Are You Training Too Much? Too Little? No Idea?

Mar 26, 2019

Fitness is vast. There's so much information out there. It's quite overwhelming, wouldn't you agree? Even if we want to go to the gym, we don't know how often we should be going, or what we should do, or for how long...sound familiar?

Today's post is designed to remove any uncertainty about how often you should train. That is, the “F” in the FITT-VP-WW acronym I described in my last post – i.e. Frequency. Remember, when applied, FITT-VP-WW will help you achieve all of your fitness goals! Click here if you need a refresher on what FITT-VP stands for, and how to apply the concepts to reach all of your fitness goals!

Frequency = the number of exercise sessions per week

Your exercise frequency will vary based on:

  • Your goals, ambitions, available time, and existing fitness levels
    • Strength training and aerobic conditioning should have independent (potentially related) goals
  • Your genetics

If you are new to exercise, follow the ACSM’s recommendations below (ref #1):

Type of Training




Moderate Intensity Cardio

At least 30 min/day

5+ sessions per week

Slow jogging, brisk walking, slow cycling etc.

Vigorous Intensity Cardio

At least 20 min/day

3+ sessions per week

Running, fast cycling, squash, basketball etc.

Strength Training

At least 20 min/day

2-3 sessions per week

Push ups, pull ups, squats, lunges, dips, etc.

Flexibility Training

5+ min/day

2-3 sessions per week

Stretches for the quads, calves, hip flexors, deltoids etc.

Note: Complete either moderate or vigorous intensity cardio; not both!

Keep reading to learn more about:

  • Individual differences in training, and de-training.
  • How long it takes to achieve improvements in cardiovascular fitness.
  • The required frequency of training to maintain cardiovascular fitness.
  • The silent killer: over training.
  • Athletes vs. non-athletes and training frequency.
  • Top tips for keeping up with your training plan.


All About You!

Finding the optimal exercise frequency is all about:

  • Your goals
    • Fat loss vs. recreational vs. competitive vs. champion
  • Available time / ability to prioritize and create time
    • Will you prioritize your fitness and block off a chunk of time daily (or every other day) in your calendar? If yes, there’s no stopping you because motivation and action are the cornerstones of all achievement. If you answered ‘no’, then no matter how nice your gym is, or how good your trainer is, nothing is about to change. That’s the reality. If you said ‘yes’, you’re at the right place to learn more about how to actually achieve your goals! Half the battle is over, and you’ve won!

  • Current fitness level

Training Type


Beginner (<6 consistent months)

Intermediate (6-18 consistent months)

Advanced (18+ consistent months)

Aerobic / Cardiovascular

Fat Loss

30+ mins / day moderate exercise, 5+ times per week

20+ mins / day vigorous exercise

30+ mins / day vigorous exercise



Base conditioning (general cardio development): 30+ mins / day, moderate exercise, 5+ times per week

Sport specific modality: 40+ mins / day, moderate to vigorous exercise, 3-4+ times per week

Sport specific modality: 40-60+ mins / day, 3-5 times / week, moderate to vigorous exercise


Strength Training

Fat Loss

20+ mins / day, body weight, 2-3 times per week

Sport specific strength: 40+ mins / day, 3-4+ times per week

Highly sport specific strength/power: 40-60+ mins / day, 2-4 times / week



Base development (core, connective tissue strength, balance, flexibility): 30+ mins / day, 2-3 times per week


Note: Recommendations will vary based on your sport, time of the season, and individual requirements

  • Your Genetics
    • This is a controversial topic. I would highly recommend reading the book “The Sports Gene by David Epstein” as he discusses it in detail. 

    • At a very high level, he discusses the following findings:
      • Physical and physiological characteristic of athletes in almost all sports are better understood and more clearly defined than ever before. As a result, there is a form of natural selection – where individuals of certain builds and specific characteristics naturally gravitate towards a particular sport. For instance, David mentions that an American man that is 7 feet tall (or more), has a 17% chance of being in the NBA. On the other hand, the shorter athletes that have made it to the NBA (e.g. Nate Robinson), had springs for legs, and also had the wing span of someone several inches taller. Such ‘selective’ traits are common at the highest levels of sport.
      • A particularly fascinating example is from high jump. David Epstein compared two athletes: Stefan Holm and Donald Thomas. Holm put in years and years of intense training, and barely improved his maximum jump after becoming a professional. Thomas on the other hand barely had 8 months of training and was able to win an Olympic gold medal. How you ask? Thomas’ Achilles tendon was uncharacteristically long and stiff, acting as an extremely powerful spring, by storing more energy and thus propelling him higher.
      • Culture, environment and circumstances have a profound impact on athletic achievements as well. David Epstein cites the example of the Kalenjin tribe (in Kenya). These people live in hot, dry, low latitude environments that favour long thin body proportions (for optimal cooling). A study by Copenhagen’s research center compared Kenyan runners to Danish runners. Kenyan runners were on average 2” shorter than their Danish peers, but had legs ¾” longer, and an Achilles tendon that was on average 2.7” longer. Talk about environmental and genetic differences.
      • Learning, experience, and seeing things differently: Chunking. Grandmasters in chess have been found to ‘chunk’ information together. For instance, chess players of differing levels were asked to memorize where certain pieces appeared on a chess board. Ranging from beginner to grandmaster (with several groupings in between), each progressively more competent player was able to recall more of the pieces on the board. This was not a result of memory. It was discovered that the most elite chess players (grand masters) had so many common scenarios in their ‘chess brain’, that they were able to recall the position of pieces because of learned, common patterns. Less advanced players had to memorize the locations of all pieces, and never saw the board as a ‘common scenario’. This research aligns with the notion of the 10,000 hour rule put forth by Malcom Gladwell re. becoming world class (or an expert) at anything!

