This is probably one of the most common questions I get asked. It's probably one of the most common questions any personal trainer gets asked. It sounds like an easy question to answer, but in fact it's actually impossible. Why? Let me tell you.
I'm going to tell you something that's shocking. I hope you're sitting down. Ready? Here it is. People are different! I know right! You are different from me. I'm different from you. What works for me, isn't going to work for you. Not only are our bodies and goals are different, but our lifestyles aren't standard. Modern life is in incredibly busy, especially when you're trying to juggle work, family, children, not to mention the thousand other things that steal our time. When you also need to allocate time to working out, you can see just how hard it can be to create a solution that works for everyone. I'd love to be able to give you a definitive answer, but, as you can see, there just isn't one that's going to work for everyone, and that's ok.
In order to come up with a solution that does work, for you as an individual, we need to understand, not the 'how', but the 'why'. Why are you working out? Why do you want to? It might be as simple as just having some 'me' time or to burn off the stresses of your day. Maybe you're trying to lose weight, to be more active or perhaps you want to build muscle in readiness for your next holiday. You might be preparing for an Iron Man competition or a Tough Mudder and need to build up your endurance and stamina. Whatever it is, you need to understand your starting point, then we can go forward to find a solution that works for you.
If you're someone who has a fairly sedentary job and does little or no exercise now, then even just doing one or two days a week will reap some rewards. If you already have exercise forming part of your routine each week, then one or two days just won't cut it. I told you it was tricky! It also doesn't help that the term 'exercise' isn't a level playing field either.
What kind of exercise are you looking to do? Just cardio? Only resistance or weight training? A mixture of the two? Don't forget rest days - they are just as important to allow your body to recuperate and to avoid overtraining
Depending on what your goals are, use them to drive your workouts in the time you have, not the other way around. Let's say, for example, you want to do a mixture of both strength and cardio - it's a good middle ground for most people. Try 3 days of strength training, 2 of cardio and rest for the other 2, assuming your schedule allows. If building muscle is more aligned to what you want, swap a cardio for a strength day and work each muscle group 2-3 times a week (ensuring your whole body gets a share). Utilising compound exercises (like squats, lunges, etc.) work more than one group simultaneously, so if you are short of time, focus on those to make the most of your workout.
If you're looking to improve your endurance, go for more cardio days than strength. Cardio is great because it can be more easily adapted. Can't get to the gym? Go for a run after (or during) work, cycle to the office or go to an exercise class. As long as it raises your heart rate for a period of time, then it's going to work. Aim for around 120-150 bpm for an hour or so, to get the most from your cardio session
As I mentioned earlier, resting is just as important. Giving your body a chance to recover and repair, ready for next time, is a key component. Planning your week so your busiest days can also be resting days may work out well for you.
I hope I've showed you how difficult the question is to resolve If there is an answer I can leave you with, it's this. Whilst we would all love a perfectly scheduled week that doesn't change as our lives fluctuate and gives us everything we need, we both know how unrealistic that is. The real answer is to build fitness into your life, so you can develop good, long-lasting training habits. If you can't work out as much as you want this week, that's ok. Do it as much as you can. It's your life, no-one else's. Be honest about the time you do have available and make the most efficient use of it, however much or little that is. It's better to do something than nothing. Nothing is what those other people do, so leave them to it. We've got goals to smash.