The easy part is deciding how much weight you want to drop. Whether it’s to fit into a certain dress (a white gown, perhaps!), return to your pre-baby weight or just to get fitter, setting a healthy goal is great. But the hard part is getting there. And not just because of the work it will take, but also because you’ll need to figure out an exercise strategy, stay committed to the workout dates you put in your calendar, and achieve your goal as quickly as you can. So exactly how much exercise do you need to do? Let’s find out.
How often should you exercise?
According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adults need 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity and a minimum of two days of strength training, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity and a minimum of two days of strength training every week. This, the CDC says, will improve health. While losing weight is healthy, for some people this amount of exercise will maintain their weight so they don’t gain more. If that’s you, know that research from the American College of Sports Medicine found that a minimum of 250 minutes a week of exercise is required for significant weight loss in overweight and obese individuals. That’s about four to five 45-minute to one-hour workout sessions.
How long should you exercise?
If you’re not a fan of 60-minute workouts or you have a tough time squeezing in that hour-long time slot into your day, we have good news! You can split those 75, 150 or 250 minutes of exercise into 10-minute bouts. It’s been reported that researchers from Boston University found that multiple 10-minute bouts of activity in a day are effective and do count toward your weekly fitness requirements. In fact, the short workouts (if you have enough of them) are just as effective as longer workouts.
How intense should it be?
High-intensity interval training and Tabata workouts are all the rage right now. That’s because of their post-workout metabolic boosts. The harder you work out, even for a brief amount of time, the more calories you’ll burn. But if you’re out of shape and are finding these workouts too difficult or if your doctor suggests they may be dangerous for you, walking workouts do help. The Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine found that walking a minimum of 150 minutes each week helped study subjects lose between seven and nine kilograms in a year.
So what if you’re looking to increase intensity in your workouts? Intensity is different for everyone because of factors like fitness level, cardio conditioning, as well as body weight and motivation levels. You can measure intensity through your heart rate, since your heart will beat faster during a more strenuous workout. Generally, trainers aim to get your heart rate between 130 beats per minute and your maximum heart rate—with a doctor’s approval, of course. MayoClinic.com says, to figure out your maximum heart rate, subtract your age from 220. So if you’re 30, your maximum heart rate would be 190 beats per minute. Another way to gauge intensity is to go by how you feel. At moderate intensity, you’ll be breathing quickly, you can have a conversation and you have a light sweat. At a more vigorous intensity, it’s more challenging. Your breathing will be deep, you won’t be able to talk without taking a break, and you’ll be sweating a lot.
How many different exercises should you do?
It’s less about the number of exercises and more about the body parts you’re working. You should really be challenging all the major muscle groups with a workout, including those in the shoulders and arms, back, core (stomach, sides and lower back) and legs. If you decide to do one exercise per body part, then you’ll want to do at least four to five moves. You may find your trainer or instructor will combine body parts in an exercise, with multi-plane and/or compound movements that involve moving or engaging the entire body, so you’re moving in a dynamic way. That works too. Just make sure you switch up your routine so you’re not always doing the same workout. You’ll want to be constantly challenging your body to progress to your goal.
How many reps?
That really depends on your fitness level and the weights involved in the exercise. Ideally aiming for 8 to 12 challenging repetitions for each set is common consensus among fitness experts and trainers. If you can only do less than eight reps, the intensity is too high. If at the end of 12 reps, you feel like you can do more, it’s not intense enough. You may have to lower or increase the weights you use.
How many calories should you burn?
It’s widely noted that 3,500 calories equals one pound. So if you want to lose one pound a week, that means your workouts should burn about 500 calories each day. Fitness machines, like bikes, ellipticals and treadmills, can let you know the calorie burn of your workout, but you may have to do a bit of math to figure out how much your burning with other exercises. Try this workout calorie calculator to see approximately how many calories you burn with each activity based on your body weight, age and exercise.
What’s a realistic deadline?
To find out if you’re exercising enough for your weight loss goal deadline, try a target date calculator. It will let you know now many calories each week you need to burn to make it. Be realistic with yourself and your goals. Make sure it’s doable—and safe. And if the calorie count is much too high, talk to a fitness and/or health professional for advice on how you can healthily approach your goal.