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FAQ: How Often Should I Train / Work Out?

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Actually the real FAQ is “Marianne, how often do you train?”, but I am assuming people only ask this in order to gauge their own training frequency.

What’s funny, is that just this week I have accidentally ended up learning more about this very topic! Maybe I was subconsciously drawing this subject to me since it was in my mind to write this post.

Anyway, on with answering the question.

The truth is, it seems to depend on a whole host of other things… and most of it is down to the individual, so I can’t give you 1 answer.  However, help you tune into things a little more by highlighting some common factors that come into play.

In order to keep this simple, I am going to keep this advice relating to how often to do my home workouts, because there are sooo many factors to consider that it’s impossible to cover them all. This way, it stays relevant for most of my readers :)
Here’s a video i did to help you with questions like these:

Life Factors:

  • Time available – Obvious one.  Not only will this dictate the frequency of your workouts, but it should help you plan on the intensity, volume and duration too.  Can you spare 30 mins 5 days per week, or 1 hour twice per week?
  • Stress – On one hand people will find exercise helps manage stress, were as there will also be folk who find stress hinders their training progress, and then there’s the issue that over-training only increases this stress – so it’s important to tune into your body, maybe keep a training journal to help monitor this.
  • Sleep quality – Same as stress!
  • How well you actually recover from training – there are people who feel they have not trained properly unless they are sore the next day.  SOME muscle soreness is a normal part of new training; be it new exercises, new tempo, new exercise order, heavier weights, adding drop-sets, pyometrics etc, but the body should be allowed to adapt so the soreness stops happening. This is when you will usually make the most progress, depending on the other factors above.  If you are always getting sore, you may not be training frequently enough to allow your body to get used to it, OR you are training too intensely for your current level.
  • Diet – If you eat to support your goals, then you will do just that; deviate from the clean eating and generally training suffers …. especially where alcohol is involved, BELIEVE ME!  Some people might train only to support their calorie consumption and maintain their current body composition.
  • Other activity – if you have an active job (say you are a trainer and you take 3 spin classes per week), you might want to consider reducing the frequency of your other training as it may eventually burn you out. However, if you sit at a desk 40 hours per week and the farthest you walk is to the coffee machine, then you might want to consider higher frequency workouts, but frequency is not the only variable to play with!
  • Age MAY also be a factor??
  • Medical problems or injuries.

Training Factors:

  • Your goals – if your goal is to gain a lot of muscle mass, then my home workouts should be kept to a minimum and you focus on hypertrophy training instead.  Maybe 1 short, intense HIIT workout per week, but longer workouts will just burn too many calories that should be used for muscle mass instead. If your goal is to support fat loss, then these workouts (a balance between strength and conditioning) is ideal!  People like me, who are simply wanting to maintain their conditioning, could do 2 per week, but again, this also will depend on other activities and calorie consumption, so build an awareness of how YOUR body adapts to certain types of training.
  • Your experience – A Beginner can typically train more often than someone more advanced, provided they don’t suffer from a lot of muscle soreness (this does also depend on your goals and other factors, so this is a very general rule).  What you will find is when a beginner trains, their body laps it up and they will see results very quickly (strength and muscle gains happen quicker than an advanced lifter). Their nervous system isn’t put under as much stress and this allows for faster recovery (provided someone is not training excessively or changing their routine too often). As you get more advanced in your training methods, often this involves more neurally taxing exercises that put more stress on your body – therefore, more recovery will help you achieve your goals. Beginners are learning movements, but advanced trainees are looking for more strength, more speed, more fat loss etc. Training more often does NOT always achieve these things …. smarter training does!
  • The amount of time you spend training – if you train for 15 – 20 minutes doing my High Intensity Interval Workouts, then you can generally get away with training more frequently. However, if you love to spend 1 hour + doing your training, then I would recommend considering doing less frequent workouts.   What I tend to do is mix and match 2 longer, high volume (more sets) training days in the gym (these, to me are low intensity), with 1 or 2 High Intensity, but shorter duration conditioning workouts.  Could you imagine doing HIIT for an hour?? Hmm, nope, didn’t think so. A common error is that people couple LONG WORKOUTS (higher volume) with HIGH FREQUENCY and then add some HIIT training in there too. Very few people can get away with this sort of stress, so tune in to the quality of your recovery.
  • How you feel – This is probably one of the most important factors and I will explain this in more detail now…

There are going to be different takes on these points, but it really does boil down to you as an individual: Your genetics, your preferences, your goals, your commitment, motivation, recovery and satisfaction. No one size fits all, so I want to conclude this article with a list of signs that your training frequency, volume, intensity are not working for you and what to do about it:

  • You are always sore the days following the training
  • You are getting injured frequently
  • You feel mentally drained/cloudy
  • You feel weaker doing every day tasks
  • Your numbers are down (reps, weight etc) more than 2 weeks in a row
  • During your workout, you feel you’ve been hit by a bus (a sign that the intensity and/or volume is too much, and/or you aren’t getting enough recovery)
  • Your head feels fuzzy and you feel physically sick (too intense?)
  • Your body composition is getting worse, despite training more?? Hmm, over-training and maybe over eating?

