When you spend your week working 9 to 5, it can be tough finding a pressing incentive to tire yourself out even further. Of course, there are some who seem to walk out of the gym with more energy than they walk in with. However, for those of us who don’t see barbells and treadmills in our dreams, getting to the fabled land of gains can be a challenge in and of itself. Whether it be a lack of time or a conflicting lifestyle, there’s just too much which stands in the way of sustaining a daily workout routine.
"Some have this misconception that doing more is better, but there's no hard and fast rule on how many days you need to work out"
Maybe that shouldn't be the aim though. Maybe there’s a balance to be found between bulking up and burning out. The World Health Organization recommends a minimum of 150 minutes of moderately intense aerobics or 75 minutes of highly intense aerobics per week, for adults. Thus arises a sentiment echoed universally by health agencies: exercising doesn’t pay out by the hour. “There’s a fine line between doing enough and doing too much,” says Khalis Khan, Fitness Professional Team Manager at Virgin Active. “Some have this misconception that doing more is better, but there’s no hard and fast rule on how many days you need to work out. It depends on your goal and how much time you can invest.”
There’s more science involved in this process than you’d expect at first glance — it’s not quite as simple as lifting weights and hoping for the best. Take, for example, one of the most common fitness goals out there: losing weight. You can spend as much time in the gym as you want, but if you’re eating more than you’re burning, the results simply won’t show. Khan explains, “To lose weight, you’ve got to be in a caloric deficit. It doesn’t even matter if you work out or not.”
Working out only enters the equation when building muscle (hypertrophy) becomes a part of the goal. Khan notes that several factors must now be taken into consideration, but narrows them down to two broad categories: mechanical tension and recovery. One must induce enough mechanical tension with each workout, while also devoting sufficient time to recovery. “If you work out five or six times a week, you have the luxury of splitting your volume and ensuring proper recovery. On the other hand, if you work out three or four times a week, you need to pack in more mechanical tension into each work-out to induce hypertrophy.”
“You need someone who has an objective view of your lifestyle and training goals. Remember, the patient doesn’t prescribe his own medication.”
Health organizations advise adults to perform muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days, leaving plenty of leeway for individuals to figure out a routine which suits them best. That being said, it can be tricky to do so through trial-and-error. “That’s when a coach comes in,” suggests Khan. “You need someone who has an objective view of your lifestyle and training goals. Remember, the patient doesn’t prescribe his own medication.”
Circling back to answer the burning question, there are several paths to fulfilling your fitness goals — some which involve working out every day, and many others which don’t. It’s up to you (and ideally, your coach) to choose the optimal one.