I haven’t been very good at answering questions from reader’s lately. I apologize for that. Just now, I went through some feedback and questions that have come my way recently. (If you have a question for me, then feel free to send it my way via the e-mail form on this page). As I was doing so, I came upon a question about organic fitness that I feel deserves a post of its own. The question was posed in relation to the organic fitness pyramid I put up here on the site quite recently, which depicts the various types of physical activities that are essential to organic fitness.
Here’s the question:
Hi Eirik. How often would you recommend doing high/mod and low intensity exercises as shown on the pyramid? – Eliza
There is no simple answer to your question. As it often is, the answer is it depends.
How often you should exercise depends on your health condition, fitness level, and goals, as well as the duration, intensity, and volume of your workouts. If you’re very healthy and fit and are looking to compete in the CrossFit games, you should obviously spend more time in the gym than if you’re sick and unfit and/or are just looking to improve your general health.
Health status is a very important, yet often overlooked determinant of exercise tolerance. I should know, as I’ve previously made the mistake of exercising too much relative to the amount that my body could handle at the time. That mistake cost me greatly. If you’re healthy, your body can handle a lot more exercise than if you’re inflamed, tired, and in suboptimal health. This is where the motto listen to your body comes into the equation. If you feel like your body “craves” exercise, then don’t hesitate to exercise; however, if you regularly feel very tired and drained of energy and basically have to drag your body to the gym, then you may want to focus more on improving your diet, microbiome composition, and general health, before you get under the squat bar.
This is not to say that you shouldn’t exercise at all if your body is in a sorry state. All I’m saying is that it’s important that you take your health status into account when you plan your training program.
This also applies to the second thing I mentioned earlier, namely your fitness level. If your body is well-accustomed to a heavy training regime and is heavily muscled, it’s obviously better able to cope with heavy exercise than if it’s largely untrained. Remember: Exercise stimulates adaptation. You don’t adapt to a heavy training regime over night; it takes time for the body to adjust.
Let’s then move onto the third thing I mentioned earlier, namely goals. The type of exercise that is appropriate for you obviously depends on what you want to achieve by working out. Do you want to look better naked, run faster, or improve your swimming skills? Or are perhaps your goals more related to the technical performance of sports such as soccer or basketball? That’s something you should think through before you decide how often you intend to exercise.
Finally, it’s important to remember that other programming-related variables besides frequency have to be taken into account when an exercise program is to be designed, chief of which are intensity and volume. If your workouts tend to be long and intense, you can obviously work out less frequently (without overstraining yourself) than if they’re short and/or not intensive.
With all of that being said, let’s get onto a bit more specifics…
How often should a fairly healthy person who wants to improve his/her general fitness and health exercise?
Let’s assume that you’re fairly healthy and simply want to improve your general health and fitness condition. You don’t want to spend a lot of time working out, but you’re willing to put in a fair amount of effort to build and enhance your physique.
In that case, I’d recommend that you perform 2-4 moderate-high intensity workouts a week, for example composed of strength training and/or circuit training involving the execution of squats, barbell presses, pull-ups, push-ups, ab wheel rollouts, kettlebell swings, and/or other similar exercises, followed by high-intensity sprints, sled pushing, or rowing at the end. You could for example do 8 uphill sprints of 30 seconds each, with a 30 second break between each sprint. Alternatively, you could split the workout in two, and do strength training for about half an hour, followed by moderate-high intensity interval training (e.g., on a treadmill or rowing machine) for half an hour.
If you prefer to work out more often, but for a shorter duration each time, then there’s nothing wrong with spreading the volume out over more days. As long as you don’t go all out every workout and keep the volume at a modest level, you shouldn’t be afraid of exercising almost every day. As for low-moderate intensity exercise, more is usually better. The human body is evolutionarily accustomed to walk a lot. In other words, if you can, you should move around a lot.
What’s important to point out is that although all of the above activities are great additions to an organic fitness program, you don’t have to do them to stay fairly fit. If you prefer to swim with friends, play sports, and/or dance, as opposed to “working out”, there’s nothing wrong with doing that. You won’t develop a big, perky butt or very strong arms by doing those types of activities; however, you will definitely improve your overall fitness. Optimally, you’d do those activities, in addition to more planned, gym-like workouts.
I know my answer is probably not as specific as you’d hoped, but I hope you get something out of it.