Why You Only Need to Exercise 150 Days a Year

We break down the "3 x 52" formula

A man running up stairs in a stadium.
Push yourself a few times a week. The other days, get accustomed to "automatic exercise."
Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesGetty Images

A formula that’s popular amongst physical trainers: “3 x 52.” It’s as simple as it sounds. PTs champion three legitimate workouts a week, every week, during the course of a calendar year. That’s 156 workouts a year, though we’ll round down to a total of 150 workouts (to account for holidays, sick stretches and other life stuff).

From where we’re sitting, 150 workouts a year is more empowering than intimidating. That leaves 215 days where you’re not going for a run or going to the gym. It puts each week through a more realistic processor. Surely you can grab three days out of seven, no?

We’ve written about the pitfalls of running streaks before, and the dangers of overtraining. Too often, “Am I doing enough?” arrives at the expense of one’s emotional well-being and could lead to a real-life physical injury. But “3 x 52,” or “150” — whatever you want to call it — is a license to do what’s best for you. Just win the week. Find three days. Then find another three. Approaching exercise in this way leads to two conclusions:

  • You’ll discover the workouts you actually want to do
  • You’ll naturally find ways to “exercise” on the four other intervening days. More on this in a bit.
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Level With Yourself

Look: if you want to break three hours in the New York Marathon, or surf Pipeline, or master Muay Thai, or train at dawn each morning like a Navy SEAL, “150” probably isn’t for you. But then again, you’re clearly motivated by a specific concentration, or a brand of goal-oriented fitness. Which is totally admirable (especially when the goal doesn’t involve a six-pack or “getting into wedding shape”). You have benchmarks to meet and a plan to fiercely protect. All power to you.

But for most others — clinging to some vague, year-in/year-out concept of getting fitter, or feeling better, or living longer — “150” is an excellent way forward. It’s endlessly modifiable and caters to various interests and activities.

How to Plug the “150”

If your favorite form of exercise is running (though perhaps you don’t consider yourself a “runner” and don’t particularly care about getting faster), just getting out three times a week, at three miles per run, is a perfect amount. If you favor lifting, try one push session, one pull and one focused on the lower half/core. If you’re a class person, again: plug in three per week.

Notice how quickly you can get to 150 when you give other forms of exercise their due, too. If you’re on a team, a soccer game counts. If you play tennis with friends once a week, that counts, too. If you’re feeling bored or uninspired by your workouts lately, what about signing up for a yoga class on Tuesday, going for a long bike ride on Thursday and hiking with friends on Sunday? It may not constitute your “conventional” workout week, but it all goes towards the count.

There Will Be Flops

Even within this set of expectations, understand that your three weekly workouts don’t have to be perfect. In fact, they explicitly won’t be. Be prepared for at least one workout a week to be a flop. When this happens, pay attention to (just don’t agonize over) your inputs. How’d you sleep the night before? What’d you eat? Anything irregular at work? Consider these things, accept them, and promptly move on. It was just one of 150, after all.

Casualize Your Other Exercise

There’s a slight catch to the “150” — it isn’t a permission slip to spend 215 days doing nothing. The effectiveness of three dedicated workout sessions a week is predicated on a lifestyle that values and actively courts mobility. Remember: simple movements burn calories, too.

NEAT exercise, defined as “the energy expended for everything we do that is not sleeping, eating or sports-like exercise…[ranging from] walking to work, to typing, to performing yard work, to fidgeting” improves metabolic health and increases mitochondrial function. Making sure your four “off days” are full of NEAT exercise will provides massive physiological and philosophical benefits, helping you reanimate your willingness/appreciation for movement — and perhaps help you reach a a point where that sort of action becomes automatic.

Plus, they’ll keep your body fit, flexible and in fighting shape, meaning you’re not coming off the bench all achey on the days you actually have to perform. Casual walks on Wednesdays might not be part of the formal “150,” but they’ll add to the count just the same.

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