Training Tip: Research has shown that people with a lot of fast twitch muscle fibers are at a higher risk of injury because they can contract their muscles extremely quickly and powerfully. The appropriate training load for one person could be catastrophic for another. Less training could be the right medicine for some athletes.

Individual Differences in Training & De-training:

Research has shown that individuals with lower initial cardiovascular fitness levels show the greatest improvement in fitness. So, if you’re just starting out, you should be excited because you will see significant improvements in your fitness! The same holds true for strength training. As I have mentioned in previous posts, initial strength gains arise from neurological adaptations (and not increased muscle) – i.e. your body is creating new connections between the brain and muscles, and is thus become more efficient.

Detraining (or reversibility) is an important factor. For non-athletes, we often begin some form of exercise consistently for a short period of time, but sooner or later, most of us quit. A study on endurance athletes (ref #2) showed that 20 days of bed rest led to a 25% decrease in V02Max! That’s the equivalent of a 1% decrease of aerobic power per day.

For the athletes out there, studies have shown that despite years of conditioning, fitness advantages are only temporary…

Furthermore, following up on the previous genetics discussion, researchers have determined that some folks are ‘responders’, while others are ‘non-responders’. i.e. some individuals respond exponentially better to training than others. Studies have been completed on twins to test this, and interestingly, some twins were responders - i.e. both increased their fitness by similar magnitudes to the same training load – while other non-responders showed little improvement.

Training tip: Do not take extended periods of ‘rest’ (i.e. several weeks) after your last major event of the season. Maintain some training (even if at a lower intensity), or complete cross training by playing a different sport a few days a week, etc., to preserve the effect of your hard work! It isn’t the best feeling to put in hours of hard work, take 2-3 weeks off, and come back feeling like you’ve wasted months of training…

How long does it take to achieve improvements in cardiovascular fitness?

Cardiovascular improvements have been shown to occur in as little as 10 days of continuous training in men and women (ref #3). Participants cycled at varying (increasing) intensities for 1 hour, ten days in a row. V02Max increased 10% alongside several other physiological improvements!

The required frequency of training to maintain aerobic fitness:

You will be glad to know that several studies (ref #4, 5 & 6) have shown that after developing aerobic fitness (as measured by V02Max) over a 10-week period, reducing training frequency or volume (i.e. session time) up to two thirds maintained V02Max! Remember though, that V02Max is not the ultimate or only measure of fitness. Several other factors such as the amount of fuel (glycogen) your system has, your ability to maintain a high percentage of V02Max (i.e. endurance) etc. are all independent of the absolute V02Max value.

Important: Training intensity of the critical variable in maintaining your aerobic fitness. Once intensity is reduced, aerobic capacity also declines.

Strength Training: Frequency’s inverse relation to other FITT-VP variables

I’ve talked a lot about cardiovascular training, so let’s discuss management of training frequency when it comes to weight lifting. As always, training frequency is inversely related to training volume, intensity and time. The heavier you’re lifting, the more overall weight you’re lifting, and the longer you’re lifting for (in a given session), the less frequently you should be working out.

Note that high intensity workouts (i.e. very heavy weights above 85% of 1 RM) require 48h (on average) for adequate recovery before the next workout. Explosive training (plyometrics) also requires similar recovery time frames. As discussed in my previous blog, nutrition and rest/recovery techniques play a significant role in how frequently you can work out as solid management decreases recovery time.

As usual, if you are new to strength training, give yourself at least 48h before lifting weights again. A good strategy to train more frequently (for shorter periods of time – given how busy we all are these days), is to work your upper body one day, and lower body the next day, taking the 3rd day as rest. This ensures adequate rest.

Cardio and strength on the same day?

When thinking about the number of weekly cardio and strength sessions, align your selection based on your training experience (beginner, intermediate, advanced), your available time to train, and motivation.

Trying to do too much (i.e. both cardio and strength training) on the same day can not only burn you out physically, but it can leave little to no time for other things; creating a negative association with training. Completing too many sessions can also lead to over training and/or injury (discussed below). If you are not training for a specific event, or at a competitive level, 2-3 cardio, and 2-3 strength training sessions per week will do wonders for your physical and mental health.

