Q: I would love to see an entry about the best way to combine different types of workouts. I do pilates, hiking or spinning for cardio, and strength training 2 times a week. I have started doing barre classes and really enjoy them. How many times a week do you need to do each type of workout to have it be worthwhile? I don’t want to waste my money if 2 x week of different workouts will not build as much strength as 3 or more times of 1 or 2 types of workouts.
At the core of this question, is a desire to understand what it means for training to be “effective” or, as you put it, “worthwhile.” And, for different people, this will mean different things.
And, as usual, I kind of have to talk around the question to get exactly where the answer is.
One of the reasons I talk about finding an activity you love is because the passion for it fuels the level of commitment you will have, and the commitment helps to ensure the success. It’s important to stay committed, sure, but who manages to commit to something they hate (and aren’t getting paid for it) for any extended period of time?
The activity you choose often determines how often you can engage in it. For me, I love lifting, but I can’t do it every day without injury. It requires a lot of your body, and you need to give it some time to heal. Besides, the next time I go in, I want to be at 100%—not limping my way through work each day so that I can only be at 60% when I get back in the cage.
This is why we “cross-train.” Cross-training is basically when you use your off-days from one activity and fill them up with another activity that can still help you enrich your first activity. Like, for example – runners often will run miles 3-4 days out of the week, and fill the other 2-3 days with strength training or pilates or yoga. It helps your body learn to move in new ways—which can help you become more proficient in your original activity—and strengthens your nervous system’s ability to control different kinds of movement.
The definition of “worthwhile” and “effective” all depends on your goals. If you were an athlete, 2-3 times a week isn’t effective. But, for a beginner on a new weight loss journey, 2-3 times is life-changing. For someone who’s been here before, it might be time to step it up.
My ideal that I share with people is to shoot for doing something every day. Not because you’re “burning calories!!!” but because it gets you away from an attachment to being in the house all day, sitting all day, being sedentary all day. If you commit to doing something each day, you’ll naturally gravitate towards activities that complement themselves—as well as complement you by bringing you joy—in ways that body benefit your body and heal it. And, as for building strength, any activity will help, but it’s difficult to build strength in a situation where the body is in a caloric deficit, so don’t stress over the “strength building part” so much.
I also always tell people to pick two activities, one high-impact activity and one low-impact activity. Something that has about as much bouncing, jumping, and moving as you can take; a second activity that is more mellow, smooth, relaxation-oriented, and relief-enducing. For me, that’s a combination of running/spin, lifting, and yoga. It’s worthwhile and effective for me because it gets me out of the house, keeps me active, puts me in spaces that I enjoy with people who make me feel good, enriches my life by bringing me joy and lifting my mood, gives me a sense of pride and accomplishment, and—yes, I wouldn’t forget—helps me consistently burn calories and lose pounds.
We alternate high-impact and low-impact because it helps strengthen the muscles that support our joints, while also giving them relief yet still keeping us active. It’s important to choose a low-impact activity that allows you to rest from your high-impact activity, while still getting you off the couch. Low-impact activities are great mood-boosters, relaxation sources, stress relievers, and just overall great for taking your mind out of what tends to overwhelm us the most.
(And, for the record, low-impact exercises are more like indoor cycling/spin, yoga, pilates, walking, elliptical—anything that doesn’t involve a ton of jumping or bouncing around on your joints. High-impact activity seems pretty easy to define in contrast.)
So, when we’re talking about what a worthwhile exercise schedule is, look at it like this: infusing your life with any consistent activity is worthwhile, and the more of it you can get, the better off you’ll be, not just for your weight loss goals but your overall well being, too. But, when it comes to building your schedule, be sure to alternate intensity levels to help prevent injury and promote proper recovery.
If you keep those points in mind, you’ll find that your chosen level of activity is worthwhile not just for your body, but your mind and soul as well… and who wouldn’t want that?