As the co-founder of a ballet fitness company people regularly ask me and my co-founder, Flik, how often they should work out, believing that we must log hours of exercise a day to stay in top shape.
To give you the short answer listen to my Flik explain her weekly fitness routine.
Unfortunately, there seems to be quite a bit of confusion about how much you really need to exercise to stay fit, so I’d like to elaborate further.
For example, the other day I was teaching an online class and noticed after the session had ended, that one of my students was still lingering seemingly intent on adding another round of ab exercises to the intense workout she had just completed.
Concerned, I asked her if she needed any help. She replied that she was just trying to get in some more core exercises because ever since she had given birth to her second baby her abs were flabby and just wouldn’t go back into shape.
While I appreciated her obviously incredible work ethic, I also knew the dangers of overtraining and decided to question her more about her exercise routine. Turns out she was logging 2 to 3 hours of intense exercise a day, 6-7 days a week!
Flik and I see this happen often. Well-intentioned people seeking to step up their fitness levels but inadvertently sabotaging their efforts with too much exercise and not enough rest and recovery. When you fatigue your body through too much exercise, your stress hormones soar, which leads you to store more fat rather than shed it. Not the results we’re looking for, right?
So how much exercise is too much? And, while we’re here, how much is too little? I wish I could give you a “one-size-fits-all” response, but the truth is that the answer varies based on your fitness goals and unique body.
For example, if you are training for a specific event, like a marathon or any other type of athletic competition, it may very well be that you need to log in 2 to 3 hours of training every day. Or if you are dealing with specific metabolic issues that inhibit your ability to lose fat, such as hypothyroidism or insulin resistance, you will need to consult with your physician and/or a dietician to determine how to best incorporate exercise to reach your health and fitness goals.
However, for the vast majority of people, who just want to look and feel good rather than win marathons, I’d like to offer some commonsense recommendations to help you tweak your own fitness routine.
Exercise Consistently: 30 to 90 minutes, 3 to 5 days a week
Moderate exercise is the best way to achieve your fitness goals because it is something that you can do routinely, and consistency is everything when it comes to working out. Hitting it hard two days in a row and then skipping the next 5 isn’t the best way to sculpt the toned, shapely body you’re looking for or improve your health.
Instead, aim to work out 3 to 5 days a week, for a minimum of 30 minutes and a maximum of 90 minutes.
Incorporate Variety: Resistance Training, Cardio and Stretching
Incorporating resistance training, cardio and stretching will keep your muscles strong and flexible and your heart and circulatory system healthy. Your next question may be how much cardio, resistance training, stretching? Should I work individual body parts? My whole body?
This could get confusing fast. Let’s keep it simple and start with the basics:
Definition of Resistance Training
Also known as weight or strength training, resistance training is any form of exercise that causes your skeletal muscles to contract, improving muscular strength and endurance.
Types of Resistance Work
Any time your muscles resist against a force, be it while doing a plank or lifting a heavy grocery bag, you are strength training. Although you can use equipment, like barbells, dumbells or resistance bands, to build strength, they are not essential. You can sculpt and tone your muscles while using your body weight alone, like with do with our Sleek workouts, which include isometric contractions, where your muscles generate force without changing length, and isotonic contractions, where they generate force while changing length.
Isotonic contractions can be further broken down into concentric work, where your muscles shorten as they strengthen, as well as eccentric training, where your muscles lengthen as they strengthen. We use eccentric training extensively in our Sleek workouts because they are based on authentic ballet technique, which relies heavily on this method. When you strengthen as you lengthen your muscles become lean and long and you improve your flexibility and joint mobility.
Feel the Burn and Torch the Fat
Resistance work is great for producing sculpted and toned muscles, but it also helps you burn more calories even when you aren’t working out, since our muscles cells are home to mitochondria, calorie-burning furnaces that produce energy. The more muscle cells you have, the more mitochondria you have, allowing you to burn more calories, even at rest.
Work Your Whole Body
When doing resistance work we recommend that you try to work your entire body as one functional unit, as we do here at Sleek to prevent muscle imbalances. Although some of our workouts focus more specifically on individual parts of the body, they all work the entire body and use natural movements.
How often should you do resistance training?
Aim for 2 to 3 times a week, 30 to 60 minutes per session. Some of our favourite Sleek workouts for resistance work include Ballerina Back and Arms, Perfect Pro Legs, Dancer Refined Abs, Core Adage and all of our barre workouts.
Definition of Cardio
Cardio is any exercise that raises your heart rate, working your entire cardiovascular system. It is excellent for burning calories. You should aim to do a mix of lower to higher intensity cardio work, being mindful with higher levels of exertion if you are a beginning exerciser.
Low Intensity, Long Duration Cardio
During low intensity, long duration cardio you are working at 40-60% of your maximum heart rate and should easily be able to talk. This includes activities such as walking and light jogging, but some resistance workouts can also fall into this category since they make you work hard enough to increase your heart. This type of cardio is less exerting, so aim to do approximately 40 minutes for the best results. You can safely do low intensity cardio every day, and we greatly encourage you to get in a quick walk whenever you can.