Training tip: Complete circuit strength training in the gym, and you can kill two birds with one stone by getting a cardiovascular workout while building strength! Efficiency never hurt anyone.

If you’d like personalized advice about your training, please message me here and I’d be happy to assist.

Training Your core: How often?

The core is an interesting part of the body. It is comprised of different types of muscles – postural / stability and fast twitch / explosive. Some experts and trainers are of the opinion that core training can be completed daily (and even twice a day). Others advocate for training the core less frequently (e.g. every other day).

Honestly, I have experienced both ends of the spectrum. In my twenties I trained my core twice a day, 5-6 days a week. Sometimes even 3 times a day…crazy, I know. Now in my earlier 30’s, I typically train my core every other day. Having said that, when I was younger, I trained with more of a body building style – i.e. isolation exercises for body parts, along with isolated core exercises. Having matured and realized that integrated training is far better for athletes, I evolved to train my core specifically 3-4 times a week (at most), however I complete full body, compound exercises 3-4 times as week as well. During these training sessions, the core really does get worked as well! It is a far more efficient way of training, and minimizes training time and frequency. Most importantly, it is far more realistic to the demands placed on our body when we play sports, and leaves more time for sport specific training on field / on court training.

To learn more, and try a mini core program for FREE, click here!

The silent killer: over training


Modern society has taken everything to an extreme. The quest for excellence has brought ‘professionalism’ to all corners of life, especially sports and athletics. With our desires to outperform and outlast the competition, training frequency, intensity, time and volume are constantly being pushed to the limits.

Each of us is unique, and some people can handle more of any one (or all) variables than others. Hence the requirement for customized training plans for each individual athlete. Sadly, this is not often the case. The idea of over training can be broken down in to three major components:

  • Overload: is a planned period of increased training volume, frequency, intensity or time. After adequately planned rest, performance improves.
  • Over-reaching: is an un-planned increase of the FITT-VP principles, and results in decreased performance. Rest of 1 to 2 weeks can often help eliminate this.
  • Over-training: is the result of continuous over reaching. It is a serious problem (sometimes requiring medical treatment) due to hormonal and other physiological & psychological impacts to the body and mind! Returning to sport can be challenging after this. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is often synonymous with over training.

Athletes vs. non-athletes and training frequency

I wanted to create this section to share the amount of training athletes actually complete. You’ll be surprised to know that it often isn’t as much as you might imagine, and often varies sport to sport. Lots of stories exist about athletes waking up at 5a.m, and training 12 hours through the day. I have two comments related to this: (1) Such immense training times include warm ups, cool downs, recovery work, eating, etc.); (2) the reality is that these athletes are the exceptions – not the norm.

As scientific knowledge continues to increase, athletes are becoming smarter and smarter with their training frequency, volume and load. I read an autobiography of the famous track and field sprinter Ben Johnson. He trained 12h per week on average. His training intensity, and work to rest ratios were scientifically selected. More frequency and volume would have likely led to injuries.

I recently came across a post about German squash player Simon Rosner. It showed that he trained 4 times a day, amounting to approximately 6 hours each day. That almost sounds unbelievable; and might just be. The key things to remember here are that if he is actually training like this, (1) he has built up to this volume over many years; (2) he might just be training like this temporarily for a couple of weeks in order to overload his body in a planned way; (3) he has a poor training plan!

As you can see from the two examples shared, frequency, volume and intensity differ person to person, sport to sport, and according to the time of the season, your training experience, and more. Never adopt someone else’s training patterns as that could be a recipe for disaster. Start slowly, and gradually push yourself further each time. You will soon find your threshold at which point you can begin making marginal gains. Fitness and athleticism are not a sprint. This is a marathon. Staying healthy and planning properly will help you reach peak performance.

Training TipIn my last blog detailing the FITT-VP principle, I shared a sample training log. I would HIGHLY recommend that you begin tracking your training using that template (or something similar that works for you). Such tracking tools will help you improve fitness most efficiently.

Additional key ways of keeping up with your training plan:

  1. Create SMART goals and a commitment statement.
  2. Playing sports – join a team, in a league.
  3. Pay in advance – psychology shows that once that monetary commitment has been made you will be more likely to go!
  4. Set targets for yourself and define rewards (or penalties) for achieve (or for missing) them. 

That’s it for today folks. Please comment below, or send me a message here if you have any questions, or would like to learn more about anything!

Don't forget, #RiseUp


Ref #1:
Ref #2: Exercise Physiology, Nutrition and Human Performance, 7th Edition. McArdyle. Pg. 457
Ref #3: Mier CM, et al. Cardiovascular adaptations to 10 days of cycle exercise. J Appl Physiol 1997; 83:1900.
Ref #4, 5, 6: Exercise Physiology, Nutrition and Human Performance, 7th Edition. McArdyle. Pg. 478