What's your approach to exercise: no pain, no gain, so you religiously hit the gym seven days a week, two hours a session? Or is it more like working out is a pain, and you're lucky if you eke out 20 minutes of cardio and a quick set of weights once or twice a week, if that? Both scenarios -- exercising too much or not enough -- can be hazardous to your health. But what is the right amount of exercise for what you're trying to accomplish? Take our quiz to assess your workout habits and to find out just the right dose of fitness for you. Mark the answer that closely resembles your workout habits for the past 6-8 months.
1. I strength train:
A. at least 5 times a week, 2-4 exercises per body part.
B. 3 times a week, 2 exercises per body part.
C. 1-2 times a week, mostly abs and butt.
D. Never. I'm a cardio queen.
If you answered A, you're overdoing it. For general fitness the American College of Sports Medicine recommends no more than 3 total-body workouts per week with 48 hours of rest in between.
If you answered B, you're right on track. "Research has shown that strength training 3 times a week will deliver results," says Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D., fitness research director at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, Mass.
If you answered C or D, you're not strength training enough. Westcott's research has shown that if you lift moderately heavy weights 3 times a week for 8 weeks, not only will you likely lose 3.5 pounds of fat, but you'll possibly gain 1.75 pounds of lean, metabolism-boosting muscle. "Having the extra muscle will help your body burn more calories," Westcott adds.
2.The day after weight training, my muscles feel:
A. so sore that I can barely move.
B. a little stiff, but it goes away once I start moving.
C. fine, like I didn't even work them!
D. I don't strength train.
If you answered A, you're overdoing it and need to take your workouts down a notch, Westcott says. During your next workout, use 10 percent less weight or do fewer reps and reduce total sets.
If you answered B, you're on the right track. "You should feel moderately, but not excessively, sore after a workout," Westcott says.
If you answered C, you're probably not challenging your muscles. "If your goal is to build muscle, you should feel some soreness," says Dale Huff, R.D., a certified strength and conditioning specialist and owner of NutriFormance Fitness in St. Louis. Try lifting more weight, adding sets or changing the exercises in your routine.
If you answered D, add a weight-training program to your routine. Talk to a personal trainer at your gym or search our workout finder for a new routine.
3. On average, I do cardio workouts:
B. 1-2 times a week.
C. 3-6 times a week.
D. 7 or more times a week.
If you answered A or B, you're not doing enough cardio. If you're skipping your cardio workouts or not doing enough of them because they are boring, remember that you don't have to limit yourself to using only a treadmill, stationary bike or elliptical trainer. Take your cardio workout outside or try a salsa dance class. Anything that gets your heart rate up for 20 minutes or more counts as cardio.
If you answered C, you're probably on the right track. For fitness and weight loss, aim for 3-5 cardio workouts a week, says Dixie Stanforth, M.S., an exercise physiologist at the University of Texas in Austin. "This allows your body plenty of time to recover," she says. But you should be varying the intensity each time.
If you answered D, "you're at risk for overuse and over training injuries," Stanforth says. Take at least 1 day off a week to give your body a chance to rest.
4. When I do cardio, I generally work out for:
A. 10-20 minutes.
B. 30-60 minutes.
C. more than 1 hour.
D. I don't do cardio.
If you answered A, you're not doing enough cardio, says Keli Roberts, group fitness manager at Equinox Health Club in Pasadena, Calif. However, if your workout is intense, (above 75 percent of your maximum heart rate, for example), you can reap the same health benefits in 20 minutes as you would in a less-intense 40-minute workout.
If you answered B or C, you're on the right track. A 30- to 45-minute cardio session at a moderate intensity (a Rate of Perceived Exertion of 5-6 -- see page 142 to learn what the numbers mean) is ideal. If you are working at a lower intensity (RPE 3-4), you can do 45-60 minutes of cardio. "If you're doing cardio for either weight loss or fitness, there is no need to do more than 60minutes per session," Roberts says, unless it's a long Saturday bike ride or casual hike at a low intensity.
If you answered D, your level of stamina and endurance is sorely lacking. Not only will cardio exercise help reduce your risk of a heart attack, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases, but you won't get winded doing simple daily activities such as walking up the stairs, washing your car or running after your kids.