We’re all told that we should be exercising regularly, but when everyone has their own schedule, fitness and health to take into account, it can be difficult to figure out exactly how much we should be exercising and what types of exercise are best.
There is no single, easy answer to how much you should exercise, but to help you get started, I’ve broken the types of clients that I see into three broad categories, along with a bit of the advice that I would give them to make sure that they’re progressing safely as they achieve their fitness goals.
Sedentary: from couch potatoes to desk jockeys
If you currently do little to no exercise and you want to be more fit, by far the most important rule is to introduce activity very, very gradually. Throwing yourself at exercises that are too difficult for you – even if you feel capable of doing them – will almost certainly end in you becoming injured, setting you all the way back to square one or worse.
Luckily, if you’re able-bodied, you already have everything you need to achieve a good base level of fitness. Instead of doing weights, start with basic body weight exercises such as push ups, squats and hip bridges. Start with however many repetitions you can perform comfortably, then slowly increase the number of repetitions at a rate of no more than 10% per week.
Your cardiovascular exercise should be on equipment such as a stationary bicycle as hard running may be too much for your legs until they’re better conditioned. If you don’t have access to such equipment, keep your running at a gentle jog on a flat, even surface with supportive footwear – again, building up very gradually, starting from 2-3 minute walk/jog intervals for 15 minutes. Click here to read more on how to safely start running.
To begin with, you should exercise twice a week (one day of resistance and one day of cardio) to give your body plenty of time to rest and recover. Once you can easily complete these two days with little to no soreness on your rest days, you can gradually increase the difficulty of your exercises with weights, resistance bands or machines, or introduce more days to your routine.
Active: from amateur athletes to weekend warriors
If you already have a good base level of fitness and want to maintain or increase it, it’s hard to go wrong on a programme of four to five days of exercise per week, alternating between resistance and cardio, upper body and lower body, so that you’re never overloading one muscle group. There should also be at least two days of complete rest to give your body a break.
The rule of no more than a 10% increase in activity a week still applies, but overloading isn’t the only danger you face if you’re active: you also need to make sure that you’re keeping your muscles balanced.
If one side of your body or one side of a joint is stronger than the other, you risk developing compensatory movement patterns where loads aren’t distributed through your muscles and tendons as they’re supposed to be, which, if left unresolved, increases your risk of both chronic and acute injury.
This means that for every push there should be a pull; every time you work on your chest you should also work on your upper back; every time you train your biceps you should also train your triceps. For any resistance training, think of what muscles are involved in the opposite side of a movement and make sure that you’re training them as well.
It’s very difficult to self-diagnose muscle balance, so it’s highly recommended that you visit a physiotherapist or qualified fitness professional to develop an exercise programme that precisely targets your imbalances.
Later life: from 50 to beyond
After around 50 years old, our muscles begin to gradually lose strength and mass, which is a natural part of ageing called sarcopenia. This loss of muscle can make day to day activity more difficult and increase your risk of injury. A loss of activity can accelerate this muscle loss and put people in a vicious cycle of inactivity and weakness.
This means that it’s very important to exercise every day in later life and find a variety of ways to stay active. Walking every day – as discussed in this blog – is a great way to introduce daily exercise and provides a range of health benefits, but also make sure that you include regular resistance training to reduce or even reverse age-related muscle loss.
You should also find exercises and activities that improve balance, which also deteriorates as we age. Falls are one of the leading causes of injury and death in the elderly population, so maintaining stability and balance is key to enjoying a long, active life.
Exercises that improve stability and balance involve holding a position for an extended period or moving very slowly through a movement in a controlled fashion. Most people are familiar with Tai-chi, which is an excellent way to train your balance that I personally recommend to my clients, and can be enjoyed through free and paid classes and groups throughout the city.
No matter what category you fit into, you should seek professional advice before you introduce new exercises and activities into your routine, followed by regular check ups to make sure you’re on the right track.
I provide bespoke, one-to-one training for men and women of all walks of life. To book an appointment or to ask me any questions about your health or my services, get in touch.
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