How much is not enough?
July 2, 2009 8:56 PM   Subscribe

How often should I go to the gym to have it not be a waste of time? My main goal is just to get acclimated to the idea of fitting this into my day so it's something I can continue to do, without going so easy that it's not showing any results after maybe a month or so.

I just bought a membership to my school's gym. I've never done anything fitness related before other than the bare minumum to graduate, so this is a big step for me! I'm going to try to go during a long break that I have between work and school in the afternoon.

I don't want to lay out a bunch of money for a trainer yet because I just want to show myself that going to the gym is something that's doable. My plan is to spend about 45 mins each session either in the pool or on the elliptical machine and try to get my heartrate up, see what I can do. I do have plenty of pudge to lose but I'm not like OMG I MUST SHRINK MY MASS NOW.

However if I go too easy and only go once a week or something I'm afraid I won't notice any improvement and I'm not gonna feel like it's worth it. I'm gonna give it a month to show some kind of improvement whether in my stamina/endurance/how much i can do, my energy level during the day, or how i look (i know, unlikely without weight lifting but i'm definitely getting a trainer for that so that's down the road)

So how many sessions should I schedule in a week and does my plan seem reasonable to you?

Also, do I really need to buy new sneakers if I set aside a pair that I won't wear outside anymore?
posted by amethysts to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (21 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Three to four times a week is generally what you need to do to see results. Don't get discouraged as it will take two and a half to three months before you start to really notice a difference in look. You'll start to feel it in a month or so as you'll have more energy.
posted by skewedoracle at 9:06 PM on July 2, 2009

Everything I've read relating to fitness and exercise suggests at least 3-4 times a week as a good workout schedule. I think that's often enough that it will become a habit, but not so often that you burn out or set yourself up to fail (if you told yourself you were going to go 6 days a week, you probably wouldn't be able to sustain that and might get discouraged). For most people the key seems to be developing consistency and making it a habit.

I don't know if you go to some kind of fancy-pants gym, but I just wear my dirty old sneakers that I wear for everything else. So you probably don't need to buy new ones.
posted by Dilemma at 9:12 PM on July 2, 2009

Yeah, three to four times a week is the usual recommendation - ie one day on, one day off.

Elliptical machines are great, by the way. The first few times it'll feel like really hard work, but you'll get over that soon enough, and can start bumping up the resistance.

I find I can spend 45min on one at the top setting, armed with a trashy magazine & an ipod, and the time & calories just fly by. According to the little computers on the ones at my gym, those things burn energy at about double the next best cardio equipment. 45 min equates to about a third of my daily energy intake.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:16 PM on July 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

In my experience, cardio is really discouraging for people who are out of shape - it's so easy to talk yourself out of it. Consider weightlifting. The program I do is Stronglifts 5x5, which starts off easy and has you lifting heavy weight within a month or two. It takes three workouts per week, about 45 minutes each. I was surprised at how much effect I got from such little time investment - fat begins to drop, your heart rate falls, and you just start to feel so strong. And most importantly, it only requires short bursts of motivation.
posted by aliasless at 9:22 PM on July 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

I agree that 3-4x a week is a good starting point. But I would rethink not getting a personal trainer, actually. Having a personal trainer (if even for only a few sessions) was incredibly helpful for me- he showed me what I should be doing, convinced me that I could actually get used to the whole exercise thing, and knowing that someone (that you're paying) is waiting on you is an amazing motivational tool. You said it's a school gym. I would check with them- I got 8 free personal trainer sessions from my university's gym through a promotion, but even without a promotion all students are given a complimentary training session once every semester. It really does help. And it will help you start strength training right away, rather than putting it off until later- I'm way more likely to go to the gym when I know that I won't be doing just cardio all the time.
posted by kro at 9:26 PM on July 2, 2009

Cobngratulations with setting out.

I agree with the three or four times a week. It's best to get acclimated to the routine of exercise. If you start slow - and easy - it becomes a benign addiction, I promise.

If you haven't done a lot of prior cardio work, which it sounds like you haven't, you should work at the low end of your cardiovascular capacity. If you don't want to shell out for the barest minimum heart monitor (I've always had success with the Polar brand), you should at least try to use one of the machines - the elliptical is great for minimizing impact - that has a built in heart monitor. There are a bunch of ways to figure out your maximum heart rate, and I won't go into it here; but I will say this: resist the temptation to think you have to grind away, huffing and puffing. It could conceivably discourage you if it's no fun and, worse yet, you could injure yourself.

For starts you want to work at about 70% of your max, in other words, at a conversational pace. The benefits come from gradual adaptation to the effort. With time, you'll find that you can work harder (perceived and measured) and still have about the same heart rate.

