If you seek a lifelong mix of endurance, strength, and flexibility—and for physical exercise to contribute to serenity and joy—one hard thing is workout planning. Especially how often to work out. Here are some guiding principles.
If you’re enthusiastic about fitness and happily mixing cardio…strength work…maybe yoga…and getting outside and away-from-it-all sometimes – that can add up to a lot of days per week. And you can have too much of a good thing. Everyone needs rest/recovery, and we OlderBeasts especially so.
On the other hand, what if you’re just getting serious about fitness now, or returning to it? It can be hard to motivate (and find time) to get enough workouts in per week.
I’ve been in both situations. When my kids were young and I traveled a lot for work, it was “how much is enough?” and now it’s “how much is too much?”
Guys, planning this out is a really personalized thing. And any approach needs to vary depending on circumstances over time. But here are some general principles to follow. They’ll help you formulate and follow a plan that’s right for you (not some canned approach from a magazine or training “program”).
1. We DO need recovery – no matter how great you feel, how well you eat, how much sleep you get…the vast, vast majority of us are smart to take at least one day “off” per week (in quotes because some walking and other light activity should be a daily thing or at least part of any rest day; “off” doesn’t mean “sedentary”).
2. Variety is critical as an overall philosophy (see this), but also you can do more workouts per week if you shift focus and stress among different body parts (e.g. swimming is a great complement to running or cycling)…alternate between cardio and strength…and mix easier workouts in with harder ones.
If you’re trying to lose weight or know you need frequent activity to maintain it (or if you just love working out for its physical and mental benefits), building variety lets you get more days-per-week in, safely and happily.
3. Recognize and overcome your tendencies. If you currently struggle with motivation and work out three or fewer times per week…any time you internally debate “on or off?”…the answer should be “on.” A bit hackneyed to say, but “just do it.” You always feel better, physically and mentally, when you do.
On the other hand, if you work out a lot, think about it all the time, and hesitate to take a day off (feel paranoid about it, even – “I’m getting weaker!”)…take the day off when uncertain. Even on a day you’ve planned to work out, if you feel uncharacteristically lazy and unmotivated, listen to your body, and get some recovery time. You’ll come back stronger tomorrow.
4. Don’t just think weekly, think monthly. It’s a great idea to have a mix-it-up week every several weeks. Maybe an easy one if you’ve been going hard. Maybe a different mix of things than you normally do (if it’s beautiful weather, remember things like hiking and paddling are exercise…for body and soul).
If forced to choose, I’d rather let my fitness level “slip” a minuscule amount during an easy or mix-it-up week (then bounce back right away with refreshed intensity), than have my fitness level be unwittingly suppressed by physical burnout. And…in the second half of our lives, brothers, I think we ARE forced to choose among these two dynamics, whether we know it or not.
FORMULATING YOUR GAME PLAN
OK, so what does all this add up to? With your thriving in mind, I suggest you experiment with and fine-tune a plan that:
⇒ Calls for a workout 4-6 times per week
⇒ Avoids two days off in a row (other than if you’ve been going hard and you’re listening to your body, or trying to nurse yourself back from an injury or other physical set back – and these situations will occur)
⇒ Rotates among focus areas rather than clustering them. For example, if you’re going to do one run and one bike ride in a given week, don’t do these leg-intensive cardio things back-to-back, but put something else in-between. Or, don’t swim one day and then be in the gym working the same lat and shoulder muscles hard 24 hours later.
⇒ Changes the cadence and activity mix for a week, every 4-6 weeks
There’s no perfect or right answer here, and no two weeks in your life are every really the same. Experiment, listen to your body and notice your results…and make this another area where you assume the Architect role for your own fitness and wellness!
“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” (Gandalf in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Fellowship of the Ring)