‘How many times a week should I work out’ is a key question that follows any renewed commitment to getting in shape (often sparked by an unfortunate glimpse in the mirror). New gym gear is invested in. Trainers are dusted off. Gym membership pins retrieved from the depths of your email inbox. It happens more than any of us like to admit.
Before you know it, you’re hitting the gym hard, maybe even pounding pavements on your off days to up your calorie crunch. Best of all, you’re starting to notice an effect.
Then it all comes crashing down. Despite the best of intentions, it’s difficult to not only find time for all this exercise, but to avoid burning out. Whether through injury, a lapse in your diet plan, or a blip in morale, overdoing it at the start is the number one reason why most training plans fail.
So, we ask the question again: how many times a week should you work out? In your quest to get buff, how much is too much?
Burnout – be warned
If you’re returning to the gym after time off, you’ll be more likely to feel aches and pains as you push your body into action. Do not ignore these warning signs.
“A lot of people chase the sensation of aching from the gym, and think that when this feeling fades we are magically rested enough to go again, but this is the shortcut to burning out,” explains PT Robert Utley, Greater London PT of the Year 2019 for anyone wondering.
“When you exert yourself you recruit your muscular system and your central nervous system,” Utley continues. “The latter is effectively our processing chip. Just like a computer, when we overload our nervous system we can crash, leading to massive changes in mood, fatigue, and an inability to perform. The only way to reset the system is rest.”
Why rest is so important
If you’re making gains it’s tempting to go full steam ahead. But even if you feel fine, burnout could be building beneath the surface and regular rest is the only thing that will prevent this.
“Taking a week away from the gym, often referred to as a ‘de-load week’, can prevent burnout and increase motivation, long term commitment and provide much needed rest and recovery,” explains Steven Dick, director of The Fitness Group.
Worried a de-load week will ruin your progress? Dick points to research that found taking a week off can actually improve your gains upon your return. “A week off can help your body to support growth and repair in your muscles, as well as providing you with a mental break from your existing routine,” he explains.
Dick says you should aim to schedule a week off every 10 weeks, depending on factors like your age and the intensity of your work programme. Utley prefers to schedule rest every 8 to 12 weeks, with a minimum of one day every week of complete rest. Of course, it’s always advisable to listen to your body.
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