How many times a week should you exercise? Wrong question.

posted in: Health, How to human | 5

The correct question is “how many times a day”.

And the answer is “one or two, depending on who you are and what your goals are”.

“But Z., isn’t the usual advice to hit the gym two or three times a week?”

The gym’s business depends on you paying membership while using the facilities as little as possible. It’s a capacity management thing. The arbitrary recommended frequency probably comes from there.

In fact, it is best that you exercise every day (with some caveats – see the rest of the article).

“Won’t that lead to overtraining?”

Depends on the intensity.

If you do heavy deadlifts/squats/benchpresses, then yes, give your muscles a day or two of rest – but in the meantime, you can exercise other muscle groups and do cardio. In fact, cardio in recovery is advised – it gets the blood pumping, nourishes the muscle, actually helps you heal faster. When your arms are recovering, train your abs and go for a jog.

Overtraining is a real thing, but like gluten sensitivity and hormonal conditions interfering with weight loss, about one in ten thousand people who claim it actually have it (the rest, naturally, are hysterics and alibists). If you go to the gym for a bit of modest weight training and a half hour on the treadmill, you can’t overtrain even if you go twice a day. It is safe to say most people are nowhere near a danger of overtraining.

The corollary is that essentially everybody is undertraining.

“I go to the gym four days a week, how come I’m not seeing results?”

Have you tried working out in there?

Bosu balls are no substitutes for lifting heavy. They’re, at best, complements to build core strength (and inferior even in that regard to the good old deadlift).

“But the personal trainer over in the corner with the coloured balls and mats and ropes is so ripped”

Because he/she practically lives at the gym. Spend half your time there like they do and it almost doesn’t matter what you do. Plus they’re probably lifting 200kg when you’re not looking. It’s an illusion that they have something besides encouragement and an outside supply of discipline (if you lack your own) to offer. Stick to the big compound exercises (deadlift, squat, bench) with challenging weights (low reps to muscle failure), do it often and you’re golden. That’s all there really is. Everything else is either only relevant for professionals, or bullshit. Mostly the latter.

And the diet-first frame keeps people firmly in the starvation-diet-and-pink-one-pound-weights frame, which is literally the polar opposite of what you need to be doing when you want to be fit, athletic, and healthy. Worse, it leads to the worst of all possible physiques – skinnyfat, leading to bony.

Also true for cardio.

Better gobble down steak and fats and lift heavy. Yes, even for women.

Especially for women.

“I’m still worried about overtraining because of personal health reasons.”

Use common sense. If you’re seventy and have heart disease, don’t lift three times your body weight. If you do that and die, don’t come crying to me.

But if you’re twenty five and healthy, you need to lift until you see stars and have to sit down between sets. If that doesn’t happen, you’re underutilising your abilities, time and money.

“It may feel fine now, but won’t such heavy exercise have effects later in life?”

Yes, you will have stronger muscles, denser bones, better metabolism and more youthful hormones (and a sex life) long into your 80s when most other people are dead, struggling to remember their names, or in wheelchairs. Including those who went to a bosuzumbakickbox class instead of exercise.

©Andreas Kahling. I hope he won’t mind me making him even more famous.

Old-age frailty is surprisingly preventable.

I was overtaken at a marathon in the Swiss alps by a sixty year old Danish grandmother. I was 27 at the time, and in the best shape of my life. That’s how much you can laugh in the face of old age when you keep in shape.

Obviously, it won’t work equally well for everybody. Disease in old age is a game of statistics. You’ll always have outliers who never did a brisk walk, chain-smoke, eat pizza and live to 110. And others who do “everything right” and die at age 40 of something random. It’s law of big numbers, and people who don’t understand statistics like to use anecdotal evidence to justify unhealthy lifestyles.

But you improve your odds significantly within your alloted natural range if you properly take care of yourself now. Whatever your particular allotment in the lottery of genetics and random chance, proper exercise helps your odds and moves you towards a longer and better life.

It’s not a guarantee. There are no guarantees anywhere in life. People get hit by buses, or get terrifying diseases at ridiculously low ages. I lost friends to cancer in their twenties. But barring extreme bad luck, a robust exercise regimen will give you extra decades of healthy life.

That there’s some sort of horrible hidden disadvantage to exercise is bullshit invented by lazy people who want others to fail, to be “punished” for taking care of themselves. It’s plain old envy.

Science says the opposite of those spoilsports (pun not intended): exercise, heavy exercise, is amazing for your long-term health.

“Exercising every day sounds like the training regimen of a superhero. I just want to keep in reasonable shape.”

You’ll get that faster and probably for less total sweat when you train harder.

“But I’m a girl and I don’t want to get bulky”

If you’re a girl, lifting heavy won’t make you bulky unless you work insanely hard towards that specific goal, supplement the hell out of yourself and lick horse testicles for dinner.


If you’re a girl and deadlift and squat small cars, you won’t get this:


you’ll get this.


And if you ever feel you’re starting to get too bulky (I promise you won’t), nothing is easier than stopping. In the meantime, heavy exercise and heavy loads are a much faster way to a slim and healthy physique than fumbling about with zumbayogacrossfitaerobicbox and bosu shit. Yes, counterintuitively, the route to a beautiful, feminine body is doing squats with fifty kilos of iron on your shoulders while screaming like a banshee in labor, not doing punches with 0.2 lb foam toy weights.

The internet is rather overstuffed with “THE ONE WEIRD SECRET THAT <INSERT ADVERSARY CLASS> DON’T WANT YOU TO KNOW”, but this actually IS the one weird secret that fitness trainers and gyms don’t want you to know.

Classes aren’t “for girls”. Classes aren’t for ANYBODY. They’re also a substantial portion of the gyms’ incomes, so the marketing is understandable. But also criminally misleading.

Girls get fit by training hard with iron, like everyone.

You can get reasonably fit with bosu/yoga/whatever fad, but it will take ten times more time and money. Your choice.

People look for shortcuts, for the “one weird trick”. There’s a weird trick that almost nobody considers trying.

Hard fucking work.

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