How many days a week you should work out if your goal is to:
- Build muscle?
- Lose fat?
- Or improve your overall health?
Let’s dive right in.
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Okay, let’s get started.
How Many Times A Week Should You Workout?
The short answer to the question is you should work out 3 to 4 times a week.
As a busy professional, you may not have the luxury of working out 3-4 times a week.
You should exercise as often as is realistically possible for you. In fitness, something is better than nothing.
So, the honest answer to the question is:
You should work out as often as you can realistically workout. The best training frequency will always be the one that you will follow.
It doesn’t matter if you have the best workout template of all time. It won’t work if you can’t sustainably do it.
Is Working Out 4 Days A Week Enough?
Working out 4 days a week gives you enough time to train all of the major muscle groups twice per week and enough time to rest and recover.
This also means that you can divide each workout session evenly.
For example, you can train the:
- major muscles of your upper body twice per week,
- and the major muscles of your lower body twice per week
You can also divide up your workouts evenly, as I describe in How many exercises should you do per workout.
Is Exercising 3 Times A Week Enough?
Exercising three times per week is also enough to build muscle and gain strength. You just have to optimize your workout to do so.
First, you can split up your weekly workout into 2 weeks. For example:
- Workout A, B, and A on Week 1.
- Then Workout B, A, B on Week 2.
Or you can do three unique workouts once per week. For example:
- Workout A, B, and C on every week.
I give plenty of examples of 3-day workout programs you can do in my post on The Best Full-Body Workouts.
What if you can only go to the gym 1-2 times a week?
That’s okay. Something is always better than nothing.
In general, I recommend that you start with 30-minute training sessions.
But suppose you can only train 1-2x per week. In that case, I recommend that you increase your workout duration to at least 60 minutes, doubling the usual amount of volume you would do.
For example, instead of doing 3-4 sets of squats, you would do 6-8 sets.
Is Working Out 5 Days A Week (Or 6 Days A Week) Too Much?
On the other hand, you may be someone who can exercise more regularly because you have a predictable schedule.
If you have a lot of free time, you can exercise as much as 5-6 times per week.
The caveat is that you must maximize your recovery.
If you choose to train as often as 5-6 times a week, it is essential that not every workout is an intense workout.
At least one of these sessions should consist of a lighter workout or an active recovery style, low-intensity cardio session.
What Should I Do On Rest Days?
On rest days, you should either:
- a) do some brisk walking,
- b) perform a short relaxing stretching/mobility session,
- c) do a light cardio session, or
- d) rest completely
The first three options are known as “active recovery.”
I go over what to do on rest days in How To Recover From Workouts According To Science.
Now let’s get to some specific questions.
How Often Should You Workout To Gain Muscle?
You should aim to lift 3-4 times per week if your goal is to build muscle mass.
This is because building muscle requires three things:
- A Stimulus
- New Adaptations
The stimulus comes in the form of resistance exercises.
For best results, you should focus on large compound exercises that train multiple muscle groups at once.
After the stimulus, you must then allow for adequate rest and recovery.
In general, it is a good idea to avoid training the same muscle groups on 2 consecutive days.
This is why 3-4 days per week is ideal.
It gives you enough time to train each muscle group adequately and allows them to recover appropriately.
Lastly, you need to drive new adaptations.
This is done by progressively overloading and changing the exercises you are performing so that your muscles are slowly doing more and more work overtime.
We go over Stimulus, Recovery, and Adaptation principles further in How To Build Muscle Naturally.
How Many Times A Week Should You Workout To Lose Weight?
What if your goal is to lose weight?
The good news is: you do not need to exercise if your goal is strictly weight loss.
If you try and exercise your way to weight loss without changing your diet, you are setting yourself up for failure.
With that said, there is an ideal number of times you should exercise if you would like to maximize your fat loss.
It is anywhere from 3-6 times per week.
If weight loss is your goal, your workouts can include:
- Resistance training in the form of compound lifts,
- High intensity interval training HIIT workouts
- Walking. A lot of walking.
The more you exercise, the more calories you will burn.
But I repeat, your diet is far more critical. You will never be able to out-exercise the number of calories you can consume.
If you want to learn more about using exercise to lose weight, check out The Best Weight Loss Exercises.
How Many Days A Week Should I Do Cardio?
If you prefer cardio (and I’m referring to medium intensity cardio such as a 1-hour jog or elliptical session), then the optimal number is 2-3 days of cardio per week.
Don’t forget; you must also dedicate at least 2 days/week to lifting weights and developing your lean muscle tissue.
Muscles will improve your health, increase your metabolism and help you burn fat.
Performing too much cardio and no weight training can actually eat away at your muscle mass unless you are actively using them.
So what is the best setup?
2 days a week of medium intensity cardio workouts (or 1 day a week of high intensity cardio)
At least 2 days of strength training per week
But remember, cardio is not necessary to lose weight.
1 hour of running can burn anywhere from 300-500 calories, depending on the intensity of the workout.
This can be easily be erased by consuming one Entenmman’s coffee cake or a small side of french fries.
In Is Cardio Actually Necessary? I argue that you are better off spending your time building lean muscle mass and using an occasional High-Intensity Interval Training session to improve your fitness level.
How Often Should You Workout To Tone Up?
What about toning? How often should you work out if you simply want to look more defined?
That’s easy. There is no difference between training for muscle growth and training to tone.
- You should still aim to work out 3-4 times a week with resistance training as the primary focus.
- The only difference is that to “tone,” you must also lose body fat.
The best way to lose fat is to clean up your diet, just as we discussed above. The lower your body fat percentage, the more toned you will be.