At which time - it's said it takes about three weeks to adapt to a particular level of stress; it could vary, though - you'll feel perkier, chances are you'll sleep and eat better and, perhaps best of all, you'll be eager to keep going...

I'm not sure what you mean by "sneakers." Converse hi-tops or the like? Even if you're on the elliptical trainer you do need at least some manner of cushion and support, the likes of which what-I-consider-to-be-sneakers won't provide. As with the heart monitor, you don't need to spend much, but it is a worthwhile investment, in the long run which, presumably is why you're doing this in the first place.

Good luck.
posted by holdenjordahl at 9:35 PM on July 2, 2009

Also, don't totally rule out having a trainer. My university has graduate students (and some undergrad) be trainers as part of a course. Which means you didn't have to pay for it. So ask at your gym and see if they have this kind of thing going on.
posted by theichibun at 9:35 PM on July 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

I once joined a gym to get my ass in gear. I forgot about it for about 2 months after the 3rd time I stumbled into the gym. I realized this was going to be a waste of money, and I needed to take a different approach.

So I decided that I will ONLY shower at the gym in the mornings (when I usually can adjust based on your own regimen). After a week of ONLY showering at the gym (which sounds stupid)...I decided to do a little of this...then a little of that...and throw in some cardio.

Pretty soon, I was coming every damn morning before work. Some days it was a hardcore workout...other days it was just a quick steam. I got in shape, and my skin looked fantastic (steam).

Good luck...your body has a way of figuring out how much is enough work...once you actually get around to doing some.
posted by hal_c_on at 10:28 PM on July 2, 2009

Three to four times is sort of the right number to get results. You can go every day but then you really need a trainer or to develop a very well laid out training plan. You want to rest your muscles in between workouts. So if you go every day you need to let some muscles rest one day etc. This is the trainers bread and butter and if you go whole hog use them for this. The other big benefit they will provide is motivation. You will not skip a day so easily when you have an appointment with your trainer. I don't use a trainer so take my advice with that grain of salt, but then I do most things on my own eschewing experts even when they would clearly help.
posted by caddis at 10:55 PM on July 2, 2009

Addiction is right. Set small goals. 3-4 times a week for a month, then reevaluate.
posted by Ironmouth at 4:08 AM on July 3, 2009

3 was the magic number for me, but I think going even once is much better than not going at all. For the first three months or so, I'd got 3-4 times a week. I've only been going twice a week of late, and I definitely miss that third day. I'd recommend looking into classes - for me it was nice to have a set schedule that I had to follow, so being at the yoga class for 5:30 was a great motivator. I've read a few studies that claim those who attend classes are more likely to stick with their gym.

If you don't want to do classes, set a schedule and stick with it (sounds like you have a lull that you want to take advantage of) - assume bad things will happen if you mess with that schedule. Trust me, there will always be a million excuses not to work out (too hot, too cold, too tired, too awake to waste time at the gym, etc.), so your best bet is to accept those excuses, but go anyhow.

You mentioned cardio, but definitely do some weight training as well. It will lead to better results from the cardio - and it's just generally better for your body.
posted by backwards guitar at 5:02 AM on July 3, 2009

I would also say 3-4x a week. When my life interferes with my gym schedule and I go only 1-2x a week, that's better than nothing, but every time I go, I feel like I'm starting at zero, and that can be discouraging. I need to see progress (in terms of how difficult it feels) to keep motivated. I think tying it to your showering/getting ready for the day like hal_c_on suggests would be an excellent way to stick to a routine.

Also, as others have mentioned, incorporating some weight training will significantly improve your cardio results. 15-20 minutes of weight training, 30-45 min of cardio 3x a week would make a HUGE difference. Plus, while cardio can burn fat, and depending on what you're doing, can help tone muscle in certain areas, there are other areas that won't be addressed during your cardio.

You should be fine on your sneakers as long as they are no longer your outside shoes. Depending on what your gym offers, you may want to invest in some sweat towels. I sweat a ton, and I need to be able to wipe my face, arms, and the machine's handles during my workout. I bring three with me, so I am not wiping the handles with the ones that aren't wiping my face and arms. I made sure to purchase enough to get me through a week of workouts without worrying about laundry. I highly recommend Target's dishtowels-cheap, effective, & feels okay next to the skin. I can't find them online, but they sell them in 2 or 3 packs for $2 or $3. They came in pastel purples & blues so it was easy to designate towels for machine and for me. Good luck!
posted by katemcd at 5:37 AM on July 3, 2009

For sheer routine-keeping I find going every weekday before/after work is useful for me. Especially if I choose to go evenings, like I am doing at the moment - I go straight to the gym after the office, telling myself if I feel like crap when I'm changed I'll just hop on the bike for 15 minutes and leave. I rarely want to leave of course!

