It can be tempting to launch into an exercise program at full speed, working up a sweat every day and anticipating a soon-to-be amazingly fit you. Not so fast. Tough daily workouts may have the exact opposite effect to what you envision. Improving your aerobic capacity and training muscles takes a toll, and your body needs time to recover between sessions at the gym or out on the track.
Start Where You Are
Your pretraining fitness level determines how hard and how often you can safely work to build muscle and stamina and trim a few inches. High-intensity exercise, like jumping rope or sprinting, quickly depletes the energy stores that fuel muscle contractions. Vigorous endurance exercise, like jogging, running or swimming laps, will have the same effect. Once you log some training time, your ability to recover speeds up. But, at first, aim for the weekly exercise schedule recommended by the American College of Sports Medicine and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity at least three to five days weekly and strength training two to three days a week. Alternate workouts to give different muscle groups a day off to recover.
Your goals, weight, fitness level and age are all factors to consider when setting up a program to ensure cardiovascular health. Three days a week of brisk walking for half an hour will help you to maintain a healthy heart. For most people, a day between walks is ample time for recovery. A serious weight-loss program, increasing aerobic capacity or improving sports performance means a greater commitment. The CDC recommends up to five hours a week of moderate intensity activity or two hours and 30 minutes of vigorous activity to boost your health benefits from cardio. But don't push past chronic soreness; schedule a rest day at least one or more times a week. And Jay Dawes, the education director of the National Strength and Conditioning Association, points out that someone coming off an injury or out of shape may need more than a day between sessions to recover and could aim for just two cardio days a week with several days off between them.
When you stress a muscle to make it stronger, you break down existing muscle tissue, which then needs time to rebuild. That's basic muscle-building, and it requires recovery time – days off. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends two to three days of beginner or intermediate strength training per week, up to four to five days for advanced athletes. Here's why. Muscles will not produce at peak force until they have recovered from a strength-training session. After a workout, they receive less invigorating new blood flow, which they need to replace the glycogen you used for fuel. Muscles also need time to expel the metabolic waste products generated by exercise. So, muscles can be sore or even painful for a day or more as they build strong new tissue, eliminate waste products and replenish energy stores. Leave a day to recover after working each muscle group so you don’t overtrain.
Flexible and Fabulous
A fitness program should make you more flexible and improve your range of movement for better performance in sports and daily activities. Add stretching to your existing aerobic and resistance workouts to simplify your schedule. Warm up with five minutes of jogging or high-stepping and arm swings and then start a training session with some dynamic stretches in which you keep moving in exercises that flex your muscles. Save the static stretches, the ones you hold for 30 seconds or more, for the end of your workout. Dr. Michael Fredericson of Stanford Medical Center’s Sports Medicine Program says dynamic stretching before your workout lowers the risk for muscle strains. Static stretching after a workout improves blood flow to your muscles, helping them to recover faster. But excessively forceful stretching could leave you with sore muscles for a day or more. Vigorous stretching may require a full recovery day.
- IdeaFit: “How Many Times a Week Should a Client Exercise? Why?”
- Community Colleges of Spokane: ACSM Training Guidelines
- American Council on Exercise: Training Recovery: The Most Important Component of Your Clients’ Exercise Programs
- SCOPE Stanford School of Medicine: A Closer Look at How Stretching May Benefit the Body
- American College of Sports Medicine: Basic Injury Prevention Concepts
- CDC: How Much Physical Activity Do Adults Need?
Benna Crawford has been a journalist and New York-based writer since 1997. Her work has appeared in USA Today, the San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, and in professional journals and trade publications. Crawford has a degree in theater, is a certified Prana Yoga instructor, and writes about fitness, performing and decorative arts, culture, sports, business and education .