This list could go on, but I am sure you get the picture —> you must be aware of your body and how you cope with the type of training you are doing.

 

If you are finding that your training is suffering, then don’t panic!! Don’t go and change everything at once, because then you will never know what it was.  Change one thing for a few weeks and see if it helps.

  • Start eating better and stay hydrated
  • Reduce the frequency for a while
  • Reduce the intensity or volume
  • Get more sleep

My guess is, that 9 times out of 10, the culprit will be: INADEQUATE RECOVERY!

The final piece of advice to consider is that what works for you now, may not be the same next year, or 5 years down the line. When you feel you have found a method that works for you, retain some awareness of your progress. If decline happens, change something!  People can all too easily get stuck in a generic “train 3 times per week because that’s what somebody said to you once” and that’s the way you’ve always done it.  Things change; YOU change – so adapt your training around your life.

Basically, you can’t separate your life-life from your training life and you will always have factors that impact on your ability to train as often as you once did, or what you’d like.

For me, this was the most helpful thing to realise.  I would have felt guilty for days if I missed a training session, but now, I think: “Meh, more rest? It might even help”.  So don’t get too attached to training frequency, because it rarely stays consistent.  What we are better doing instead is learning to get the most from our training by evaluating our results or performance every 6-8 weeks.  If a certain frequency isn’t working, don’t assume upping it is the only key; look at the intensity, the volume, program design and recovery. Be more aware of your training  and don’t be afraid to change things.

Hope this post is somewhat useful to you and it helps at least outline just how many factors come into working this out for yourselves.  Training frequency is just one piece of the jigsaw.

If you are finding it difficult to adapt and arrange your training regime, then let me use this opportunity for a shameless plug for my Online Training Services. Sometimes having an expert eye look over what you are currently doing and personalizing a program for you can make the world of difference.  Feel free to email me at mvk_82@hotmail.com to inquire about my Online Programs.

 

I also encourage you to leave a comment below if you have any thoughts on this topic, because I feel there is a lot more to learn, even for me.  Every day I learn something new and my thinking on things often changes the more knowledge I gain.  However, each time I am asked this question I think about how difficult it is to give an accurate answer for everyone – so I hope this helps :)

Cheers,

Marianne

 

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20 Responses

  1. January says:

    This post is so timely for me, and thank you for the information! I am currently *very* frustrated with my training schedule. I am sure if you looked at my google history it would be 90% full of searches relating to it. The kettlebell has gotten me down to my goal weight (lost 65lbs in a year), and I have been using your routines for the last 9 months. I feel that I am now “stuck” in intermediate no-mans-land… And not sure which way to go. Anyway- my goals are simple… To further improve body composition (happy with my size and weight- just looking for more sculpted shoulders, waist, and butt), and secondly I want to be able to perform at Obstacle Course races (like the spartan race, etc). I am just not sure how to mix run days, KB days, and lifting days (currently doing 2 days a week of each- just alternating through). :( All of my progressions are fine, and well- progressing. I am sure the devil is the rest days for me (usually 1, maybe 2 a week)… As I am having more of the “run over by a bus days” than I care to admit to. Anyway- do you have any advice? (((Feel free to tell me that your advice is to hire you- as that is probably the answer- hahaha!)))

  2. Niko says:

    Great post as always Marianne! I’m certainly right with you regarding
    lack of sleep and stress being detrimental to training. The run up to
    Christmas is always a crazy time in farming and so I’ve been feeling
    pretty washed out even before I start my workout. Like tonight, I only
    did increasing sets of squats and then cut it short because I just felt
    mentally done in. I think tiredness and stress can make you lose
    concentration as your mind wanders, your form may suffer and you run the
    risk of injury. Note to self: must get more sleep! lol :) Thanks as
    always.

  3. chrysta says:

    such a great post! I think so many people (myself included) under estimate life factors as a major key player in training frequency. I totally agree that sleep, proper nutrition and stress can affect performance hands down and should not be taken lightly. I mean if ya arent sleeping and are stressed out how can one possible focus on lifting to a maximum or even a high paced conditioning circuit? For me personally my training is not only physically difficult but mentally as well. I really try to stay focused and coach myself thru it as well as trying to maintain or beat previous lifts. Gotta have your head in the game for that! One thing that has helped me ten fold too is paying attention to my breathing and becoming more of a belly breather. This has made a world of difference and its something I can incorporate all day long. Manages stress and takes tension out of my upper back which is turn helps my performance. Amazing how it all goes hand in hand. AWESOME post girl and great info as always. You rock!

