How Many Days a Week Should You Work Out? Here’s What Trainers Say
FYI: It might be less than you think.
Kicking off a regular workout routine requires both figuring out what to do and also when to do it—and the latter often means answering the common question: How many days a week should I work out?
Of course, the answer can vary from person to person, and takes into account fitness goals, activity level, age, and more. But you can follow some general guidelines to help you plan an optimal weekly workout schedule—one that keeps you consistent with your fitness. Here’s how.
How often should I work out—and what do I do?
Ideally, if you want to boost your general health and fitness, you want to aim to exercise about five days a week, King Hancock, ACSM-CPT, Sweat 2 Success instructor on NEOU, a fitness streaming service, tells Health. That might sound like a lot, but not every day should be intense, and your workouts can last for as little as 30 minutes.
How often you work out depends on your experience with fitness snd the time you have available, too. If you're new to exercise, for example, start with a smaller goal. Or if your schedule just doesn’t allow for five days a week, aim for three days and see if you can take 45 minutes for your workout.
You'll also want to switch up which types of workouts you do on those five days—in that case, it's best to aim for two or three days of cardio and spend the other two or three days on strength training. If you're doing fewer workouts during the week, you can mix strength and cardio on those days (think: a 20-minute jog followed by 25 minutes of weight training). High-intensity interval training (HIIT) OR circuit workouts can also help cut back on time, while still giving your body a good sweat session, Kristian Flores, CSCS, an NYC-based strength and conditioning coach, tells Health.
And while it's tempting to believe that different fitness goals depend on different workouts, keep this in mind: whether you have a goal of weight loss or strength-building, it's key to incorporate both cardio and weight or strength training into your workout regimen.
Ultimately, though, how you schedule your workouts and what you do for those workouts comes down to what you enjoy the most, Flores says. If you hate HIIT, skip it. If you love dancing and biking, go for it. Finding pleasure in your workout will keep you coming back for more sweat and lead to results.
What to do for cardio workouts:
The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity per week (that equates to 30 minutes a day for five days), or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week for good reason: It helps keep your heart healthy, while helping you fight off other conditions like diabetes. Plus, it helps boost your brain function, mood, and betters your bone health.
If you’re working out three days a week, aim for your cardio workouts to be more intense, Hancock says. “The greater the intensity, the shorter the duration of the workout,” he says “If you want to work for longer, go at a lower intensity.”
Exactly what you do for cardio again comes down to what you like doing, Hancock says. Whether that’s dancing, biking, running, climbing, or walking up and down the stairs in your apartment building—they all count as cardio.
That said, both Hancock and Flores say the most efficient and effective is HIIT or Tabata (working out for 20 seconds, resting for 10, and repeating for eight total rounds), which you can do with or without weights. Because you’re working so hard through HIIT workouts, you can easily get a solid sweat in 25 to 30 minutes. “Most importantly, you want to think about HIIT as working in spikes of effort that take you to that [uncomfortable] feeling and then giving yourself enough recovery to repeat those efforts,” Hancock says.
What to do for strength workouts:
You can do an upper, lower, or total-body focus on your strength training days. To get the most bang for your buck, Flores suggests two 30-minute workouts that target the entire body and include compound movements—those exercises that work multiple muscles at one time. “As you get fitter, aim to increase the volume of your session, which means increasing the weight used and the total reps per exercise,” he says. Continuously progressing in this way will lead to better strength gains and more lean muscle building.
If you have more days for strength and want to break it up (particularly if you’re looking to build muscle), you can do an upper body day and a lower body day, which Hancock suggests. On those upper body days, think about push and pull exercises, Hancock says. Push moves include push-ups, chest presses, or chest flies. Pull exercises include rows, pull-ups, lat pull-downs, and swimmers or supermen. You can also mix in bicep and tricep moves on these days, Hancock says. For lower body day, think about doing squats, lunges, and hinge exercises, like deadlifts, he suggests.
When to take rest days:
Allowing for at least one or two days for rest is crucial to letting your body recover and rebuild. Hancock recommends getting to know your resting heart rate so you can see when you’re fully recovered and ready to take on the next bout of exercise. (Most fitness trackers and smartwatches will track heart rate and give you insights into your resting rate.)
While rest days mean time off from cardio and strength, it doesn’t mean you should do absolutely nothing. Use those days for foam rolling, stretching, or doing light movement like a stroll around the block to get your blood flowing, Hancock says. “It’s about actively taking care of your body so you can produce efforts that support your goals, whether that’s getting strong, building lean muscles, getting fit, or losing weight,” he says.
“It’s important that people listen to their bodies and it’s important that you are mixing it up and adding variety,” Hancock says. If you love running, you still want to add in some cross training. If you love lifting heavy weights, you still want to get your heart rate up with more cardio. “Our bodies are meant to adapt to stressors, so it’s important to mix up those stressors to keep the body transforming,” he says.
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