TF Basics: How much should I work out?

As a personal trainer, I wish I had just one answer to “how much should I work out?”  There is no universal best answer because you are each individuals in your own unique circumstances with your own needs and goals, but here are some general guidelines to consider.

How much cardio do I need?

The government says you need about 2 and a half hours of moderately intense cardio every week, or about 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week.  “Moderately intense” means that you can carry a conversation, but it’s a little tough to get the words out, or you might have to stop talking to catch your breath every now and then.

What cardio should I do?

Whatever you will do, to get started.  If you want to get better at a specific activity, like running or swimming, you should choose running or swimming as your cardio activity.  If you don’t have access to a gym, lace up your shoes and walk (or come try a Zumba class at Tiny Fitness!).  If you are having a hard time choosing an activity, or if you’re wondering what the best cardio plan is for your goals, ask me.

But should I do intervals or steady state?  PS, what do those words mean?

Interval training (including HIIT and tabata) is a kind of training that mixes periods of intense work with periods of lower intensity, like going for a jog but taking scheduled walking breaks.  Steady state is work that is performed at a relatively constant rate, like going for a long walk.

As far as which one you should be doing, that depends on a lot of factors, like your current stress levels and sleep habits, nutrition, goals, and physiological makeup.  But I can help you sort it out!  There’s no universal-enough answer for me to feel comfortable telling the whole Internet that you should do 8 minutes of max-out tabata a week or 4 hours of LISS.

Should I be strength training?

99% sure the answer is yes.

Is my barre class strength training?

Not necessarily, just like yoga…it really depends on the individual instructor, your effort level, and the specific format of the class that you attend. But hey, even Crossfit can be done so that it’s not really strength training.

What strength training should I do?

Ideally, you should be working all of your major muscle groups 2-3 times each week.  You can lift weights, use the weight machines at the gym, do bodyweight exercises anywhere, or find a class that makes you work your muscles in a way that is progressively and consciously more difficult over time.  When things start feeling easy, increase your effort by 10%.

And what kind of sets? Drop sets? Straight sets? Pyramids? Ladders? High reps or low? Heavy weight or light?

Sorry, but again the answers will depend on your specific goals.  There is no best kind of strength workout or universal progression that will get everyone to their ideal body, especially since we each have our own concept of that end result.  The general wisdom that low weights/high reps is the best combo for getting good-looking muscles isn’t necessarily true, and your muscles do a lot for you besides just looking good.

The amount of rest between sets will also vary based on your goals.  But please do rest between your sets.  Keeping your body healthy and letting it work at its optimal power isn’t wasting time.

I just want to get toned.

Cool fact: “toned” probably means you want to lower your bodyfat% and see your muscles better, which has just as much to do with your nutrition as it does with your workouts.  If you’re consistent and working hard, it will happen.

What about rest days?

I recommend taking at least one day completely off from your workouts every week so that your muscles can rebuild – muscle growth and recovery happens when you sleep, so be sure to sleep.

Step back every 6-8 weeks and take an extra day or two off, and/or reduce the intensity of your workouts for the week.  It’s not laziness, it’s insurance for your results, an opportunity for your hormones to rebalance, and a smart practice for injury prevention.

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