  4. Definitely agree! I’ve been keeping up with variating your routines for the past 3 months and it certainly has brought a different edge to working out. Best physical and mental shape I have been with working out at this point in life and no sweat to maintain for the long run (skimpy diets and endless cardio hit a brick wall, I’m embracing muscle <3). Sleep and stress are annoying parts to get a handle on, life happens and sleep sometimes does not. I admit im still in the mode where I feel awful when I miss or cannot workout, but then I realize those rest days make Interval training come out with better results than usual, so im gradually de-stressing about giving myself a day off. With results though, you start to feel it and see it, I dont want to regress in personal gains. Vacation can really mess your groove though in my opinion, somehow the workouts don't feel right even if I've completed with usual time or reps. Maybe its just satisfying a lifestyle "routine" and being in a new place just doesnt suit well staying focused where you are (plus if the equipment is not there, good grief *facepalm*) Addressing working out too much, theres one thing about these interval circuits which is that after you're done, you want to do more from the boost of energy….? I admit, after im done, its hard to walk away after a 24- 30 minutes in the gym, so I at least maybe just focus on a muscle group for another a bit "well hey, since I'm here…." so might be working out more than need be that day, but I feel fulfilled so thats good right? lol Anywho, this is my first post on your site and I just want to say I thoroughly enjoy your videos and posts! Thanks for encouraging videos for women's strength in all realms of her lifestyle :) Salud!

    • Marianne says:

      Thank you for your comment, Analisa. I can understand your point. I think women especially get a perception that training should last a certain amount of time. I know I have many clients who want their workouts lasting longer because they feel they will get better results. This is not always the case of course and I think it’s worth tinkering with doing less for a while to see how your body responds.

      I’m glad that you are enjoying my routines :) Hope to see you commenting again!

  5. Hi, may I add my 2 cents? ;-) I was caught in the habit of looking for “hardcore” workouts that would kick me in the butt everyday and you know what? There was not routine for me in doing that. My workouts were not structured for results and progression because I was always doing a different workout and could not judge if I was getting stronger, and infact, thus by doing that, I wasn’t moving forward. So, I found a month-long structured program and it was amazing. It involved the use of kettlebells (it had to, or i wouldn’t waste my time;-) ). So I love this site, and I don’t know if I just can’t find it, but are there any similar programs on this site that last a month or longer? Thanks for any input anyone can give me:-)

    • Marianne says:

      Hi Tara!

      I agree with you! There was a time (not that long ago) when I said I did not agree with following a program. Let me say this now: I.WAS.WRONG! It is sooo important to follow some sort of program, which is why (big secret being revealed) that I am putting together my first “product”, which is a 12 week program! This program will take you through the challenge on getting back on track (or starting out) in the New Year and carry you through to March!

      Plus you have given me a kick in the butt to write a post about structuring your month’s training!

  6. Mickela says:

    Great post Marianne, just in time before the new year.
    I have been going through all my workout logs and looking at what needs to be taken care of or changed. It’s nice to have this post to use as reference.
    I got stuck on the HIIT wagon a year or so ago, and I am trying to mix it up a bit. When I get in a rut I go to yoga which sort of calibrates the mind and body.

    My goal for the coming year is to gain a bit more muscle, I will be joining a gym near my office so that it’s accessible. I guess my new program will be a bit like what you are doing, which is heavy work at gym and circuit training at home.
    I am also planning on running more and found some great people to work with. I completed 3.5 miles with a pace of 8.3 minutes per mile last night.

    Like you mention in your diet section, for me it’s not sugar or candies or carbs. and junk, but wine, and I plan on working on that. I agree that it hinders results.

    Cheers

    • Marianne says:

      It’s great to have clear goals. And I think yours will be very achievable :)

      Enjoy the wine over Christmas, then start the weaning process LOL … if you can ;)

      Happy Christmas Mickela xo

  7. Edel says:

    Happy New Year! I maybe wrong but my concern is the repetition of certain exercises. How frequently do I have to do certain exercises to maintain the strength in certain areas. I used to do one upper body session, one leg session and one light workout a week but I found that I was leaving it too long between the different types so I’ve created a workout that combines everything, I’m pretty sure you’ve said not to do this.

    • Marianne says:

      Hi Edel,

      If you design 3 full body workouts per week, you will want to include the following: a knee dominant exercise (squat, lunge, step up etc), a hip dominant exercise (a deadlift, a swing, bridge, good morning etc), then either a horizontal pull (like a type of row) or a vertical pull (pull up, Lat pull down), and either a horizontal pushing exercise (push up, bench press etc) or a vertical pushing exercise (military press, dips etc), and some sort of core specific exercise.

