How often and how hard do I have to work out to maintain my current fitness level?
January 9, 2008 6:00 PM   Subscribe

How often and how hard do I need to work out in order to maintain the level of aerobic fitness I have right now?

For about a year now, I've been working out for an hour (40 minutes of cardio plus 20 of strength training) about 4 times a week. During the last 6 weeks of 2007, I really stepped it up---about 8 hours a week instead of 4. I definitely noticed improvements just over those 6 weeks---by Dec. 31, the cardio was easier, I was able to finish all the strength sets using 8 lb. weights instead of 6 lb. ones, and I noticed increased muscle definition, especially in my arms and calves.

Unfortunately, I don't think I can really keep up that pace over the long term. It really took up a lot of my free time. For now, I'd like to hang on to the benefits I gained, but not spend so much time working out. What is the minimum I can do to maintain my existing level of fitness for a while until I feel ready to do another hardcore stint?
posted by slenderloris to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
how old are you? if you are 28 or younger, you should be pushing harder, not trying to minimise your workout times. but you should be able to peak every 2-3 months, depending on your body type. if you are older, then you will lose fitness more rapidly, and your ability to ebb and peak will diminish. but the more you do, the easier it will get.
posted by edtut at 6:34 PM on January 9, 2008

This, unfortunately, is not a question to ask a service such as AskMeFi. You'll find out the limits of your body's homeostasis and such on your own. There is no general answer. I have friends who can maintain by sitting on a couch and eating. I have others who need to work their asses off in order to retain a pudgy shape. You will find your own way.

The best advice I can give you is to change up your work out routine. Your body will adapt to a repetitive workout and you may find more utility in rigorous bursts that are varied in smaller amounts than the same old, simply done for longer.

posted by stratastar at 6:55 PM on January 9, 2008

Crossfit. Read through the site. Check out the scaled workouts (go to the "Start Here" section of the sidebar). Among other things, Crossfit aims to work out smarter, not longer. You don't need to work out hours and hours on end to maintain fitness. Interval training, fast strength sets, mixed-up workouts like Crossfit provides are perfect. I used to do triathlons and worked out a LOT--hours and hours and hours a day. But doing Crossfit, the workout itself usually only takes about 30 minutes (though I include a longer warmup), and I am more fit than I have ever been in my life. It is pretty amazing.
posted by schroedinger at 7:24 PM on January 9, 2008

edtut, I'm 27. I'd like to keep pushing hard but I know myself and I know if I try to maintain that pace I'll get burned out and quit completely.

stratastar, I'm not really concerned about maintaining my weight---it tends to stay about the same regardless of my workout routine.
posted by slenderloris at 7:36 PM on January 9, 2008

If you are put off by Crossfit (I kind of am), its principles as above are still the key: Interval training, fast strength sets, mixed-up workouts. At swim practice, we work out the same amount of time per practice, but still get faster and fitter, because we do intervals and different sorts of sets (short swims / short rest; long swims / short rest; paddle work, which is more about strength; etc.). So: intervals and diversity.
posted by dame at 8:10 PM on January 9, 2008

It's really hard to say without knowing more about your cardio workouts. I'd do some googling and read up about heart rate training. Having a monitor is nice, but you can also get a reading on many cardio machines at the gym, or by taking your pulse.

Interval training can take up less time than steady-state cardio, and still keep you in shape. There is no easy way around steady-state cardio if you want to build up endurance, but you can tackle that gently by walking or biking instead of driving or taking the bus a few times a week.
posted by freshwater_pr0n at 8:26 PM on January 9, 2008

Crossfit baby!
posted by outsider at 10:16 PM on January 9, 2008

In terms of your strength training and muscle definition: you don't need to spend very much time on it, but you have to be changing up your routine and also really upping the resistance. You shouldn't be using just 8lb weights after a year...and the same weight for every exercise? After about six weeks of the same program everyone hits a plateau. Switch the exercises around regularly, i.e. do pullups instead of the lat pull-down machine, do dips instead of chest presses, lunges instead of squats, etc.; switch the number of reps, i.e. sometimes 5 sets of 5, sometimes 3 sets of 8, sometimes 10 sets of three, and vary the weight accordingly (you'll need much more weight for a set of 3 than for a set of 8); and learn new exercises. If you are focused and smart about it you need maybe 20 minutes three times a week to make positive gains, never mind just maintaining.

No-one gains from repeating the same routine over and over. That's why for cardio people like dame are also recommending interval training with different kinds of intervals.
posted by creasy boy at 11:52 PM on January 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

Check out Practical Programming by Mark Rippetoe.
posted by tiburon at 7:38 AM on January 10, 2008

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