t work separate to each other. The more co-ordinated and complex movements have a greater effect on the brain which controls everything! By using specific exercises and stretches combined with movement skill development  you will have a much greater chance of full recovery and prevention of further injury. I suggest you read our testimonials page for proof of success using this method. You can also get a copy of our Injury Prevention Method by downloading our Free Report here.

Again focus is on perfect technique with rehab to change faulty movement patterns. A good break up of a week would be:

  • Monday - Stability, Strength and movement skills
  • Tuesday - Flexibility & Mobility
  • Wednesday - Stability & movement skills
  • Thursday - Posture, flexibility and mobility
  • Friday - Stability, Strength & Movement skills

As mentioned before this can vary significantly with each injury with the focus being more on quality of movement. Below is detailed programs for 3 of the most common injuries we see each week. Click the image below to find out more.

 

Conclusion

I apologize for the length of this article but as you can see there is quite a lot to cover and explain. What you should be able to take from this is you must regularly change your program in order to get results or change. Too many people do the same exercises, with the same reps and sets every week of the year. And in some cases these exercises do not even relate to their goal! Define what skills, movements you need and design a program around that making sure to allow time for recovery. Quality over quantity every time for best results.

If you live in the Melbourne area and would like to know more about our programs and would like to schedule a time for a free assessment click the image below to schedule a time.