Other things that might help with routine, and which I've used, are having a trainer or workout partner you have to meet on certain days or committing on a program of some sort - you'll want to go knowing you have another two Couch to 5k workouts to complete this week, or if you don't go you'll screw up lower body day when lifting.
posted by jamesonandwater at 5:59 AM on July 3, 2009

I do the 3-4x/week. I find having two days a week that are gym nights, no if, ands or buts about it, same two days every week works best for me. I know not to schedule anything else those nights, and I still have 5 other days a week to juggle gym/errands/social stuff. Also, 45 min of cardio only can be a lot. My gym has fitness mags by the cardio machines - I like to read them on the machine and pick a couple of things to try from them once I'm off the machine.

I also make my self stay for whatever time I've given myself for that workout (i.e. stay the full 45 min) -- I don't have to push myself or do the hardest workout, but if I'm at the gym I make myself do something and stay the full amount.

Good luck!
posted by cestmoi15 at 6:23 AM on July 3, 2009

Lots of good strategies here. Again, nthing the 3-4 times a week, though personally I get so addicted to a workout that I like to do it more like 5-6 times per week, but 3-4 is definitely what you need to see results.

Also, depending on how much weight you have to lose and whether you have a healthy diet, you could see/feel results in 2 weeks or so. Maybe it's just my imagination or the workout-produced endorphins, but I tend to think progress is a little easier to come by than fitness mags imply, especially when you start enjoying your workout for its own sake & not just the eventual payoff in weightloss.

I use jamesonandwater's mind-trick to get myself out the door for my run. I tell myself: all I have to do is change into my running clothes, leave my apartment, and walk to the end of the street. If I don't want to go any further I can turn around and come right back. I think I've turned around once - guess I really had hurt my ankle the night before.

Also, why not spring for the trainer now? You'll get more out of your first trips to the gym, which will make you feel inspired to keep going. I know it sounds logical to start slow, but I really believe that diving in headfirst is the way to go with a new fitness plan. It's easier to scale it back over time (if necessary) than it is to push yourself to step it up.
posted by philotes at 7:15 AM on July 3, 2009

My personal opinion is that setting out with a goal of 3-4 times a week is too much too soon. Start with twice a week for at least the first two weeks, maybe even a month. It won't feel like such a huge commitment. When you are comfortable with that, then bump up to three times.

Mix up your routines. Do not do the same thing every day. That leads to burnout. One of my favorite cardio strategies is to do 15-20 minutes on three different machines. Elliptical, rower, stair climber (the one with actual stairs, not the little platforms), or stationary bike. And pay attention to your form. Don't flop over and lean on the rails. Keep your steps/pedal strokes/ rowing snappy and energetic. Vary the tempo. Start easy, and then punch the pace for 30 seconds. Have some good motivating music to listen to, and keep updating your playlist, so it's never, "oh, geez, it's the Pixies again."

And yes, do start to lift weights. You probably need to consult with a trainer or exercise specialist. With this as well, keep your routine varied. Never do the same thing over and over. Be able to have a few exercises for each muscle group, so you are constantly taxing the muscle fibers in different ways.

Good luck!
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 9:55 AM on July 3, 2009

15-20 minutes of weight training, 30-45 min of cardio 3x a week would make a HUGE difference

You're not going to accomplish much in 15-20 minutes of weight training. You don't need a personal trainer -- lots of trainers are a waste of money, and you can learn what you need on the internet. Check out the aforementioned
posted by ludwig_van at 11:33 AM on July 3, 2009

Great feedback everyone! I went today and it was actually kind of fun. Keep your answers coming if you have any more information!
posted by amethysts at 4:42 PM on July 3, 2009

As someone who also always did the bare minimum of fitness to graduate, I'm surprised by the number of people suggesting 3-4x a week. I agree with computech_apolloniajames that you should start out a little more slowly.

Starting from not being very fit at all, I alternated between 2-3x a week for a few months last summer and definitely saw results. Come to think of it, because I was not very fit at all, I didn't want to do more than 3x a week because of minor soreness (of the good variety I think), but I was definitely addicted even at the 2-3x level.
posted by hellogoodbye at 5:18 PM on July 3, 2009

If you work out more often you'll be less sore. 3x/week is fine for a beginner -- frequency of workouts doesn't have anything to do with intensity of workouts. 2x/week just means slower progress.
posted by ludwig_van at 5:24 PM on July 3, 2009

If you're not in the fitness habit, find ways to make it painless and fun. My gym has TV on some of the treadmills, so I'd go when CSI was on (and I don't even like CSI normally). Someone else on AskMe listens to suspenseful books on tape. Or go with a friend. Basically, just take for granted that you're not going to like it (it's pain, pretty much), at least not for a while, and then figure out what's going to make you want to go anyway.
posted by salvia at 7:13 PM on July 4, 2009

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