What An Ideal Workout Looks Like

28 Mar

The ideal breakdown between strength training, cardio, and sweet, sweet rest.

It’s time to review your workout and fitness goals. Unless you work out for a living, chances are, you don’t have an endless number of hours to spend in the gym every week. But no matter how many days you have to work on your fitness goals, it’s tough to know how to split your time between different types of exercise.

Workout variety is a good thing, but with endless moves, classes, and online programs out there, knowing where to start is half the battle. Cardio, strength training, and rest are all major aspects of living an active lifestyle, but how much of each should you be doing?

Your magic number of days depends on how active you already are. For example, you’ll probably see results from one day a week if you don’t already work out at all. But if your body is used to six days a week, one day probably won’t cut it.

The breakdown varies depending on your specific goals, but in general, four to five days a week will do the trick if you’re simply aiming to improve your fitness and stay in shape. If you’re going for the full five, three days should focus on strength training, two days should focus on cardio, and two should be active rest. If you only want to work out four days a week, think about your goals: If you want to add muscle tone, cut a cardio day. If you want to improve endurance, skip a strength day. Or, switch it each week.

Here’s how to crush it at each one:

Strength Training

The more muscle you have the higher your metabolic rate. Strength training also strengthens joints and bones.

How Often: Three times per week.

How Long: A strength-training session should last 45-60 minutes.

How To Do It: You want to include upper and lower body moves, and you want to have a balance between pushing and pulling movements. So, for example, a pushing movement would be a chest press, and a pulling movement would be a row. You should do different moves in each of the three strength sessions, but repeat them every week. Personally, I would stay with a program for four to six weeks and progressively increase the weight. The week before your last week, I would have a little bit of a drop-off, to give your body a little bit of a recovery, and the last week really push it hard. Four to six weeks is not a magic number. It is how long it takes to hit a plateau. I change up my program once a month.

Bonus Tip: Strength training is also where you can improve other elements of your fitness. You can work on coordination during the warm-up with non-linear movements and patterns like crawling. You can also improve balance (and engage your core!) by doing single-leg exercises. Another tip: warm up before hitting the weights and stretch when you are finished to prevent soreness. Be sure not to stretch too deeply, but warm up only, before you lift weights as you can put your muscle out of normal range of motion and cause injury. It is better to stretch after the workout.

Cardiovascular Exercise

As important as it is to strength train, cardio has its place in a balanced workout routine, too. Doing cardio keeps your circulatory system working optimally helping you to recover faster…and it keeps your endurance up. It also increases your VO2 max, which helps your body utilize oxygen. Check, check, and check. 🙂

How Often: Two times per week.

How Long: The American College Of Sports Medicine recommends logging 150 minutes of moderate-to-intense activity per week. How you split that up will depend on what type of training you’re doing (longer, steady-state sessions vs. shorter HIIT workouts).

How To Do It: You’ve got a ton of options: Spinning, an outdoor jog, the good old elliptical machine, (my favorite) the stair master, and the list goes on. Whether something is cardiovascular depends on where your heart rate is at and how long you’re doing it for. Target heart rates are different for everyone. A good baseline to aim for during your cardio routines is between 120 and 150 beats per minute for 20-30 minutes. (Learn more about target heart rates here.) I’m a big fan of doing functional movements to keep my client’s heart rate up. For example, I will do a circuit training program, where you strength train for a set and then perform cardio exercise for 30 seconds. You then also fit into strength training and cardio into a combination workout —the key is trying to do more reps within a certain time span to keep that heart rate elevated.

Bonus Tip: Another option is interval training, which helps you burn more calories in the same time as steady state. I like to do 1 minute 30 seconds rest with 30 second intervals for 20-30 minutes. The best part? You can do this with pretty much anything. Indoor row machine, bike, treadmill, functional movements, and my favorite the stair master, you name it.

Rest

Taking a break lets your body recover and rebuild so you can get back to your workouts refreshed and ready to rock it. Of course, this isn’t a free pass to sit on the couch all day (well, not every time at least). A rest day should actually be considered ‘active recovery’, meaning you don’t have to hit the gym or break a serious sweat, but you should do something. It’s not just about the physical recovery—it’s also the mental. Doing something that you enjoy that’s active is great for the mind…and it assists in residual fatigue. Plus, it keeps up your conditioning.

How Often: Two times per week.

How Long: Aim for 20-60 minutes.

How To Do It: Whether you hit up a restorative yoga class or just take a walk, active recovery shouldn’t require a ton of effort like a workout day, but it should get you moving.

Bonus Tip: Where you place these rest days is up to you—if you do your workouts Monday through Friday, feel free to take the whole weekend off. Or, you could break them up by doing a strength day, a cardio day, then a rest day before getting back to weight training.

Of course, your perfect gym week may vary slightly based on your goals and your schedule, but it’s all about having good fitness habits.

If you want results, you need to have a routine that you can stick with. I’ve seen so many people try to fit workouts in inconsistently, and it ends up being a waste of time. So, no matter what you do and when you do it, the goal should be to rock it, rest, repeat.

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