Common questions for guys intensifying their fitness program: How often should I work out? How should I ramp up to that targeted workout frequency?
These questions have two hidden complexities. So, increasing your workout frequency should be done in a thoughtful way: gradually, with addition of greater variety, and willingness to break routines.
Hidden Complexity #1: Deceptively Big Impact
Raising workout frequency means reducing “days off” and increasing “average days in a row.” If you seek a long-term, setback-minimizing ramp-up of fitness, you should focus on these latter two numbers.
Moving from 4x to 5x per week. This is 25% more, right? (one more workout, above a starting base of four). But looking at the other two measures puts this in a different perspective:
⇒ Days-off goes from three to two: a 33% reduction.
⇒ And look what happens to average days in a row. Let’s assume your 4x per week plan is to work out Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. That’s two “one day in a row” occasions, and one “two days in a row,” averaging to 1.3 days in a row.
Now let’s say you increase to 5x. Say, with workouts Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday (Wednesday and Sunday off). Now average days in a row is 2.5 – a 92% increase!
From 5x to 6x per week. Sounds like 20% more (adding one onto a base of five). But…
⇒ Days-off goes from two to one: 50% reduction
⇒ Average-days-in-row goes from 2.5 to six: 140% increase!
Interpretation. Like climbing a mountain that gets steeper as you go, these effects on days-off and average-days-in-a-row mean increasing workout frequency presents an accelerating challenge to fitness.
To be clear, brothers, this isn’t a reason not to increase frequency! It just shows the heightened ways it will test you, and provides motivation to smartly plan out how you do it.
Hidden Complexity #2: Consistently Scheduling a Given Workout on Same Day-of-Week
As seen above, going from 5x to 6x is an all-at-once jump from two or three days in a row, to six days in a row. But there are intermediate steps you can take to get there more gradually.
Start always working out three days in a row. Some weeks this will equal six workouts, and sometimes still just five. Let that settle in for a while, then go to four in a row. Then after a while more, to five. This way, you avoid that massive sudden increase to days-in-a-row.
But this creates an additional wrinkle. Got a spin class or boot camp you do on Tuesday and Thursdays? Three, four or five-in-a-row patterns are “asymmetrical” to a seven-day week. So sometimes your natural day off will fall on a Tuesday or Thursday…i.e. the day of your class.
By contrast, pure 5x and 6x per week patterns are consistent week-to-week. The same things always falling on the same days.
Interpretation: As before, this is not a reason to avoid this more-gradual ramp-up! You’ll just have to be more nimble about each week’s fitness game plan. To me, that’s a good thing, man, because it fosters variety and forces you to be Architect of your own fitness.
OK…So What Workout Frequency to Adopt, and How to Get There?
Despite these physiological and logistical complexities, I urge you to:
1. Move workout frequency toward five and hopefully six days per week. It might take you six months or a year to get there – no big deal. You may occasionally backslide. Also no big deal. Just keep moving back toward five or six days per week.
Why? Well, first and most basic, because within limits and while moving cautiously to increase, more is better for your body and mind. You’ll keep your heart, lungs and muscles stronger. You’ll stay more limber (provided flexibility’s part of your routine, which is a must for OlderBeasts). You’ll have more opportunity to get precious solitude and reflective/meditative time.
Also, five plus days a week crosses a mental tipping point, where you work out “most days,” and “days off” are the exception.
By contrast, just four days a week (or especially three) promotes a mindset that on any day, you “may or may not” be exercising. To really make physical activity a habit, you want to get above that tipping point.
2. Don’t jump directly from 5x to 6x. Pass through (or even stay at) “intermediate points” of three, four or five days-in-row. This reduces risk of getting worn down or injured. It also lets you more slowly re-calibrate your food intake and timing to your increasing physical work level.
If this impacts “day of week” things you feel wedded to (like a gym or studio class), consider this a hidden blessing because it promotes variety.
3. Speaking of variety, don’t just increase your frequency – increase variety. There’s a huge difference between running six days a week and doing a week where you run twice, go swimming once, do two strength-training sessions, and do a yoga practice. Moving to a more-varied fitness regime is a key OlderBeast philosophy.
I know 5x or 6x per week is a substantial additional time commitment for many guys. But as the old army recruiting commercials used to say, “freedom isn’t free.”
Do you want to fearlessly embrace your age, double down on fitness so you keep feeling great and looking your best? Not to mention contributing to your happiness and longevity…
If so, this is what it takes, brother. I hope the thoughts here help you successfully move in this direction!
“I ain’t got nothing but love, babe. Eight days a week.” (The Beatles, Eight Days a Week-click to listen)
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