      You should try to keep your workouts the same for 4-6 weeks to make progress at those exercises – changing them all the time will not let you see strength gains or other progress.

      There is nothing wrong with doing for example a type of squat several times per week. You might change the intensity to spice things up, but there have been times when all I ever did were Goblet squats, or back squats.

      If say, you are wanting to get much stronger at back squats, or you just love them. There is not harm in doing these a few times per week, so long as they are not all done to you 1 rep max. You might want to test your 1RM every few weeks and work at different rep ranges the rest of the time. It can also be a good idea to vary the squat type too, but this will depend on what actually transfers to your back squat the most. For me, I might do back squat one day, bulgarian split squat another, and front squats the next.

      Does this answer your question?

      Cheers,
      Marianne

      • Edel says:

        Thanks Marianne. Ps. The greatest change since using your site is my back, it’s much stronger my posture has improved markedly. I was the girl who teachers poked in the back, was told to sit up, stand up straight so this is really great. I look more confident and feel it too.

  8. Lea Zengage says:

    I’m so happy to have found your site. It’s wonderful. This post is a great example of the quality of the info you provide and the humility it comes with. Nice job!!

    I have only one suggestion. I only started my focus on fitness July 2011. Now it’s a priority in my life. I anticipate seeing myself improving more and more of the next many decades of my life. As I learn more I understand about my potential and I’m hungry to achieve it. But, you see… I’m going to be 64 years old later this month. So, although I consider myself a fitness newbie, I want to suggest that you remove “age” as a limiting factor.

    Here’s the deal -> If over their lifetime a person doesn’t use their body and if they don’t give themselves good nutrition and if they don’t handle stress; well, YES, as they age they become weaker and sicker and convinced that they can’t be strong because of their “age.” But it really isn’t their age at all. It’s the cumulative impact of all those not-so-great decisions over the years.

    If they (and I – arg!) had CONSISTENTLY followed a fitness program, age would NOT be an issue. OK.. maybe once a person hits their 90s, they MIGHT, and I mean MIGHT, need to slow down. ‘m guessing I’ll take offense at my own statement when I hit 90. lol.

    My plan is to take a set of “fitness photos” on my birthday every year from now on. This year will be my first set. While my arms and shoulders are pretty well defined and stronger than most, I have some specific goals for my 65th birthday.

    Something to consider????

    Anyway, thanks for sharing your experience and all the best to you!!!

    Lea

    • Marianne says:

      Hi Lea,

      First of all thank you for stopping by. It’s great to hear about someone so determined to make fitness a priority AND succeeding at it! Kudos!

      I totally understand where you are coming from, however I did not say that age was a limiting factor; I said that age could be a factor you need to consider in the full picture when deciding how often you should train AND the type of training you should do. And I did not say that it was only older folk that this applied to, because it also applies to when we are training kids and young teens.

      You are right that the effects of the aging process are only magnified by poor lifestyle choices, however it is also the case that even the “healthiest” and most active people begin to require different training strategies as they age. Basically, there is natural wear and tear (there could even be more wear and tear on a person who has been very active their whole life), there are also changes in hormones, metabolism, the nervous system and recovery TENDS to take longer. Also, as people get older, their ability to shock absorb and even balance becomes more challenging. At what age this happens, will depend on the person, but aging is not something we can avoid. The body just slows down and cannot rest and repair as quickly as a young person.

      I am talking in general terms here, and there are plenty of young folk who will have the same problems. But when I use myself as an example, I could recover quicker from doing MORE activity as a teenager that what I can now. I can also recover better now than 3 years ago, but I don’t expect the same level of recovery to continue into my 40′s, 50′s or 60′s etc. That being said, I will not give up doing my best and getting the most out of my training, and neither should anyone. The point is that some people are not as active as you or I, so age will be a factor that needs considered more. For that reason alone, I won’t remove it from the list –> you can pretend you never saw it there ;)

      I hope you will stop by again and let us know how your training is going :)

      Kind Regards,
      Marianne

  9. Tia says:

    Marianne,

    Awesome website, you’re doing a great job and are an inspiration!
    I am also one to keep changing my workouts, hence not much improvement although saying that cutting out processed carbs have helped. Will take your advice and stick to at least 2 KB days and 2 IT days to see the improvements on kb strength and see if i can lean down in the process…

    Tia

  10. [...] train-alongen om du nyligen blivit kettlebellfrälst) men också bra och intressanta inlägg om träning och forskning. Det finns också några bodyweightpass ifall du inte tränar med [...]

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