How Much Exercise Should I Do?

This is the question I’m asked so often. Funnily enough, not by my trainees, but by people I see out and about on my travels or when I’m socialising. My trainees don’t ask me because I tell them exactly what to do before they get the chance to ask. I think, general gym goers ask me because they’re unsure if they’re doing the right thing in the gym. I see so many people chugging away, doing lots of training, but not working efficiently towards their goals. This is a shame.

As with all things with health and fitness it’s not an exact science but there are common guidelines. The answer to the question depends on what you want to achieve so I’ve broken the main different gym goals into different categories. My answers are detailed below and please note, my answers are based on my fifteen years experience as a personal trainer and my interpretation of respected research in the field of exercise science.

My trainee Matt doing a static lunge….

My trainee Matt doing a static lunge….


I’d describe the state of ‘good health’ to be free of disease and have the physical ability to comfortably be able to do all activities required for daily living. These activities include going to work, cleaning the car, mowing the lawn, carrying shopping and house work. You get the drift. Generally, all the things you physically need to do to live your life.

To achieve and maintain ‘good health’ The WHO (World Health Organisation) recommends that you should do 150 minutes of moderate activity per week. Ideally, you should spread this out and do 30 minutes per day, five days per week. Moderate exercise is technically, anything that raising your heart rate above that of your usually resting state. So basically, anything that gets the pulse racing slightly. If you want to get technical, when doing moderate exercise your heart rate should be between 40% to 60% of your maximum exercise heart rate. For example; using the common guideline of 220 BPM (beats per minute) minus your age a forty year old man would exercise at a rate of between 72 BPM and 108 BPM.

Formula for calculating working heart rate - Moderate exercise

220 BPM less 40 years = 180 BPM (is therefore the maximum exercise heart rate)

40% of 180 = 72 BPM

60% of 180 = 108 BPM

Activities I would describe as ‘moderate exercise’ are; brisk walking, swimming (breast stroke) and riding a bike on level ground. By far the best form of moderate exercise, in my humble opinion, is walking. It puts very little pressure on the body, you don’t need any fancy equipment plus you can do it at any time.


‘Physical fitness’ is the state of physical wellbeing which is greater than that of general health. To be described as ‘fit’ you need to possess good levels of cardiovascular endurance (stamina), muscular fitness (strength) and muscular / joint flexibility (agility). These are the three components of ‘physical fitness.’

To attain / maintain / improve this state of physical fitness the guidelines from all reputable bodies such as The WHO (World Health Organisation), ACSM (American College of Sports & Medicine) and the NHS, plus many more, all agree that you should do the following:

  • 75 minutes of vigorous activity to increase stamina

  • Resistance training to increase the strength of all the major muscle groups, twice per week

  • Stretching each of all the major muscles a minimum of twice per week, to increase flexibility

I’ll explain a bit more about each of the three components.

Vigorous activity can be described as any activity that gets you out of breath. These would include running / jogging, playing a sport such as football or rugby, swimming (front crawl), rowing and skipping. It is considered that one minute of vigorous activity is worth two minutes of moderate activity. Again, if you want to get technical, the heart rate when doing vigorous exercise should be between 60% and 90% of your maximum exercise heart rate. Using the previous example of a forty year old man his training heart rate would be between 108 BPM and 162 BPM.

Formula for calculating working heart rate - vigorous exercise

220 BPM less 40 years = 180 BPM (is therefore the maximum exercise heart rate)

60% of 180 = 108 BPM

90% of 180 = 162 BPM

Resistance training is the term used for weight lifting. This includes dumbbell exercises, body weight exercises (such as press ups, chin ups) and the use of resistance bands. It is accepted that you should do two exercises per major muscle group and the aim of each exercise is to achieve a minimum of eight, to a maximum of twelve, controlled repetitions. The major muscle groups are all the muscles of the legs, hips, back, chest, shoulders, arms and abdomen.

Stretching is when a particular muscle is flexed and put under tension to increase elasticity of that muscle. Great examples of these are yoga type exercises (such as the downward dog) and each stretch should be held to a level of “pleasant discomfort” for 15 seconds then pushed further for another 15 seconds.

Matt doing a hamstring stretch…

Matt doing a hamstring stretch…

Sports Specific Fitness

If you play sport, or are interested in taking up a new sport, you obviously need to be ‘fit’ for that sport. However, there isn’t a straightforward answer on how you become ‘sports fit’ because different sports require different aspects of fitness. Therefore, I’ll have to answer the question generally. If you were training for a marathon you would need to focus on cardio (cardiovascular endurance) exercises. Therefore and obviously, running is what you’d need to do the most but also other cardio exercise like cycling, swimming and rowing would be beneficial. If you wanted to be a body builder you would obviously need to lift big heavy weights. I hope this gives you a basic understanding of what is required. However, as a personal trainer I’m only qualified to give basic recommendations on sports specific training. A specialist sports coach would give more detailed instruction.

Interesting to note that the fittest people on the planet are considered to be gymnasts, martial artists and ballet dancers. This is because they possess very high levels of all of the three different elements of fitness. To achieve an elite level of these disciplines you need to have great stamina, huge strength and you need to be super agile. This is compared to other sports, such as the aforementioned; marathon runners or body builders, who only need to have a high level of one element of fitness to achieve an elite level.

I trust you found this post interesting and if you have any questions please contact me via email -

Thanks for reading…


Neil Symington