Medium Intensity, Medium Duration Cardio
During medium intensity, medium duration cardio you are working at 70% of your maximum heart rate and should be able to talk with some difficulty. This includes activities such as biking, swimming laps and Sleek’s Cardio Ballet Blasts. Since your exertion level is moderate, try to do approximately 30 minutes for best results. You should do this type of cardio 3 to 4 days a week, or more if you are particularly fit and energetic.
High Intensity, Short Duration Cardio
During high intensity, short duration cardio you are working at 80-90% of your maximum heart rate. This type of work should cause you to feel out-of-breath and includes activities such as running/sprinting and HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training). Depending on your fitness level, Sleek’s Ballet Bootcamps and Cardio Ballet Blasts may also fall into this category for you. Since your exertion level is very high, this type of workout should be done no more than twice a week to ensure you have adequate time for recovery and do not injure yourself.
It is important to note that to increase your heart rate you do NOT need to do lots of repetitive jumping, which can be harmful to your joints. Any type of large movements that include arms and legs will get your heart pumping.
Definition of Stretching
Stretching involves increasing the length of your muscles through either dynamic movement or static holds. It is very important to stretch both before, during and after working out, but it is also essential for you to do the proper type of stretching for each of these phases.
Warm Up Dynamically
To prepare your body for exercise you want to start with a dynamic warm-up that uses relaxed movements to lightly mobilize your joints, stretch your muscles, and get your blood flowing. This type of warm-up should take no more than 5-8 minutes. We incorporate these into all our Sleek workouts to ensure that your body is primed for the more challenging work ahead. Please do not do static stretching prior to a workout since it strains your muscles and connective tissue, which have not been properly prepared, and can cause injury.
Stretch Throughout Your Workout
You should incorporate stretching throughout your workouts. Whenever we contract (shorten) our muscles, we should stretch them to return them to their pre-workout length. When you do one of our Sleek workouts you will notice that we stretch our muscles regularly, particularly after more challenging exercises. Not only does it make scientific sense, it just feels good. However, the fantastic thing about ballet fitness is that the entire technique is based on stretching your muscles. You will hear us say over and over again: “Keep your spine lengthened and lifted”, “Roll your shoulders back and down” or “Fully extend your leg and stretch your toes as far as you can”. All of these cues are actually reminding you to stretch your muscles!
Stretch After a Workout to Recover
Stretching after a workout is not just necessary, it is critical. It helps to reduce stiffness and soreness by eliminating the lactic acid that builds up in your muscles as you exercise. It also increases your flexibility and promotes a feeling of wellness and relaxation. Here at Sleek we recommend you do one of our Pure Stretch videos, which incorporate static stretching with some dynamic movements, or Flex and Stretch videos, which work with the body’s reflexes to easily lengthen and strengthen your muscles without discomfort or pain.
Try to do some type of stretching 6-7 days a week. Whenever you are feeling too tired or sore to do a workout, you can easily incorporate a 15- to 20-minute stretch to rejuvenate yourself.
Make Rest and Recovery a Priority
Having just discussed the importance of stretching, this is a great time to remind you of how important it is to rest and recover. As I said at the beginning of this post, my student was doing more harm than good by pushing herself to hard. Not only is it difficult to maintain a strenuous exercise regimen, it is counterproductive. When we don’t give ourselves enough time to rest and recover we leave ourselves open to injury and stress out our immune system causing us to fall ill more easily.
To help you understand how to balance training and rest and recovery days in your weekly schedule, we have created a series of workout plans that let you effortlessly incorporate exercise into your week. No need to worry about whether you are getting enough strength training, cardio or stretching. We’ve done all the planning for you! Once you have a schedule and an organized plan you will see how easy it is to fit exercise into your day to stay super-Sleek and motivated.
One Last Word: Be Kind to Yourself
Once we get used to a regular exercise routine and the fantastic results it produces for our mental and physical health and fitness, we can feel bad when we miss a day or two of exercise. However, life happens, and despite our best intentions, we don’t always get a workout in.
When this happens, please be kind to yourself! Banish the negative thoughts and you will succeed. Remember that old saying “you attract more flies with honey than with vinegar”? Well, that doesn’t just apply to how you treat others, but how you treat yourself as well. Do not dwell on the fact that you missed a workout and berate yourself. Replace thoughts like “I’m a failure,” “I’m so lazy”, I’m going to get fat” with positive thoughts like “I am committed to making my workout a priority”, “I am strong and capable”, “I won’t be stopped by a small bump in the road”. Then, take action to help you get back on track. Jot down what workout you are going to do the next day and what time you are going to do it. You can do this by making a note on your phone with an app such as Evernote or Google calendar, or just grab a pen and piece of paper and scribble a good, old-fashioned note to pin on your refrigerator, bathroom mirror or anywhere else it will serve as an effective reminder.
Better yet, tell a family member or friend about your intention to workout to help keep yourself accountable or sign up for our private Sleek Facebook Group, which is full of supportive and energetic Sleekers who will give you that motivational boost you need. Plus, Flik and I regularly drop into the group to answer questions, and we’d love to help you achieve your fitness and wellness goals.