4. How Often Should I Train?
When trying to figure out how often you should strength train, there are a few things to consider.
First, I’d like to introduce a concept that we use in GGS Coaching called the Optimal Effective Dose (OED).
To explain the Optimal Effective Dose, imagine your efforts on a continuum. To find the right “dose” of exercise, we first need to establish what each end of the continuum looks like, starting with the Minimum Effective Dose and ending with the Maximum Tolerable Dose.
In training, the Minimum Effective Dose (MED) is the minimum amount of stimulus required to achieve a desired effect — basically, the bare minimum to more forward, which can be beneficial and appropriate for some people.
On the other hand, the Maximum Tolerable Dose (MTD) is the highest amount of stimulus that a person can handle before experiencing negative consequences. This is the kind of training that’s appropriate for professional or competitive athletes, and it’s often a full-time commitment.
Somewhere between the two, there’s a sweet spot that we refer to as the Optimal Effective Dose (OED). Your OED is what gives you results in a relatively timely manner when you work consistently, all while still living your life.
Your OED should allow you to do the following:
- Feel in control of your hunger and appetite (i.e., cravings).
- Recover enough from each training session to allow you to train again by the time the next session rolls around.
- Feel generally good and energetic (not overly sore or exhausted from exercise).
- Participate in other obligations and activities in your life (e.g., family, career, social, leisure).
Finding your OED is important because when it comes to training (and many other things in life), more isn’t always better (or necessary). If you can achieve the results that you want in a few short sessions per week, it doesn’t make sense to be grinding away in the gym for several hours more than that. It’s the equivalent of paying $50 for a T-shirt when the price tag reads $25. Get in, get out, and get on with it.
With that in mind, how do you figure out how often you should train? Here are two important tips that our GGS Coaching clients find helpful.
Tip #1: Consider Your Schedule
If your schedule allows for two 30- to 40-minute strength training sessions per week, and you feel confident that you can consistently get those done, that is a great place to start.
Resist the urge to set a lofty goal of 75-minute sessions several times per week if your schedule doesn’t currently allow for that. Why not set yourself up for success? When you consistently get the training done, it’s motivating! Success boosts your confidence and helps to further engrain this wonderful new habit.
Tip #2: Set a Goal That Works with Your Ability Level
Be honest with yourself regarding your current ability level. If you haven’t been exercising at all, it’s probably best to start small while you work on making exercise a part of your regular routine. This will help ensure that your new workout routine isn’t too overwhelming, either physically or mentally.
One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to get overzealous when embarking on a new fitness venture. We can easily overestimate our time and abilities, which means that we’ll shoot for workouts that are actually longer, more intense, or more frequent than what we can really maintain. And when we feel discouraged, we’re more likely to quit.
Similarly, even if you’re an advanced exerciser, it’s very unlikely that you’ll benefit from engaging in multiple exercise sessions every day. Your body needs to recover adequately from one session to the next, which requires time — more on that later.
(And if you’re thinking about the fact that some professional athletes do, in fact, train very intensely, consider this: It’s their job. Their entire lifestyle is tailored to sustain this type of training, and even then, it’s usually not a year-round schedule.)
As a good guideline, a schedule of two to four strength training sessions per week works well for most women. The newer you are to strength training, the fewer sessions you need; the more experienced you are, the more you can handle. Here’s how this can look like depending on your ability level and the time you have available to train each week:
Keep in mind that, to be realistic, the other types of physical activity you engage in — like cardio training, group exercise classes, or yoga — should also be considered and included in your calculations of the total time you have available each week.
Bottom line: You’re better off setting goals you can easily and consistently achieve than setting overly ambitious goals and getting discouraged when you can’t achieve them.