When you start your fitness journey, you need to know what your goal is and the minimum amount of exercise you need to do to reach it
The first question someone asks when they are introduced to the world of exercise is how much they need to exercise. This includes how long you exercise per day, how many days per week, and so on. The answers will likely determine how many years they can do it. Although the benefits of exercise are the most researched and proven, it is the most difficult to start and be consistent with.
Fitness is like medicine, so it must have the smallest effective dose to have an effect on the human body. The Oxford Dictionary defines the lowest effective dose as the smallest dose of a given drug that produces a given effect in the organism. Also called minimal effective dose. But can this principle really be applied to training?
It turns out that algorithms can figure out how old you are before sending you a selection of articles on the Internet. So while still half a decade away from turning 40, it sent me a Medium the piece that said Looking better than 99% of people over 40 is one thing, written by trainer Chris Davidson, who calls himself a lifestyle coach for bored, out-of-shape over-40s. His answer was to find out how much exercise is needed in a year to look good. It divided the exercises into a mathematical pattern, suggesting that it was better to do two exercises a week for 52 weeks (104 exercises) than five exercises a week for six weeks, three times a year (90 exercises).
This of course depends on how much time the person has. In general, people in their 40s may have a lot of life responsibilities that may be greater or different than younger people. Motivation may also be lower, making two workouts a week for 52 weeks the perfect sales pitch for those looking to get tough. It also depends, as always, on the goals. Not all middle-aged people are out of shape. Some may want to return to a fitness program. Some may want to get stronger and chase a 1RM (the one rep max I wrote about early last year in a Lounge piece called The science behind which you can test your strength with a maximum repetition of 1 repetition), some may want to get up faster, some just want to freshen up.
Some athletes may require a high level of purposeful training. For example, an Olympic swimmer who wants to shave a tenth of a second off his 50m freestyle might need three hours of exercise a day. But for most people who want to build strength for a healthy lifestyle, three 30- to 60-minute workouts a week are often enough, notes Experience Life article titled, What is the lowest effective dose of exercise?
The minimum effective dose of exercise depends on three main parameters: increasing strength, mobility and endurance. The combination of these three is the perfect fitness routine. It would include some resistance training, activation and movement routines, and cardio or HIIT work.
Review in publication Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research with the title, Maintenance of physical performance: The minimum amount of exercise required to maintain endurance and strength over time states that the minimum training frequency needed to maintain adaptation for muscle size may depend on the age of the test subjects. For younger test subjects (2035 years old) already one strength training session per week seems sufficient to maintain muscle size, while for older subjects (6075 years old)… we cautiously recommend performing resistance training twice a week. maintain muscle size as this frequency has previously been shown to be effective.
And what about speed? This is a more complex topic because speed work requires rest, gauging the different stress levels you face, and careful consideration of your progression. But for those who think it’s hard to get in shape, you’ll be glad to know that conservative approaches work better than shocking your body if the plan is long-term.
Try a low-volume plan and gauge your body’s response before adding extra exercises or trying to train at a high volume. As you get better, intensity and volume will inevitably need to be increased to continue your improvement, but always pay close attention to your body. If the dose-response curve flattens out and fatigue exceeds recovery, you’ve gone too far, says a great TrainerRoad.com article by cycling expert Sean Hurley. Minimum Effective Dose: How Much Should You Exercise to Get Faster?
Finally, if you want to check the World Health Organization’s basic guidelines, they suggest a simple enough starting point: adults do 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity, 1.25 hours of vigorous-intensity (or a combination), and strength training twice a week for major muscle groups. That’s it, now start training!
Pulasta Dhar is a football commentator, podcaster and author.
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