I get a lot of emails from people asking this question, and just like diet, it’s something specific to each person. That means exercise is highly subjective. What is good for one person may not suit another. How one person recovers from exercise can vastly differ from person to person. The amount of exercise you should do per week will depend on how quickly you recover from each workout.
Factors that Effect Exercise Recovery
As you get older things start to slow down. It will take you a lot longer to heal from an injury than it did when you were young. Workouts cause micro-trauma to the muscle tissue and this needs time to repair. So young people can usually get away with training more often than older folk.
We all have different quantities of muscle tissue and different proportions of muscle fibres too. Some people naturally have more Type II muscle fibres and are powerful and explosive athletes. Others have more Type I muscle fibres and are better suited to endurance events. Based on your genetics some will find exercises easier and recover quicker and others will do the complete opposite.
In order to recover from a workout you need to feed the body with the correct nutrition. Ever noticed that after a heavy weight lifting workout your hunger increases? The more you break your body down the more nutrients it requires to heal itself and return back to balance. Eat junk food and you will take longer to recover from exercise.
The harder you exercise the longer it takes for you to recover. For example if I perform a heavy set of Deadlifts I will feel beaten up for days. It will take me 2-3 days to fully recover. The same applies to interval training, I will only ever perform 2 interval workouts per week. You could exercise everyday if the movements were easy and the resistance was light.
The more physical your daily job the more time you will need to recover. So if you spend all day on your feet you will need more time to recover than someone who sits down all day. So a construction worker will need more rest than a receptionist.
There is an argument here that being more physically active will help increase your recovery due to the pumping of the nutrients around the body. However, there is a big difference between walking around during the day and lifting and digging.
Never underestimate stress. Stress effects the whole body on a continuous basis and will prolong recovery. Everyone is effected by emotional, physical, and mental stress. Many believe that exercise alleviates stress but what is actually happening is your mind is being taken away from your worries while your body is still subjected to stress.
For many highly stressed people hard exercise is NOT the answer. They would be better off performing Tai Chi, Meditation or Yoga to bring energy back into the body rather than spending it.
There are certain additional recovery methods that are believed to speed up your healing process. Taking cold showers or ice baths is believed to help flush the body of toxins and replenish the nutrients of the body. Soft tissue work like massages and foam rolling will help to increase blood flow and increase the quality of muscle tissue.
How Often to Exercise
Now that you have a better understanding as to what effects the recovery process you can look at your own workouts and see how much rest you need. Remember that it is during recovery that you grow stronger so that you come back fitter than before, this process is known as the Supercompensation Cycle. You are always far better to under-train than to over-train.
My advice is to start off with 3 workouts per week. No matter what your level, begin with three sessions per week: Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Work Hard during those sessions. Don’t socialise, don’t talk, focus and get on with the job in hand. Many people exercise more than three times per week because they don’t work hard enough in their three sessions. If you find three hard sessions is too much then add an extra days rest: Monday, Thursday, Sunday, Tuesday etc.
If you find you can do a little more then add an easier fourth session:
As mentioned everyone is different so workout planning is always a case of seeing what works best for the individual.
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