Posted on 18 June 2018
One of the most common questions that trainers and coaches hear in the gym relates to workout frequency. If you are trying to get fit, should you work out every day? When does working out become overtraining? Can you exercise too much, or should you push yourself?
The answers lie in a number of factors, and – as with so many things related to wellness – the trick lies in taking things slowly, following your coach’s advice, learning as you go and avoiding letting your ego do the talking. Let’s look at some examples.
Should You Train Every Day?
Should you head to the gym and exercise every day? If working out is good for you, then more is better, right? The answer for most people will simply be ‘no’. Remember, your body gets stronger when it is resting. Exercise stresses the body’s systems, from the cardiovascular to the endocrine. It also causes your muscles to tear and break as they respond to excess load, and when rest occurs, they rebuild stronger. Adequate rest allows your body to repair, recharge and get fitter in response to your added load, so that it can exercise harder in future. Without adequate rest, however, this essential process never happens and continued stress on the body causes it to break down. The result is overtraining and a rapid spiral to injury and burnout.
However, as with everything in life, there are exceptions to this broad-brush rule. Firstly, if you are an elite athlete training individually under the watchful eye of a qualified coach, you may well train six out of seven days a week. The key here is that you will be training different muscle groups and physical systems to avoid a build-up of stress in any one area. Elite athletes also spend years building up to their physical peak and have incredible reserves of endurance, strength, flexibility and fortitude. They also tend to sleep for far longer than the average population and have their nutrition completely dialled in.
But there are other situations where you could argue the case for ‘training’ every day. A good training programme will involve cross-training elements that work different parts of the body in new and varied ways. So, you might strength train on one day, do cardio on another and then a stretching or flexibility discipline on the third day. A ‘rest’ day might be a walk or a gentle bike ride. When you are already fit, an ‘active rest’ day can allow you to simply have fun and to be physical in a natural way, without going to the gym or thinking of yourself as training. The trick here is to focus on low-intensity exercise on your rest day(s) and concentrate on rest, nutrition and relaxation. This will all prime you for heavier and more intense exercise on your training days.
The Case for Regular Training
It is certainly the case that a regular training programme will see the best results. So, aim to train three to five days a week with a fixed or structured purpose – such as an exercise class, run, cycle or swim, sports or fitness class. Then, around these sessions, build in active and functional movement with mobility work and relaxation. A regular training regime – paired with the right diet and optimum sleep – will give you the results you crave in the quickest possible time. For most of us, overtraining isn’t really a problem, but dragging ourselves out for that 5K run on a Sunday or going to an evening circuits class really is!
How to Recognise Overtraining
Everyone will have a different tolerance level. However, classic signs of overtraining include:
- Loss of enthusiasm for your sport or fitness activity
- Recurring injury
- Diminishing results
- A lowered immune system
- Constant tiredness
There is of course also generally becoming a pain in the backside for everyone that knows you! Take a breath, remind yourself of your long-term goals and schedule in some R & R. A sports massage, a day at the spa, ten hours of sleep… whatever you need to kick-start your body’s recovery.
A Good Rule of Thumb
Here are some things to consider to with frequency of training
- Don’t do strength training on the same body area for two days in a row.
- Don’t do high‑intensity training (HIT) such as sprinting or Tabata on consecutive days.
- Don’t train CrossFit for more than three days in a row.
- Don’t run every single day to your max without building in a rest.
However, remember that your rest day doesn’t necessarily mean sitting on the sofa with a tub of ice cream and Netflix for 14 hours. Ask yourself if you have done something active today? Even if you haven’t trained, have you met your step goal on your fitness tracker? Have you got out of breath doing something functional? Listen to your body – not your ego – and what it tells you, and you’ll learn to become confident in your own training ‘diagnosis’.
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