Here’s How Much You Should Work Out Weekly, Based On Your Goals

We all have a goal, right? To fit into that dress, do five chin-ups, run a marathon, look bikini-fab on the next tropical holiday or just to generally feel healthy and fit. But how are we going to get there? With endless classes, machines and online programs, it’s hard to work out where to start and what (and how much) we should be doing.

We spoke to John Field, lead trainer and owner of Field Goals Fitness, who’s been exercising for decades—he was an aerobic fitness instructor in 1993 (pre-personal trainer days!). Having also worked in various corporate roles, Field understands how hard it can be to figure out how to achieve your goals, so we’ve asked him to spill to beans on how we should do it, what exercises, how often and everything else!

Here’s the advice he has for ClassPassers:

If your goal is to make fitness part of a routine

If you’re looking to make fitness business as usual, then your magic number of days will depend on how active you already are. If you don’t work out at all, you’ll start to see the benefits of training from one to two sessions a week. Start small and do something you like. Don’t overdo it and try for every day in the first week to help avoid injury.

Create a plan—maybe a 30-minute fast walk in the first week, then build up by adding extra minutes or another day each week. Make sure your plan also includes a ‘cue’—this is what gets you ready, and a ‘reward’. For example, set your alarm and place your training gear at the end of your bed so it’s ready when you wake up and then after you’ve completed your fitness, reward yourself with your favorite coffee. Getting a friend or partner to join you or downloading some apps to track your exercise and how it makes you feel will keep you motivated, too.

If you’re already training five or six times a week but finding it hard to keep it up, review your fitness goals. Do you need a new plan? Try a class you’ve never tried before. Join a local club sports team. Get outside in nature for a bushwalk. Rock climb or kayak, or try exercising at a different time of day.

If your goal is to drop a few excess kilos

Maybe you indulged a bit too much on your last holiday or have a special event coming up, but you’re feeling those extra kilos and they need to go! Field recommends a combination of high-end cardio with light exercise. Aim for two to three cardio sessions during the week—think treadmills, bike, rower or a sweaty gym class where you can get your heart rate to 75% of your maximum heart rate (220 minus your current age) three times weekly. Mix this with some lighter exercise like a fast pace 60- to 90-minute walk on alternating days and at least one rest day during the week.

Remember that if you do this for a whole year without addressing the diet, the chances of you seeing any real change on the scales are greatly diminished. You can’t out-exercise a bad diet.

If your goal is to tone up

If you gravitate to lots of cardio, or are already quite slim with low muscle mass and are looking to lose fat and tone your physique, switch to some interval training. This means you need to do physical training that alternates between periods of high- and low-intensity activity. For example, sprint for one minute, recover for one minute, sprint for two, recover for two, sprint for three, recover for three, sprint for four, recover for four then repeat backward. You could also use other cardio machines, such as a rower, bike or cross-trainer, or find an interval class lead by a trainer who can show you how to best use these pieces of equipment. Interval training should last 45-60 minutes at three times per week with a 10- to 15-minute warm-up and cool-down.

Consider getting a DEXA scan or jumping onto body composition scales so you have detailed information on your individual body composition. With the help of an expert and this information, you’ll be able to better tailor your tone up program and get better, faster results.

If your goal is to build strength

Getting stronger is not just about building big muscles. When you get stronger, you’re better able to lose weight, run faster and hit harder. Field recommends hypertrophy training, which includes strength training four times a week. As the body will experience delayed onset of muscle soreness (DOMS) you will need at least 12 to 24 hours in between sessions to allow the body’s muscles to grow, develop and recover over this period before being put under load gain.

Typically, you would undertake a weights-based program consisting of two lower-body and two upper-body programs within a week. Alternating between them will also give each body part a chance to grow from each workout. Exercises could include bench presses, deadlifts, shoulder presses, leg presses and lunges, just to name a few. The load or weight, repetition, number of sets and length of rest between sets will differ for every person, so speak to an experienced trainer who can develop a personalized program for you.

Some cardio is still required but at a reduced frequency and intensity. A slow jog after an upper-body workout twice a week should not hinder the growth of any muscle group during the hypertrophy phase.

If your goal is to train for a triathlon

Field says when you’re training for a triathlon, you need to start with the end in mind, which will depend on the length—sprint, half ironman or full ironman—as well as your fitness level at the start for each discipline. Try to give yourself at least 16 to 20 weeks to get into shape, build endurance and minimize the chance of injury. Try and commit to training five days per week and allow two days of rest for recovery and for the body to strengthen.

In the initial weeks of training, treat the swim, cycle and run separately and work out where you need to get to for each. For example, in a sprint triathlon, you need to swim 750 metres but may only comfortably swim 300 metres now. Then, based on how many weeks until competition day, you can work out how much you need progress for each leg by each week. Try to reach this at least two weeks before the day so your body is ready.

Aim for one to two swim sessions a week, one that focuses on distance and the other on sprint sessions. This is the same for the bike with two to three sessions for running and adding distance and intensity to each week. If time permits, you can run two sessions in one day—a swim session in the morning and cycle session in the evening. But it’s very important to let the body rest, so don’t push yourself too early.

When you’re halfway to competition day, add in some ‘brick training’—putting two disciplines together like bricks (building one on top of the other). This is so that your legs don’t feel full of lead trying to run after your cycle, plus it helps the body to get used to moving from one discipline to the next. Start linking some of your sessions together, such as a short swim then bike, then a short bike then run.

Bottom line: It’s not just about exercise though…

While it’s great to have a workout goal, it’s super important to consider and remember these key things: your diet and whether you’re drinking water, getting enough sleep, limiting intake of alcohol and stretching. These things must go hand in hand with your frequency and consistent exercise routine each week. Also remember that your age, sex, height, weight and genetics play a huge role in your fitness, and no one exercise program fits everyone. Best to talk to an expert or get a coach who can understand your body and help put a tailored program together for you.

Jacqui Minell manages professional standards for a wealth management business and is a yoga teacher who loves sharing mindfulness and well-being practices in the workplace and with family and friends. When she's not in her corporate or gym gear you'll find her boating and fishing, eating an over-catered for picnic spread with her favourite Champagne and catching up on Home and Away or Madam Secretary.