I’ve gotten a lot of questions in my years as a trainer, and the most common one by far is “how often should I work out?” Coming in close-second: “how often should I do cardio?”
Most people would say the easy answer is to “listen to your body.” But what happens when your body is speaking a different language than your brain? How do you recognize when it’s more beneficial to take a rest day versus “pushing through” and doing something active?
The truth is, listening to your body is a skill that takes years of practice and experience, but with patience and proper coaching, anyone can learn. Unfortunately, most people end up learning the hard way via unrealistic goals, overtraining and injury - but that doesn’t need to happen to you!
When people start a health and fitness routine - whether for the first time or after an extended hiatus - they usually overdo it. They want quick results, so they train 5-6-7 days a week thinking that the more they do, the faster the results will come.
Let me say this as clearly as possible - this DOES NOT work!
The reason for this is simply because they don’t realize that their performance is suffering. There are many signs of overtraining and burnout, but, in general, if you’re constantly tired, sore and lack the natural motivation for physical activity, you may be overdoing it.
The most common question I get is about the balance between strength training and cardiovascular exercise - Should I separate my lifting days from my cardio days? Can I do them on the same day? Is HIIT better than regular cardio?
There are two rules I abide by when it comes to this topic:
1. Strength training IS Cardio training
If you successfully train all of the main muscle groups with minimal rest between sets, and maintain a moderate effort level for at least 30 minutes, you’ve likely benefited from the cardiovascular effect as well. Increasing resistance level (weight) or volume (sets/reps) will also increase the demand on the cardiovascular system.
2. Nobody NEEDS to do Cardio
But it’s extremely beneficial if it’s used correctly. Most people opt for higher intensity cardio, thinking that it is a better option than lower intensity, steady-state cardio. This couldn’t be further from the truth, especially the general population. When HIIT is properly used, it isn’t sustainable for anyone, even the most athletic people in the world! Walking, biking and playing sports are much better options in terms of effectiveness and enjoyment.
The FITT Principle outlines best way to ensure you are getting sufficient physical activity:
MAC STRENGTH/FOUNDATION TRAINING RECOMMENDATIONS
Frequency: Beginner (2-3 workouts per week); Advanced (3-4 workouts per week)
Intensity: Beginner (2-3 sets; 8-15 repetitions); Advanced (Additional volume/weight based on training goal)
Time: 30-60 minutes per session
Type: Strength, Endurance, Power, Hypertrophy
MAC ENDURANCE/CARDIOVASCULAR TRAINING RECOMMENDATIONS
Frequency: Beginner (2-3x per week); Advanced (2-4x per week)
Intensity: Low-to-moderate (60-70% of HR max) should make up the majority (~90%). High intensity training should be used less frequently (Less than 10%)
Time: 20-60 minutes per session (the higher the intensity, the less time required)
Type: Steady State, Interval Training