Fitness: How often do you have to train for the figure of your dreams?

jEvery summer, the fight against love handles begins anew for many people: a decent beach figure must be found, and as quickly as possible. It should be clear by now that this cannot be done on a starvation diet alone. Only a healthy diet and strict exercise plan can remedy this.

But how often should you exercise per week? Every day, is that perhaps more effective, or are weekends enough? And if so, how long and intensive should the training be so that the results are seen as soon as possible? The best thing to do is ask a personal trainer directly: As a movement therapist and trainer in Hamburg, Arlow Pieniak makes weak people fit in his Work it studio, which is popular (also with fashion bloggers!) .

Intense workouts are more effective

Recent studies indicate that intensive short interval training sessions (i.e. High Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT) are the most effective when it comes to burning fat. Pieniak agrees, because the body really only uses its “valuable” fat stores, which thousands of years ago were actually essential in the event of food shortages, when absolutely necessary.

And it’s precisely this emergency situation that tricks your body into thinking with high-intensity interval training, Pienak says: “Maybe it’s about life, the effort is so great that the body can only do it if you add to what is freely available. Carbohydrates in the blood and muscles also harness energy from fat stores.”

Strength or resistance training?  Everything is in the mix: it is best to vary the sport several times a week.

Strength or resistance training? Everything is in the mix: it is best to vary the sport several times.

Source: Getty Images

In the long term, this has the advantage, explains the fitness expert, that the body becomes increasingly efficient at burning fat. Someone who does HIIT every day will eventually end up using more energy than they put into their body, also known as negative energy balance. Still, “the idea is that silent resistance training proportionally it burns more fat, true, but not in absolute terms. A misunderstanding that persists.

So in terms of fat burning and everything related to the cardiovascular system, training at a high heart rate (like HIIT) is more effective than moderate training. “However, moderate exercise can improve one very important thing: reduce stress. That may not be the focus of many people, but a high level of stress is not only unhealthy, but also bad for burning fat,” says Pieniak. In this regard, continuous loads should definitely have a fixed place in the training plan.

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That’s how often you should train in a week.

Does a lot really help a lot? Yes, says the fitness expert from Hamburg, because “our body is designed for exercise, only lack of exercise damages it.” However, you should not overdo it, if you have not exercised so often before, you should not train six days a week, but constantly increase the number of training sessions. And those who don’t exercise at all or people with very little time who just don’t want to look completely untrained yet can do just fine with three units a week, says Arlow Pieniak.

That should include a sports week.

HIIT, yoga, Pilates, jogging, swimming, bodybuilding: the offer is almost inexhaustible and more extensive than a week has days. But which sports really add something when it comes to the perfect figure? “Here I would split, if you’re just looking for the health or vision benefits, you should try strength training and HIIT.” Because these two sports belong to the “training” category, so they have no other goal than to change the body positively. “Not only in terms of weight loss, but also to eliminate pain or poor posture.”

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“On the other hand, sports like yoga, Pilates, jogging or swimming are the goals of the sport itself. While you’re trying to master certain figures in yoga, for example, you’re trying to be particularly fast or tough when jogging and swimming, climbing and doing bouldering to overcome new levels of difficulty. So it’s not so much about changing the body with such sports, it’s a positive side effect, but never the main goal. This type of sport should always be chosen based on personal preferences and factor fun.

These exercises should not be missing in any training plan

When it comes to strength training, the personal trainer recommends the following basic exercises: squats, presses, deadlifts, and bench presses or pushups, because they form the basic pattern of human movement. “Only those who have mastered these exercises should dare to do more complex things like lunges, jumping jacks or swinging with kettlebells,” advises Pieniak.

Yoga is less about training the body and more about achieving new goals, but this also belongs to an effective training plan.

Yoga is less about training the body and more about achieving new goals, but this also belongs to an effective training plan.

Source: Getty Images

With high-intensity interval training, on the other hand, exercises should be chosen according to personal preferences and abilities. “Whether you do HIIT on a stationary bike, on a running track, or with kettlebells, it depends on how fit you are and what you enjoy doing.”

More about physical training

Time to train and rest

Of course, no generalizations can be made here either: the duration of the training depends on your own physical condition and the training goal you want to achieve. Arlow Pieniak recommends 30-40 minutes for beginner strength training and 5-25 minutes for HIIT or any comparable interval training.

Exercising seven days a week doesn’t do your body any good, you also need rest days. Beginners in particular should coordinate the sport and rest phases according to their own level of training and not train for more than three days with four rest days per week. Professional athletes, on the other hand, train for several hours up to three times a day, depending on the sport.

Training duration always depends on your own training level;  beginners should not overdo it

Training duration always depends on your own training level; beginners should not overdo it

Source: Getty Images

And what does the expert recommend for unpleasant muscle pain? Opinions differ as to whether you should train or take a break: “If you have muscle pain, you should not repeat the same exercise that caused the muscle pain. Because the muscle has not yet regenerated and therefore the risk of injury is older.” If, on the other hand, sore muscles are the result of strength training, HIIT or moderate resistance training is an option, both of which help the muscle to regenerate, explains Pieniak.

Sports units in everyday life as a substitute for training?

If you are short on time or quite skeptical about the sport itself, you can easily incorporate certain training units into your everyday life, for example by climbing stairs instead of taking the elevator. First of all, according to Arlow Pieniak, it is very important to integrate the correct movements into your daily life. In other words, stand properly, walk, or move at all.

However, a conceptual distinction must be made at this point, says Pieniak. “Training sets up effective training stimuli that cause the body to change something. Lose fat, build muscle or something. Physical exertion itself, as its name suggests, can be very strenuous, but it is not a training stimulus.”

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To systematically change one’s body, precisely controlled stimuli must build on each other, and that is virtually impossible in everyday life. Working in the garden or carrying shopping bags is strenuous, but it does not give the body any effective training stimulus to increase performance. “It’s very good and healthy to climb stairs, ride a bike, etc., but that’s not training.”

the proper diet

A dream figure cannot be achieved only with sports; nutrition is also crucial. For this reason, during the sport phase, it is advisable to eat more vegetables, proteins (from fish and meat) and quality fats from nuts and oils and avoid sugar, white flour, “bad” fats and alcohol.

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“However, most people who start exercising and change their diet at the same time make the mistake of consuming too little energy. And after a short time, they stop both the sport and the change of diet.” The personal trainer advises that you should therefore eat high-quality and sufficient food. And that is often more difficult than you think.

Visible successes come quickly

With proper training and the right diet, the first visible results can be seen after just four weeks. However, the movement therapist from Hamburg warns against orienting too much on the scales. “There’s so much going on in the body during such a change that you can easily lose two kilograms of fat mass without losing an ounce on the scale.” He recommends buying grease pliers or, even easier, taking a before-and-after photo. However, that should be judged by someone else, because, as always, you are the worst judge of yourself, at least visually.

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More information about Arlow Pieniak and his training programs is available at

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This article was first published in July 2017.


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