Why Working Out Every Day is Easier than Three Times a Week

Anytime Fitness courtesy of ifranchisenet.com

Since having a son 8 months ago, I’ve had a hard time going to the gym.  In order to accommodate my newly hectic “daddy” schedule, I decided to change things up a bit.  Rather than going to my plush sports club 3 x a week, and spending at least an hour there (more if I do a yoga class,) I decided to join the small gym in my corporate office . . . and go there almost every day for twenty minutes.

There is not much you can do in a twenty minute workout.  But I focus on quality over quantity, and since Iam a fan of “high intensity training,” I believe in shorter more intense workouts as a key to fitness.  Hitting the gym almost every day, even if it is for a short workout, is really yielding good results in terms of the way I look and feel.

I’ve always believed in the power of daily practice as a key to success towards any goal.  Picking up the guitar every day for 5 minutes will get you playing better than practicing for two hours once a week.  Writing a little bit every day will get the great American novel inside of you onto paper faster than marathon writing sessions once a week.  There is something about the momentum of taking tiny daily steps towards a goal that is cumulatively better than taking big steps with less frequency.

Here are 5 reasons why I think working out every day is easier than doing the recommended three times a week:

1.  It becomes habitual.  Habits are developed from repetition “by the carving of neural pathways” (as William James said.)  When a daily practice becomes habitual, that means it becomes automatic, “taking the effort out of effortful control” (Mischel & Ayduk, 2004). 

2.  Self control is like a muscle.  Practicing your willpower every day by going to the gym can develop it, making it stronger over time.

3.  It focuses you on “implementation” rather than “intention.”  We all have good intentions.  But Gollwitzer’s research on goal attainment shows that most people set the “good intentions” of their goals, but they fail to set the “implementation intentions” i.e. goals around the how and when they will take action on their goals.

4.  It keeps you in the “action” stage.  According to James Prochaska, most people spend their time in “precontemplation,” “contemplation,” and “preparation” for their behavior change goals.  The action is sometimes the hardest part, but once you get to creating action towards a goal, it helps to keep the momentum going.

5.  Striving towards the minimum just doesn’t work.  Most people set their workout schedule around the suggested minimum guidelines: at least three times a week for 30 minutes each.  But then life happens, and they miss a day here or there (or often) and they find themselves exercising way below the minimum.  If you really want optimal health you should set a goal that reflects that.  I like the recommendations of Chris Crowley in Younger Next Year:  “Work out hard, six days a week, every week for the rest of your life.”

In fact, a new chain of health clubs under the brand “Anytime Fitness” is spreading across the country to help meet this need.  Like my corporate health club, Anytime Fitness are smaller clubs that are open 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, generally in locations close to where people live and work.  The convenient location and flexible hours allow their members to come in more regularly, even if they only have a smaller window of time.

So if you’ve been challenged with trying to get to the gym three times a week.  Try going six times a week.  Even with a busy schedule, you might be surprised to find that when momentum kicks in, the universe will flex to make room for your new habit.

References and recommended reading:

Crowley, C. & Lodge, H. S. (2007).  Younger Next Year: Live Strong, Fit, and Sexy – Until You’re 80 and Beyond.  Workman Publishing.

Prochaska, J. O. , Norcross, J. C., & Diclemente, C. C. (1994). Changing for Good: A Revolutionary Six-Stage Program for Overcoming Bad Habits and Moving Your Life Positively Forward.  Quill.

Vohs, K. D. & Baumeister, R. F. (2010).  Handbook of Self-Regulation, Second Edition: Research, Theory, and Applications.  Guilford Press.

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11 Responses to Why Working Out Every Day is Easier than Three Times a Week

  1. Alex February 1, 2011 at 8:44 am #

    You have a very good point but it depends on ones schedule and how you plan out your workout. I workout 3 days a week but for and hour and half to two hours when I do. This gives me enough time to perform other tasks in the week.

  2. @MarktheSpaman February 1, 2011 at 11:23 am #

    Good points, Jeremy. I like your way of thinking and would take Sundays off. The rest of the week would be good to make a routine for wellness be it the gym, yoga, exercise (aerobics) and meditation/class.
    @MarktheSpaman
    Dallas, TX

  3. Marie-Josee Shaar February 1, 2011 at 2:07 pm #

    Here’s a 6th reason: it takes the debate out of the process.
    Rather than wondering “shall I go today or tomorrow”, and then find reasons why tomorrow is better only to repeat the same process the next day, going without allowing room for debate saves us from rationalizations. For most of us, the minute we start wondering, we know our workout is in serious danger.

    Congrats on this new approach, J!

    MarieJ

  4. Jeremy McCarthy February 1, 2011 at 10:34 pm #

    Hi Alex, Mark, Marie-Josee, Thanks for your comments! I agree it depends on each individuals schedule and their needs and also what their goals are for their exercise program. I’m trying to shake up the awareness of people who strive for the minimum of working out three times a week and then end up not getting enough exercise because they miss a day or two out of their already minimal schedule. Marie-Josee gives an excellent example of how making the decision to work out every day (or six days a week as @markthespaman aptly points out) avoids the daily decisions that tax our willpower and cause us additional stress.

  5. American Obesity Bariatric Surgery Centers February 16, 2011 at 11:53 pm #

    I have been dedicated to helping people loose weight and keep healthy. It does depend on schedules. Working out every day is good and once you get a good workout regimen down one can change it to 4 or 5 times a week. Jeremy keep up the good work.

  6. GregD November 9, 2011 at 6:53 pm #

    I always try to work out every day. There are a million different workouts, so that forces you to do new things each day to avoid overtraining. My inclination is to either lift very heavy or do anaerobic plyometric workouts. Since you can’t do that every day, one day will end up being yoga, one stretching, one pilates, one spinning, etc. If you’re completely over-the-top tired, then a “workout” of meditation is in order.

  7. Andrea January 25, 2013 at 9:32 am #

    I have been working out daily really hard and I feel amazing! But I have heard that your muscles need a chance to rebuild. Is it enough time that they get to repair just over night? I don’t want to ruin my progress but for my sanity as a mom of 3, it helps my moods and to get the house clean!

  8. Jeremy McCarthy January 26, 2013 at 2:58 pm #

    Hi Andrea, Yes, it is true that your muscles need a chance to recover so you shouldn’t work out the same muscle groups every day. But as long as you incorporate variety into your workout and mix things you up this should be fine. Also, feel free to take a rest day now and again. The main reason I try to workout every day is because if I try to work out every day I will probably actually do it only 5 out of 7. If I try to work out 3 days a week I will actually only hit 2 or 3. So shoot for 7 but be flexible and allow yourself a rest day when you need it.

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