It’s that question that occupies many a recreational and competitive athletes brain, ‘how much is too much’ and ‘where do I draw the line’? The reason that this question is so so difficult to answer is because it is too general, quite simply, we are all different, and the actual answer changes depending on so many external circumstances. Basically, you have to adapt to your environment and train attentively, this way you will find a happy medium in time.
Patience and practice
The 2 P’s, patience and practice are integral if you want to keep your finger on the pulse of how many days a week you should exercise. Patience is needed for the time it will inevitably take you to get familiar with how your body responds to the training load you place on it. Some people’s bodies are fine to train twice a day, 5 days a week (10 sessions a week), but these are generally elite athletes and they have the time and know how to feed themselves accordingly to support their recovery.
It may seem that your body isn’t able to keep up with 5+ gym sessions a week, when in fact it may be that you aren’t feeding it appropriately to sustain such energy expenditure and physiological load! As an otherwise healthy human being, you should be able to sustain 4-5 exercise bouts (30-60mins of physical activity a day) a week, the key here is to manage the intensity at which you train. Too many people get tied up on the time spent in the gym, when what it actually boils down to is the intensity of the session. Some people spend 30mins in the gym and expend more calories, exert a larger physiological strain on the body, and generally work harder than someone spending 90mins nonchalantly strolling from exercise machine to exercise machine.
You may be an intense trainer, consequently you have a higher risk of metabolic burnout than a person that apparently spends hours and hours in the gym a week. Does this mean that you are less efficient at exercising, of course not, does this mean you should spend less total days in the gym than another person... quite possibly! Be considerate when training, I don’t mean wiping your sweat off the bench or not going on your phone, I mean be considerate with your body. Vary your training so that a heavy lifting day is followed by a high rep day, and make sure that it targets a different body part (where possible).
You’re hopefully starting to see where I’m going with this. How much exercise your body can handle isn’t so much about how many days you train, but more to do with the type and intensity of training you perform. The number of days you exercise should revolve around the type and intensity of the training sessions, if you’re a ‘wham bam thank you mam’ kind of lifter then it may be that you have to reduce your training volume to 4-5 quality training days. Other people may train at 50-60% of their maximum on a day to day basis, and may be able to train for longer in consequence, but may need 6-7 days of exercise to get the same results as you (if they’re lucky).
So, I’m not saying short, intense bouts of exercise is the way to go, nor am I favouring longer, low intensity steady state types of exercise, what I’m saying is adapt the amounts of days you exercise according to your personal style. If you still can’t bear to only train 4-5 days a week, then be prepared to nourish yourself extensively with well-balanced meals and supplements, perform self-myofascial release (self-massage) and of course, get LOTS and LOTS of sleep at night in order to sustain it.
The biggest thing to remember is to keep a journal, stay patient and observe how your body responds to the training load. If signs of injury begin to show, then reign it in a little and change it up, see what works best for you. Writing it down will serve as your point of reference to see where and when you may be going wrong, or what’s producing the best results.