How Many Days a Week Should I Work Out?

Sports & Activity

When it comes to training frequency, more isn't always better. Here’s how to figure out how many days a week you should work out based on your goals.

Last updated: July 27, 2022
5 min read
How Many Days a Week Should I Work Out?

When you feel that post-workout buzz, it can be tempting to spend every day at the gym. But when it comes to your workouts, more isn’t always better. Rest days are essential.

So, what’s the ideal training frequency? That depends on your fitness level and goal (and also your schedule). Are you a beginner trying to lose weight or a seasoned athlete building muscle or increasing endurance? Here’s how to get the results you want from your workout routine with the time you have available.

How Often Should You Work Out?

If you’re not training enough or at a high enough intensity, you won’t get results. Your body has to be pushed enough to cause microscopic muscle damage that triggers repair and growth processes.

Adjust your training frequency according to these four factors (collectively called the FITT principle):

  1. Frequency: How many days a week can you commit to working out?
  2. Intensity: How hard do you need to push yourself to reach your goal?
  3. Time: How long will you work out? How many reps and sets do you need to do?
  4. Type: Aerobic exercise or strength training? Long-distance running or dumbbell HIIT workouts?

Certain types of exercise need more recovery. Cardiovascular exercise performed at a lower intensity (70 to 80 percent of your max heart rate or MHR) can usually be done on consecutive days. Lower-intensity activity causes less muscle damage, which requires a shorter recovery period.

Anaerobic exercise performed at 80 percent or higher of your MHR requires more recovery. Doing a HIIT workout or a heavy lifting session creates more muscle damage.

The duration of the exercise also matters, even if it’s performed at a low intensity. You can view duration as a component of intensity.

If you plan to exercise six days a week, you need to scale down the intensity to avoid overtraining. Conversely, if you can only commit to three sessions a week, you need to ensure these workouts are intense enough to get the desired results.

How Many Days a Week Should I Do Cardio?

Cardiovascular exercise (cardio for short) includes any form of aerobic activity like running, walking, cycling, dancing, or swimming. These forms of physical activity get your heart pumping and your lungs working, helping improve the health of both.

How much cardio do you need? The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults get 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise each week. You can spread that out into daily 20-minute walks or condense it into 3 25-minute HIIT sessions.

How Many Days a Week Should I Do Strength Training?

In bodybuilding, athletes often train each muscle once a week. Their workouts are usually long and intense but make lots of room for post-workout muscle recovery.

A November 2016 meta-analysis in Sports Medicine concluded that working a muscle group twice a week was optimal for muscle growth (hypertrophy). That could be two full-body workouts each week, as recommended by the Physical Activity Guidelines.

Or it could mean training up to six times a week with shorter, smaller-volume workouts, per a December 2018 meta-analysis in Sports Medicine-Open.

Which one is better? Well, a July 2019 study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research compared low-frequency training (LFT) with high-frequency training (HFT) and found no statistically significant difference. After eight weeks, both groups increased their muscle mass and strength (measured on bench press and squat), and they both lost body fat.

The Dangers of Working Out Too Much

It’s often said that more is better. But that’s not always the case, especially when it comes to your workouts.

Working out too frequently means your muscles don’t have enough time to repair, which can result in overtraining and hinder your progress. After a workout, your muscles are damaged and fatigued. During recovery, they heal and get stronger and are better able to handle the same exercise stimuli in your next session.

But if you don’t fully recover after a training session, your cardiovascular fitness, muscle mass, and strength decline.

Muscle is gained in a biological process known as hypertrophy in which the muscle tears during exercise and builds back bigger and stronger during recovery. Interrupting this cycle and not allowing proper recovery can cause muscle fiber atrophy.

Overexercising can also sabotage your weight-loss efforts. Training too much results in a cortisol spike, which promotes fat storage, particularly in the face and abdomen. It also spikes hunger hormones ghrelin and leptin, which can lead to overeating.

Taking rest days will help you feel and perform better. Listen to your body and manage your fitness routine carefully. Include active recovery days by going for a leisurely walk and take full days off from physical activity to let your body heal.

And if you’re training hard for an extended period of time, schedule a deload week of lighter and/or easier workouts after 8 to 12 weeks of consistent strength training.

How Many Days a Week Should I Work Out?

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Originally published: December 31, 2021