The Right Dosage of Exercise, by Matthew Romans
Posted March 16, 2018 by Matthew Romans
When many people make the decision to begin a strength training program, they are often confused as to how frequently they should work out, how many exercises they should perform, and how long each session should last. The biggest mistake most trainees make is performing too many exercises too frequently, and with inadequate intensity.
The difference between true exercise and mere activity is often misunderstood. The purpose of exercise (the kind of strength training that we instruct at Total Results) is to systematically, safely, and efficiently stimulate body improvements, such as increased strength, improved cardiovascular conditioning, improved bone mineral density, and protection against injury. However, many weight training enthusiasts and bodybuilders think that simply because they are spending time in a gym pushing weights around that they are performing exercise. They are not. In my estimation they are merely performing a recreational activity. Some benefits may result by using this approach, but the benefits most likely occur in spite of what they are doing, not because of it. The risk of injury can be high. I spent plenty of time in weight rooms and gyms in my teens and early twenties, and I wondered why my progress always seemed to stall.
So the question is "what is the right dosage of exercise?" There are a few things we must first understand. First, building and maintaining muscular tissue is a very metabolically expensive process, so the body won't do it without a proper and intense stimulus. The more intense the stimulus, the less volume of exercise is needed. Second, as Dr. Doug McGuff, author of Body By Science says, exercise has a "narrow therapeutic window." Not enough exercise provides little to no benefit, while too much exercise can be toxic and can lead to illness, stagnation of progress, and overuse injury. Think of it just like you would medication; you should use the most exact dosage needed to achieve the desired result (ex. relief of symptoms).
In my experience, the optimal dosage of exercise is five to seven exercises performed once or twice per week, with at least three days between exercise sessions. Every exercise should be taken to momentary muscular fatigue/failure to ensure an adequate intensity of effort. One should always strive for perfect form. The duration of the workout should be no longer than twenty minutes.
Recovery time and volume of exercise can vary from one person to the next; some people can tolerate more, some less. Our selection of exercises involves many compound movements; these are exercises that involve more than one muscle and joint (e.g. Leg Press). This enables us to cover more muscle in a shorter period of time, and your recovery ability will not be compromised. If a client's progress has stagnated over a significant period with twice per week workouts, it is usually a sign that they should reduce their training frequency to one session per week (we have done this with several of our longer-tenured clients).
We keep meticulous notes and data for every workout that our clients perform. Remember, there is an inverse relationship between exercise intensity and exercise frequency. The more intensely you exercise, the longer your recovery period will be. One or two sessions per week are not just something we can get away with; it is essential for getting optimal results and protecting against injury.
Workout intensely, once or twice per week, for twenty minutes and you can achieve maximum results!