Volume & Training Frequency. How Much Exercise Is Really Enough?
It’s clear that we should be exercising. But beyond finding which type we should be doing, how are we supposed to know how much and how often is best?
In the fitness world, ‘how much’ is referred to as volume and ‘how often’ is referred to as frequency.
The Australian government’s physical activity guidelines state that we should be doing the following amount of exercise:
- Daily; at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity (brisk walk).
- Weekly; 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity, or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity, or an equivalent combination of both.
- Do muscle strengthening activities on at least two days each week.
The Harvard Medical School guidelines are almost identical and outline that we should be completing “at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise such as brisk walking or 75-minutes of rigorous exercise like running (or an equivalent mix of both) every week”. Their guidelines also suggest “strength training that works all major muscle groups… at least two days a week”.
However, you can exercise too much and too often. For a guide on how much is best refer to recovery.
I think that as a minimum if you are strength training for a total of 1.5 hours a week spread across 2-3 training sessions, you will see significant results. Anything less than that and you are starting to rob yourself of the potential benefits.
When I started strength training, I was in the gym for about 2.5 hours a week trying to find ways to make this time shorter. After realizing the benefits to my health, I now spend about 5 hours per week in the gym. Five hours may seem like a lot. However, when you are in a gym with a good vibe and friendly people, it starts to feel like a second home.
I also spend about 2 hours a week stretching, and on my recovery days, I try to get in at least a 30-40 minute walk.
STRENGTH TRAINING FOR BEGINNERS
For untrained beginners to a strength training program, research suggests the following as a general guide. A single workout of four sets for each muscle group, three days per week with an intensity of 60% 1RM yields maximal gains.
STRENGTH TRAINING FOR ADVANCED
For those advanced in training, research suggests that for a single strength training workout four to eight sets per muscle group, training two days per week with an intensity of 80-85% 1RM yields maximal strength gains.
Multiple set training generally results in greater strength gains. However, single set workouts are still worthwhile. If you are time poor or impatient, a good compromise may be drop-set training and paired set supersetting.
These are guides only. Everyone requires some level of personalization to get the best results from their training and meet the suggested physical activity guidelines.
1. Harvard medical school exercise and fitness guidelines. www.health.harvard.edu/topics/exercise-and-fitness
2. A meta-analysis to determine the dose response for strength development. Rhea MR, Alvar BA, Burkett LN, Ball SD. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2003 Mar;35(3):456-64. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12618576
3. Maximizing strength development in athletes: a meta-analysis to determine the dose-response relationship. Peterson MD, Rhea MR, Alvar BA. J Strength Cond Res. 2004 May;18(2):377-82. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15142003