How Many Days a Week Should I Work Out?

Build muscle, get faster, stay healthy—whatever your goal, here's how to get there.


What Should My Weekly Workout Schedule Look Like?

The Ideal Weekly Workout Schedule, Based on Your Goals

How Often You Should Work Out, Based on Your Goals

With all the exciting and intriguing workout options available these days—whether in-studio or streaming at home, from barbell lifts to bodyweight HIIT—it’s easy to feel a little decision fatigue on what your week of workouts should look like. Factor in figuring out exactly how many days you should dedicate to strength, cardio, and those necessary rest days and forget it. Too many choices; too little time.

That’s why we’re doing the weekly planning for you—so you can jump in and enjoy the sweat. You do have to tackle one crucial task, though: Decide what you want to accomplish in the next few weeks. Looking to build muscle all over? Working to run a little faster? Just want to stay healthy and feel good? No matter your goal, nailing down a weekly plan is the best way to achieve it.

Of course, everyone’s workout schedule will look a little different. Exercise isn’t one-size-fits all, because it depends on your fitness level, how fast your body recovers, and how quickly your body responds to movement. But a general outline—one designed based on your goals—should get you where you want to go.

“It’s always a good idea to follow a plan so you’re not overtraining muscle groups and you’re getting the most efficient, effective workouts,” says Hannah Davis, CSCS, Cleveland, Tennessee–based personal trainer and founder of Body by Hannah. “It’s also a good idea to follow a plan for at least a month or two, and then switch it up from there. The body builds on consistency and then gets stronger on consistency, so stick with it for a while.”

To help you figure out the plan to follow for a few weeks, here’s how to schedule your days, based on your goal.

Your Goal: Stay Fit and Feel Good

Your Weekly Workout Rx:

Strength train: 2-5 days at moderate intensity

Strength training is a super important part of staying healthy. Resistance training does everything from protect your bones to improve your sleep. (Check out this list of weight lifting benefits beyond building muscle.) Davis suggests doing total-body strength training, especially if you’re aiming for three days a week. Try doing combination exercises to work multiple muscle groups at one time, with moves like squat to press or lunge to bicep curl. You can also superset exercises of opposing muscle groups, such as chest presses (for your chest) followed by rows (working your back).

Pete McCall, ACE-CPT, author of Smarter Workouts: The Science of Exercise Made Simple, also says it’s smart to focus on getting in different movement patterns, like pushing, pulling, squatting and lunging. He also suggests mixing in bodyweight-only strength days, working on moves like push-ups and pull-ups or working with the TRX (a suspension training system). This changes up the way you break down and re-build muscle fibers, so you get a more complete training plan.

If you prefer doing strength three days a week, Davis recommends dedicating about an hour to it, whereas if you’re doing five days, 30 minutes each day will do. Research backs this up, showing that it’s the volume (think total reps and sets) of resistance exercises that matters more than how often you do it. Participants in the study who did just three days of lifting a week gained the same strength and muscle gains as those who focused on strength training six days a week—but the volume remained the same for both.

The amount of weight you lift and for how many reps depends on your fitness level, but that’s where that “moderate” intensity comes into play, says Davis. You want to shoot for somewhere in the 5-7 range on a scale of 1-10 in terms of rate of perceived exertion, meaning you’re not at max effort, but you’re not as comfy as sitting on the couch either. You strike right in the middle or teetering a little higher.

Cardio: every day

While doing cardio every day might sound intimidating, it’s really not. Just shoot for 20 minutes a day and that can be as simple as a walk around town. It can also be some time on the rower, though, or a quick jog. Your goal is sustained cardio, no matter the activity you want to get done, Davis says.

Rest: when you’re sore or when you’re tired

This is a little more complicated to prescribe, considering Davis suggests you do cardio every day. But if you’re feeling super sore or you’re just wiped out, don’t be afraid to take the day off completely. “Rest days are more about listening to your body,” she says. If you need a day to just relax, take it.

Your Goal: Get Strong

Your Weekly Workout Rx:

Strength: 4-5 days

When planning your strength sessions, McCall says to consider switching up your movement patterns because you're going to be lifting heavy. For instance, Monday try doing upper body push and pull exercises (moves like overhead presses and lat pull downs) and on Tuesday focus on lower body (like glute bridges and squats). Do the same thing for Thursday and Friday. One day a week, add in power movements like kettlebell swings, wall balls, or box jumps. “Being strong doesn’t mean you have big muscles, it means you can engage all the muscle fibers to generate force,” McCall says. Those power exercises will help you generate force with more speed.

For strength building, focus on lifting heavier weights too. You should feel tired by rep six or eight of each set, says McCall. Increase the volume by doing four or five sets, taking breaks between each to recover.

Cardio: 1 day

Choose whether you want to do a quick bout of interval training or a moderate-intensity steady-state workout. While McCall says lots of cardio training can offset strength gains, you still want to work on improving your aerobic efficiency. So take one day to focus on getting that heart rate up. On the other days, just aim to get some steps in while you’re out of your seat.

Rest: 1 day, plus one day for mobility

If you follow the strength plan mentioned, Wednesday is a good day to take a yoga class, McCall says. It’s easy to lose some range of motion when you’re lifting heavy, so yoga can help avoid that. (You can also try these dynamic mobility moves.) While you can work mobility any day, take at least 24 hours off during the week too.

Your Goal: Build Muscle

Your Weekly Workout Rx:

Strength: 5 days, adding more volume

The very best way to build muscle: lift weights. That means you want to up your strength days, focusing on hitting that five-day-a-week mark, and adding more reps and sets each week. Davis suggests starting with 30 minutes a day, then going up to 45 in a week or two, and then up to an hour. This will continue to challenge your body and add muscle as you go.