Keep in mind that everyone has a different baseline level of body fat. If you are an ectomorph, you will have a relatively more straightforward time toning up than someone who is an endomorph.
Don’t know if you are an ectomorph or an endomorph? Check out Which Body Type Am I? Ectomorph, Endomorph, and Mesomorph.
How Many Days A Week Should I Workout As A Female?
There is no different workout schedule for females compared to males. If your goal is to build muscle as a female, you should do strength training 3-4 times per week.
Other Common Questions
Is it bad to work out every day?
It depends on the intensity of the exercise. If you plan to lift weights every day, it is probably a bad idea to work out every day.
For the vast majority of the population, this will be too far much exercise. You must allow time for both your mind and your muscles to recover.
As a general rule of thumb,
- You should not train the same muscle groups on two consecutive days*
- You should have at least one full day off from exercise per week
(*An exception does exist. You can train the same muscle groups consecutively just as long as the second day uses a lighter, less intense exercise variation, for example, squats on day 1, and a light session of lunges on day 2)
Exercise is a catabolic process, meaning it breaks down muscle and depletes energy.
Restoration can only occur when you allow your muscles to rest and provide them with an appropriate amount of nutrients.
Now, can you train 7 days per week?
How To Workout Every Day [The Smart Way]
To be honest, you should do some type of exercise every single day to get maximum health benefits.
The intensity should vary of course.
In an ideal world, I recommend that you do
- 3-4 days of resistance training
- 1 day of medium to high-intensity interval training
- 2-3 days of long walks
This approach will give you the best of all worlds
- muscle gain
- fat loss
- cardiovascular fitness
- and recovery
Just make sure to create balance in your routine!
Here is a free template to help you get the perfect weekly workout routine.
You can download a copy of that 4-day exercise routine here.
How can I tell if I am overtraining?
It is rare to train so much that you actually achieve an “overtraining effect.” Signs of overtraining include:
- severe muscle soreness
- painful joints
- significant decline in workout performance
- decreased motivation or desire to exercise
- depressed mood from exercise
Is it OK to workout when sore?
It is okay to do some form of physical activity when sore, as research has shown that this can actually help alleviate some of the pain.
I go over more details in: Should I workout with DOMS?
Is it better to workout on consecutive days or every other day?
Either approach is acceptable.
If you choose to train on consecutive days, you mustn’t train the same muscle groups on both sessions.
If you train every other day, then you can perform any training split.
Let’s go over examples of each.
Consecutive Training Days
A good example of a workout routine that encompasses consecutive training days is the Upper/Lower Body Split.
For example, you can train
- Upper Body exercises on Monday
- Lower Body exercises on Tuesday.
- Wednesday would be a day off (from weights, but not from walking)
- and then you repeat the split of Thursday and Friday.
You can also use a Full Body Split with consecutive training days, just as long as the second day uses a lighter, less intense exercise variation as described above.
Every Other Day Training
Every other day training is very easy to implement.
You can do just about any kind of program with this training frequency, such as an Upper/Lower Split, a Full Body Split, or a Push/Pull Split.
Again, we cover all of these workout splits in more detail.
How many times a week should I workout my chest (or any other body part)?
Studies show that training each muscle 1-3 times per week yields similar results, however, I recommend that you train each body part two times per week.
You can split this up however you like.
One day you can train it “heavy” with fewer repetitions, and another day you can train it “lighter” with more repetitions.
I prefer to train both days with moderate intensity.
The Bottom Line On How Many Days A Week You Should Workout
The ideal number of times you should exercise is individual and different for everyone.
You should aim to find a workout routine that fits your schedule, and you can maintain over the long run.
Try to work out 3-4 times per week, and maintain some level of physical activity on your rest days!
A Simple Workout Template To Help You Achieve Your Fitness Goals
We covered a lot of information in this post. That is why we created the WCT Strength Program for Busy Professionals.
It is a simple 15-week workout routine that is designed with busy individuals in mind. It includes all of the principles of training frequency and strength training protocols all in one place.
If you can train 3 to 4 times per week, then this template is for you. If you can only train 2 times per week, this template is still for you.
There’s a male and a female version!
Now we turn it over to you:
How often do you work out in a week?
Do you think you can reasonably stick to 3-4 workout sessions per week?
Do you know anyone who works out more than 4 times a week?
Comment below and let us know!
Related Posts On How Many Times A Week You Should Workout
- How Long Should You Workout Each Day? (A Guide For Professionals Who Don’t Have Much Time)
- How Many Exercises Should I Do Per Workout?
- How Much Weight Should I Lift?
- What Is The Best Time To Workout?
Alex Robles, MD, CPT / Brittany Robles, MD, MPH, CPT
Alex & Brittany Robles are physicians, NASM CPTs, health & fitness experts, and founders of The White Coat Trainer: a site dedicated to improving the health and fitness of busy professionals. Their advice has been featured on KevinMD, The Doctor Weighs In, My Fitness Pal, Reader’s Digest, Livestrong, and The Active Times. Learn more about them here.
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- Schoenfeld BJ, Grgic J, Krieger J. How many times per week should a muscle be trained to maximize muscle hypertrophy? A systematic review and meta-analysis of studies examining the effects of resistance training frequency. J Sports Sci. 2019 Jun;37(11):1286-1295. doi: 10.1080/02640414.2018.1555906. Epub 2018 Dec 17. PMID: 30558493.
- Cheung K, Hume P, Maxwell L. Delayed onset muscle soreness : treatment strategies and performance factors. Sports Med. 2003;33(2):145-64. doi: 10.2165/00007256-200333020-00005. PMID: 12617692.