This is a very good question! And the answer depends on what your goals are. Are you looking to move your body more or do you want to prepare yourself for a specific activity or outcome? Hold that answer in your mind as you read on to discover what aligns best with your wants and needs.
You can work out infrequently, but you must train at least twice a week.
Workouts are one-off bouts of (usually intense) exercise that can be a great way to get moving, relieve stress, socialize and find camaraderie with others. Some examples of workouts include drop-in group fitness classes, going for an impromptu run or dancing it out to your favorite song. You can workout as little or as much as you like and with little to no planning since the goal of a workout is to get an immediate and short-term outcome.
A training session differs from a workout in that it is part of a program that is designed to help you achieve specific goals such as increasing strength or stamina, improving movement quality or mastering a skill. When you train, you perform exercises structured in a way that will move you closer to your goals. The bare minimum number of training days to achieve a desired effect is 2 days per week for most people (depending on the person and goals it can be as much as twice a day, 4+ days a week). This is true for Improving movement quality and strength and some skills, but for aerobic endurance type activities, more days and longer duration may be required.
The reason once a week training is insufficient for most people is that there is not enough stimulation placed on the body frequently enough for it to adapt and provide a foundation to build fitness on with the next training session/stimulation. With once a week training, it’s like reinventing the wheel each session. This can be frustrating when you are seeking progress in fitness or skill. (There are exceptions, for example: some folks who have been strength training for a few years can maintain their strength levels by training once a week, but that one training day is going to be pretty intense!).
If you dread working out, try training instead.
Your training program is a detailed plan that lets you know how often, at what intensity and for how long you should perform appropriate exercises to achieve your specific goals. Equally important, it builds in the rest and recovery periods needed to realize the benefit (increased mobility, strength, endurance and/or improved movement quality) during and between each training session.
Whether you are new to exercise or you are a seasoned athlete, a well designed training program will challenge you just enough so that you make progress, but not so much that you feel overwhelmed or depleted (which can happen if your fitness program consists of a bunch of intense workouts strung together with little to no other planning). If your only exposure or reference to training is watching elite athletes train for their sport, it may strike you as intense and intimidating. But a client who is interested in improving their posture and alleviating low back pain will not be engaging in the same kind of training as a professional UFC fighter would be. I promise.
Train for activities that you enjoy.
In addition, the training program that is most appropriate for you is the one that you are both able and willing to do. And the training program you will likely do depends on factors such as how much you enjoy the exercises included in the program, what the exercises will help you do and how much time you can invest doing those exercises.
Running is great aerobic exercise, but if you don’t enjoy running, you most likely won’t enjoy training for a 5k (no matter how well designed the program is). There are many other ways to train your cardiovascular system.
If a fitness program is written for someone who trains 4 days a week, but you are only willing and/or able to train 2 days a week, then that program is not a good fit for your schedule.
If your goal is to increase strength, energy levels and movement quality, but the focus of the program is to “get shredded”, you will likely be disappointed and frustrated by how sore and exhausted you feel after those workouts.
If you start a program that doesn’t align with your goals, abilities and/or schedule, you will likely (and understandably!) ditch it. If you are dreading your next training session instead of looking forward to (or at least feeling neutral about) it, you don’t need to change--the training program does.
Find the program that you’re willing and able to do and you increase your chances of not only cultivating a fitness practice you enjoy but also one that you can sustain.
If you would like to begin a strength training program and you are willing and able to start with
10 minutes, twice a week, I invite you to learn about my program Ease Into Movement & Strength at Home. It’s an 8-week done-for-you program available via instant download that lets you progress at your own pace with guidance and without pressure or overwhelm.