I enjoy brief workouts, especially during the summer when I am active. I think this emerging trend of quick workouts is great, but how brief can you go before you aren’t exercising enough? Can a few 30 minute workouts per week really give you the same results as 4-5 one-hour workouts per week? In my opinion, there is a time element involved to getting in peak condition. Even if you train hard, you can’t expect to reach a high-level of conditioning just putting in a few 30 minute sessions per week. Perhaps the reason you haven’t been able to lose those last 5 pounds or don’t have defined abs is simply that you aren’t devoting enough time to exercise.
[One thing in limited supply for all of us is time. This picture is a reminder of that. Life is too short to live in a gym, but recent studies suggest that 4 or more hours per week of exercise may be extremely beneficial to longevity. I’ll talk about this “4 hour minimum” rule later in this post.]
My Experiments With Workout Frequency
When I was a younger guy in my 20’s, I hit the gym 5 times per week. My workouts were 1.5 to 2 hours per workout. Yes, I realize that this is excessive! I was spending close to 10 hours per week exercising pretty hard. As I reached my 30’s this frequency was closer to 4 times per week. These past 2 years I have experimented with working out just 3 times per week for certain periods of time. Here is what I found true (for myself anyway)…
4 Days Per Week Seems to Be My “Sweet Spot”
When I train 3 days per week, I am always slowly sliding back. It doesn’t matter if my goal is fat loss or gaining strength. I can maintain a look for a few weeks, but will eventually lose ground and need to increase workout frequency. Again…I am not saying this is true for everyone. Training 5 times per week works well too…but 4 workouts per week is the point where I can make positive progress. Anything less than 4 workouts per week will result in regressing a bit. I could train 5 times per week, but then it comes close to “living in the gym” (although I will do this for 6-8 weeks in Spring each year).
What About the Time Per Workout?
I have gone through periods where I trained as long as 2 hours per workout, which was madness. These days, I seem to get my workout done in almost exactly one hour and 15 minutes. I spend 45 minutes of lifting and a total of 30 minutes of some sort of HIIT and steady state cardio combo. I have tried to train less than that and it just doesn’t seem to do the trick. Either I don’t stay lean or my muscle definition and strength levels suffer. Summer is a different story…the extra physical activity can keep you lean with less official workouts per week.
[Although I love brief intense interval cardio, I have also found that you have to put some time in on cardio to get maximum fat loss benefits.]
There is a “Time Element” to Cardio…
I hate to say it, but even the most intense HIIT for 10 minutes isn’t as effective as mixing in HIIT type cardio with an additional 20 minutes of steady cardio. It is trendy to look at steady state cardio as a waste of time. The problem is that most people compensate with the additional cardio by eating more. If this is the case, then it is a waste…BUT if you add in this extra cardio while maintaining a calorie deficit you will see consistent visible results. Intense cardio is good, but you do have to put some time into cardio if you want to see what it can really do for you. When wanting to get really lean I follow a “30 minute rule”…I have to get in at least 30 minutes of cardio after every session of lifting. I have never failed to predictably lose fat, getting as lean as desired following this cardio rule.
Exercise 5 Days Per Week to Reduce the Common Cold?
The Wall Street Journal (Jan 5, 2010) talked about the effect frequent exercise had on the common cold. Dr. David Nieman conducted several randomized controlled studies showing that people who walked briskly for 45 minutes, five days a week over 12 to 15 weeks had fewer and less severe upper respiratory tract infections.
“No pill or nutritional supplement has the power of near-daily moderate activity in lowering the number of sick days people take…These subjects reduced their number of sick days 25% to 50% compared with sedentary control subjects.”
Over 4 Hours of Exercise Per Week to Extend Life?
A study in Israel which was reported in the Archives of Internal Medicine (September 14, 2009), examined physical activity and survival rates. The researchers examined mortality data for 1,821 people for 18 years, from ages 70 to 88. Subjects were classified as sedentary (less than 4 hours a week of physical activity) or active (four hours or more, including vigorous exercise, such as jogging or swimming, at least twice a week). Here are there findings!
“Among physically active vs sedentary participants, respectively, at age 70, the 8-year mortality was 15.2% vs 27.2%…at age 78, the 8-year mortality was 26.1% vs 40.8%…and at age 85 years, the 3-year mortality was 6.8% vs 24.4%”.
Basically, those who were physically active for at least 4 hours per week, significantly outlived those who did not exercise as much. It made a bigger difference as people aged. Check out those figures at the age of 85!
Sometimes More is Better
To me, the benefits of training over 4 hours per week outweigh the negatives. Obviously some exercise is better than none, but I am going to do my best to create a new rule for myself…the “4 hour per week” exercise rule. I will do my best to get in at least 4 hours of exercise per week. It doesn’t always have to be a gym workout, but I will do my best to hit that number. These studies aren’t the only reason I am doing this. My experience has proven (at least for me) that it takes at least 4 hours of exercise per week to stay in peak condition.
What Has Your Experience Been?
I would love for you guys to give me feedback. Has anyone been able to get really lean off of much less than 4 hours of exercise per week? If time wasn’t a limiting factor, what feels like the ideal amount of exercise per week?
Important Message: Although this site has received 25+ million visitors, I am starting from scratch and abandoning it. This site is dated and old school looking, terrible to read on mobile, etc.
It's like a Ford Pinto compared to my new site...which is like a Ferrari. Click the link to head over to my new site.
Thanks for reading all these years!