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Playing with Exercise Variables

There’s an adage among fitness professionals:

“You can train long or you can train hard; not both.”

Trying to consistently maximize the three exercise variables (frequency, duration and intensity) is a long-term recipe for burnout and injury risk. But before even getting to that point, the effectiveness of the program begins to diminish, which counteracts the original purpose of training.

If you enjoy working out every day, keep at least one day as a rest day (six days max) and vary the intensity and duration on alternating days, so that every other day is measurably easier than the day that follows/precedes it. And try to keep workouts to 30 minutes or less. Competitive, long-distance endurance athletes have a different training template. We’re talking about the other 95% of the population here.

If your work and family schedule is very restrictive, and you’ve built a fitness base to tolerate very intense training, a 3-4 day/week training plan may be better for you. Combining two shorter, very intense training days including aerobic, strength and core/flexibility training with one or two longer, lower intensity sports/recreational activities is a good model for this situation.

But even more important in deciding what your training template should be is to know yourself. Those who devour exercise are more likely to over-train. So purposely scheduling rest days and noting how fresh and energetic they feel between the workouts with a more or less concentrated program is a good approach. If you’re someone who struggles to maintain a consistent workout schedule, putting the workouts in your phone calendar and either recording them or being accountable to someone you respect to keep those appointments can be a great strategy.

Either way, remember that you’re the dog and exercise is the tail. It should be adapted to and serve your best interests, always. If you’re not sure how to evaluate those, meet with a nationally certified trainer who comes well reviewed or recommended by a satisfied client friend or family member and they can help you figure out what’s best for you.

Dan Taylor, ACE, NASM-CPT, is owner and head trainer at Pleasanton-based Tri Valley Trainer. They offer personal training and small group fitness solutions and an innovative, medically endorsed web-based group healthy eating coaching program.

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