When trying to figure out the reps for each exercise you do, go until you can’t go anymore. “The thing you want to consider most is that you're training your muscles to fatigue,” Davis says. “It should be a struggle by the end of those last few reps,” whether that’s 8 or 20.

Also, because you’ll be training two days in a row, Davis suggests you switch up the plane of motion you work in—say, reverse lunges one day and side lunges the next or deadlifts one day and glute bridges the next. McCall also suggests heart rate-revving power moves that require explosiveness (think squat jumps and burpees).

Cardio: 1 day, but focus more on step count

Instead of trying to schedule in a spin class or log miles on the road, just try to get those 10,000 steps. “If you do too much cardio while trying to build muscle, you could start to catabolize on muscle,” Davis says.

That said, if you love cardio, get after a HIIT workout, McCall suggests. Make it Tabata style with just four minutes of total work, moving through 20-second all-out pushes and 10 seconds of rest. You’ll add to your cardio capacity while training fast-twitch muscle fibers that help improve your power.

Rest: 2 days

Davis recommends doing two days back to back of your strength training, then taking a full day to rest. Repeat that sequence all month long.

Your Goal: Improve Endurance

Your Weekly Workout Rx:

Strength: 2-5 days, focusing on higher reps

You still need strong muscles to go the distance and work out for longer—aka to build that endurance. So, don’t skip out on strength training. The only switch is focusing on adding more reps, so you build muscular endurance (meaning your muscles can work longer), says Davis. Aim for the 20 to 30 rep range, doing total-body exercises.

McCall suggests working through circuits, in which you perform several exercises back to back. Try to reduce the time you rest between each one to train those type I muscle fibers (the ones you need prepped for long endurance work).

Cardio: 3 days, with 1 interval day

Interval training works great for building endurance, and it’s smart to add longer intervals so you continue to build up your cardio, says Davis. “That way your heart gets used to working harder for longer,” she explains. Dedicate one day to a HIIT workout to make that happen.

Then, on the other days, focus on steady state cardio and working for longer as you keep pushing the distance. You should be able to hold a brief convo during those more moderate paced runs, walks, or rides, says McCall.

Rest: at least 1 day

Whether you’re binging on Netflix, going to yoga, or heading out for a walk around the block, make sure you get at least one day for recovery.

Your Goal: Increase Your Speed

Your Weekly Workout Rx:

Strength: at least 2 days

Even if you’re working to get faster at a lower body-dominated sport, you still want to train your entire body to get strong. “You need your upper and lower body working together,” says McCall. “The speed of your arms can help improve the speed of your legs.” (Davis says you might want to give a little extra love to your glutes, though. Doing so will naturally improve your speed in sports like running, hiking, and biking.)

McCall suggests working power movements into your strength workouts, in addition to regular lifts. Power—marrying strength and speed to produce force as quickly as possible—involves movements like kettlebell swings and med ball tosses and can train your muscles to dominate those faster times you’re after.

Cardio: 3 days, with 2 interval days

High-intensity interval training is the way to go to train for speed, says McCall. “A lot of people turn to HIIT because it works, but the thing is, you don’t need high volume,” he says. Just eight to 10 minutes of alternating all-out work periods with quick rest breaks will train the type II muscle fibers (those responsible for taking on sprints), which you need to pick up your pace and score a new personal best.

While you should schedule two days for HIIT, with at least one rest day between, take another day for steady state cardio, working at your aerobic threshold. That means you should only be able to hold a brief convo while you’re moving, McCall says. For comparison, you shouldn’t be able to talk during your HIIT workouts.

Rest: 2 days

You want to wind down after those HIIT workouts, so use the next day to take a yoga class or a nice, slow stroll.

Your Goal: Lose Weight

Your Weekly Workout Rx:

Strength: 3-5 times a week at moderate intensity

Just like those looking to maintain or improve their health, those looking to shed pounds should focus on total-body strength training at least three days a week. “Our bodies produce human growth hormone while we sleep and while we strength train,” says Davis. “So having that schedule really optimizes our bodies to produce the fat-loss hormone.”

You still want to aim for moderate intensity too, lifting weights that feel challenging, elevate your heart rate and make you a bit breathless. Doing combo exercises (like squat to curl or deadlift with a row) will increase the intensity, too.

Cardio: focus on step count and 1-2 days of intervals

“I see people drop weight just by focusing on their steps and nothing else,” says Davis. If you’re just starting out with exercise, this is a strong way to start. Do whatever you have to—walk, jog, take the stairs—to get to 10,000 steps.

If you want to turn up the calorie burn, intervals work best, Davis says. You want to make sure you’re working at a high level through the intervals, going at an all-out effort. You don’t need more than 30 minutes for a HIIT workout and you can even start with just four or eight minutes, Tabata style. That involves working for 20 seconds and resting for 10 seconds and repeating for eight rounds.

Rest: after each interval day

You can make these active recovery days the day after you did your HIIT workout by taking a walk or heading to yoga. You need those 24 hours to let your body recoup, help your muscles repair and rebuild, and avoid overtraining (and injury).

The Best Way to Simply Move Better

Mobility is definitely a buzzword in fitness these days. So if your main objective comes down to simply moving better (that’s what mobility is after all), strength training will get you there—as long as you're moving through a full range of motion during each move, says Davis. For any goal, you want to warm up with mobility exercises that prime the body for heavier lifts (or if you’re interval training, those more intense sprints), but that’s especially important if you’re looking to move with more ease. In other words: If mobility is your goal, don't ditch the warm-up or cool down. Try dynamic or active stretches before you sweat, more static stretches after, and foam rolling whenever you can. You can even find recovery classes at gyms and studios now, so McCall suggests dedicating at least one day to moving better—whether it’s on your list of goals or not.

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