This is what a perfect week of exercise looks like
This is what a perfect week of exercise looks like
From cardio to lifting weights, here’s what you should be doing for exercise each week, according to an exercise scientist.
One the hardest parts of starting a new fitness regimen is figuring out how to structure your workouts to be efficient and effective at achieving your goals.
Most trainers will tell you that a balanced workout routine consists of strength training, cardio, and rest days (ideally spread throughout the week).
But with endless moves, techniques and classes, it can be tough to know how to split your time. Here’s what a perfect week of exercise looks like.
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Firstly, determine your fitness goals? Are you looking to strip body fat, gain muscle, train for a marathon or just manage stress? Having an idea of your goals will help you craft the ideal workout session.
Secondly, determine how often you can (realistically) exercise. If you can squeeze in only a few days a week, then doing cardio and strength in the same session is smart. However, if you workout more than four times a week, you’ll need to mix things up to prevent over-training and injury.
Strength training: two times per week
How long: anywhere between 10 minutes to one hour.
Regardless of your goals, strength training is a must. When it comes to fat loss, traditionally, cardio (aerobic) exercise is thought to be priority. However, most experts would agree that incorporating strength training has huge waist whittling benefits, making it arguably more effective than cardio when it comes to fat loss.
Why? The more muscle, the higher your metabolic rate, the higher caloric burn. It also strengthens joints and bones, helps to manage blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and improve posture, mobility and balance.
Don’t feel like you have to be a gym junkie, either. Strength training can be done anywhere using your own body weight, with a focus on multi-joint movements (like squats, park bench dips, push up, planks). This is especially the case if you’re short on time since these movements tend to work more muscle groups.
Using equipment like dumbbells, resistance bands or TRX suspension trainers or even canned food will add to the challenge, especially as the body adapts.
If you want to build bigger biceps and chest, add an extra day or two dedicated to lifting weights, as too much cardio could actually burn much needed calories the body needs to build muscle.
Cardio: on most, preferably all, days of the week
How long: aim for at least 30 minutes.
Yes, cardio can torch calories and help us achieve and maintain a healthy weight, but it also conditions the heart and lungs and improves mental health.
Current national guidelines recommend 150-300 minutes of physical activity split up throughout the week. That could mean a brisk walk for 30 minutes a day, five days a week; a high-intensity spin class one day for 45 minutes, plus a half-hour jog another day; or some other combination of moderate and vigorous activity.
By moderate, we’re talking activity that takes some effort, but you are still able to talk while doing them (e.g. brisk walk).
Vigorous activity, on the other hand, requires more effort and will make you “huff and puff” (e.g. high-intensity interval training). And while the short and snappy sessions, such as high-intensity interval training can bust a higher number of calories during the workout — making it the most effective for fat loss — it’s important, though to carry out this type of exercise no more than three times a week to allow optimal recovery, and also have a good base level of fitness to avoid risk of injury.
Those looking to build muscle will have less emphasis on cardio. One to two sessions per week should suffice in order to maintain cardiovascular conditioning and keep body fat levels down (without hindering muscle building efforts).
Recovery: One to two days
How long: Aim for 30-60 minutes.
At times we can get so hung up on our fitness goals, we don’t give our bodies enough time to recuperate. Building recovery time into any training program is crucial because this is the time that the body adapts to the stressed placed upon it and where the real effects on working out takes place.
However, this isn’t a free pass for a Netflix marathon. A rest day can include “active recovery”, where you don’t necessarily have to hit the gym or break a serious sweat, but where you still move your body, like walking, stretching (to improve flexibility) or performing exercise at a very low intensity.
Exercise experts agree that active recovery is great for restoring energy balance, allowing muscle to repair and grow; reducing inflammation, and can even improve power production during your next workout.
Whilst there’s no one-size-fits-all, the ‘perfect’ workout week will vary as fitness goals and schedules change, but it’s all about developing healthy fitness habits and moving more in as many ways as you can.
Kathleen Alleaume is an exercise and nutrition scientist and founder of The Right Balance. Follow her @therightbalance.
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