By: Danny Amon, JCC Fitness Center & Personal Training Manager
Workout frequency, AKA “you work out too much!” AKA “you don’t work out enough!”
It’s virtually impossible to know what workout frequency is appropriate for someone without knowing a lot of background info first. The extremes of the spectrum tend to present as follows:
For people who are really into fitness (any area) and work out frequently, they will often hear “you work out too much!” from friends, family, etc. for no other reason than other people don’t seem to work out with the same frequency.
Alternatively, someone who doesn’t have an established workout routine will often be told they’re not working out enough if they’re “only” exercising 2-3x a week when they start, for example.
In both cases, it’s wildly inappropriate to make such comments without being in that person’s shoes, as workout frequency is a moving target that increases or decreases based on goals, life stress, and exercise history, just to name a few. Without a lot of data, it’s not readily apparent if someone is, say, overtraining when they run or lift six days a week. Conversely, a couple strength workouts a week might be plenty to achieve a big change, so “too little” is just as arbitrary.
As a general rule, the human body is highly adaptive to exercise stimulus, so exercise frequency will vary based on experience. As mentioned above, factors like workload outside of the gym play a huge role, as do things like sleep hygiene and diet, and it’s really hard to tell by looking at someone what those outside factors might be.
When beginning a workout routine, it’s better to err on the side of “too little” than “too much.” I generally recommend starting with something a person knows they can do, then trying to establish the frequency they want to achieve. E.g., 15 minutes on the treadmill and some squats and pushups might sound easy, but doing that 5x weekly after five years of inactivity is a huge shift, and the number one concern when people start an exercise routine is burnout. Starting with something manageable and increasing every few weeks, for example, is a great way to form good exercise habits without overshooting.
On the other hand, someone with a long history of consistent exercise will have built up a tolerance for huge workloads and exercise volume, and they won’t need “days off” in the same way. Daily (and even multiple times per day) exercise is not uncommon nor “too much” in these scenarios, and “rest days” might legitimately be a hike instead of a long run or lifting session, yoga, or even a workout performed with 50% intensity instead of full effort.
The take home point is that the individual in question is most able to determine what is “too much” or “too little,” and we really should seek to avoid projecting our own ideas of those concepts onto people who don’t share them.
Enjoy a complimentary live or virtual session with a trainer in which you can discuss your current workout routine, nutrition, and health habits. Your trainer will help you formulate a plan for your time at the gym and the wide range of live and virtual options offered at the JCC.