The American College of Sports Medicine physical activity guidelines include the following recommendations for general health and wellbeing:
- Moderately intense cardio 30 minutes a day, five days a week, OR,
- Vigorous intense cardio 20 minutes a day, 3 days a week, AND
- 8 to 10 strength-training exercises, eight to 12 repetitions of each exercise, twice a week.
Note that they recommend you can substitute 3 days a week of higher-intensity exercise for 5 days of moderate intensity — plus two weight training sessions in either case.
Just recently, as reported in Heartwire, a research group from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (Circulation July 7, 2008) showed that high-intensity exercise for 3 days a week for a total of 2 hours might produce better results in people with ‘metabolic syndrome’, a condition that is measured by excess weight around the waist, high blood triglycerides and low HDL cholesterol.
This is exactly how I train now after many years of running and gym for 5 days a week. It’s tougher, and it’s best to have some measure of fitness leading up to this, but it does save time. This is my program now: it’s pretty simple and I make adjustments to suit from time to time. Running is done at a local sports field. Weights are done at a fitness centre and gym. I always take at least one day break between sessions.
It’s a little more than what might be done for general health and fitness, but I train for various recreational sports as well.
- Day 1. Track:: 20 x 60m; 90-95% effort, explosive start; jog/walk back, 10-20 seconds rest, repeat, recover at number 10. Weights:: Same day, go straight to gym before cooldown, 10 exercises upper body — rows, curls, pulldowns, pullups, dips, abs, pushdowns, shoulder or bench press.
- Day 2. Full body workout and HIT at gym:: stiff-leg deadlifts, squats or leg press, calf raises, rows, dips, pulldowns, curls, abs, pushdowns, shoulder press, overhead press. Cardio HIT:: treadmill, 10 minutes continuous at 85%; mini-trampoline, two and one-legged high bounces, high-knee sprint intervals, 10 minutes.
- Day 3. Track:: 10 x sprint starts, sometimes with spikes, 40m, 100%, plenty of rest; form runs 80m x 10, 85%. Gym as for Day 1.
From that, you can get the general idea of a 3-day program even though it doesn’t have to be quite as intense or as long. The main point to note is that it needs to be at an intensity where you are sweating profusely and can hardly talk during the tough bits. You don’t have to be superfit to start like this, but it is wise to get a medical clearance. It is best to work up to it with a more gradual approach, one of the main problems being injury to the muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints.