Sometimes it feels like our lives revolve around fitness – spending hours at the gym and contemplating every bite we eat to either improve or maintain our fitness. How much is too much?
Are we dedicated or obsessed?
If you think you are spending an excessive amount of time in the gym, it might be helpful to take a few moments to think about why you go to the gym. Do you find exercise fun – an enjoyable and healthy way to spend some time alone or with friends? Are you seriously pursuing body composition or performance goals? Or are you punishing yourself for poor nutritional choices or a night of overindulgence? The answer to these questions may help you determine if you need to spend less (or more!) time in the gym.
How much exercise do I really need?
According to the American College of Sports Medicine, adults should accumulate the following amount of exercise each week to experience health benefits:
Cardiorespiratory endurance exercise – accumulating 150 minutes of exercise spread over 3-5 days per week, at a moderate intensity. If exercising vigorously, accumulate 75 minutes.
Muscular strength and endurance – minimum 2-3 days per week with a day of rest between muscle groups, 1-3 sets of 8-12 repetitions with weights that are moderately to very challenging.
Flexibility – engage in stretching exercises 3+ days per week, holding stretches for 15-30 seconds each and repeating each stretch 2-4 times (to accumulate 60 seconds of total stretch time per muscle). You should feel mild discomfort in the muscle being stretched, and you should stretch all of the major muscle groups.
That’s it. You could accomplish these goals in three to four one-hour exercise sessions (30 minutes cardio, 20-minute strength circuit, 10 minutes of flexibility. Done). This could certainly increase your level of fitness and provide you with health benefits. But not much else.
Ya gotta have goals.
But if you have goals, either to attain a higher level of fitness, improve your performance in some athletic endeavor, or to attain a certain body fat percentage or a certain physique, then you may need to spend more time training. How much more depends on your particular goal.
Before my hamstring issues derailed my training, my Olympic Weightlifting sessions could take a good 75- to 90 minutes per day, 3-4 days per week. I worked on my technique for the snatch and clean and jerk, and built my strength with back squats and front squats. I also did CrossFit twice a week to improve my conditioning. If your goal is to get better at something or compete against others, you’ll be in the gym quite often.
I want you to meet my friend Jody
My amazing friend Jody has been a CrossFitter, a Bodybuilder, a Weightlifter, and a Weightlifting Bodybuilder. If I had to relive my fitness life I would redo my twenties and train like Jody! Currently she is strictly focusing on bodybuilding in preparation for a big competition. Her story is a great example of how your training will differ depending on your goals. Read on:
“To get in shape I trained 5-6 hours a week (CrossFit classes). When I wanted to do my first bodybuilding show the training time increased to 10-15 hours a week. That included an hour-long CrossFit class and at least an hour of hypertrophy work (bodybuilding lifts) after class, and an active rest day of just cardio. My third training cycle was when I decided I wanted to just become an Olympic Weightlifter. That was comparable to the CrossFit/bodybuilding training at about 10-15 hours a week. My fourth was easily the most difficult and the most demanding. I wanted to do Olympic Weightlifting and start cutting for a bodybuilding show. My training days were easily 3 to 3 1/2 hours long 5-6 days a week so between 17-21 hours a week! Essentially a part-time job. Now that I only do bodybuilding my time in the gym is about 9 hours a week, which includes waking up bright and early for morning cardio and then going back to the gym at night to lift.”
Jody changed her gym routine four times in response to changing goals – each goal required a different training program.
The most important part of figuring this out is to actually determine what your goals are. Be fit and have fun? Go a couple of times a week. Firm up and slim down? More time, more intensity. The best thing to do is list your goals, prioritize them, and then find a good training program to support your goals (read a bit more about this process in an older blog post here). And, of course, you can’t out-train a poor diet, so come up with a plan to work on that as well! You may find you don’t need to do back-to-back (or more!) fitness classes, or to run then strength train then do a home video to meet your goals. Or maybe you do. Take some time to figure it out – you may regain your life!