So, you just started exercising and you want to know how many days a week you should workout?
You’re in the right place.
In this post, you’re going to learn how often you should workout if your goal is to
- build muscle
- lose fat
- or improve your health
The answer might surprise you.
This is one of the pillar posts in our series on How To Exercises Effectively and Efficiently.
Alright, let’s get started…
How Many Times A Week Should You Workout?
The short answer to the question is you should workout 3 to 4 times a week.
But the first thing we need to clarify is what we mean by a workout.
We define a workout as any physical activity that involves resistance training, such as lifting weights or calisthenics.
This training frequency is true in an ideal world for the average individual.
Now let’s talk about what is ideal for you.
In Reality, You Should Workout As Often As You Realistically Can Handle
As a busy professional, you may not have the luxury of being able to workout 3-4 times a week.
Perhaps you have very unpredictable work hours, or your work may require you to be in super early in the morning, and finish very late in the evening.
In situations such as these, anything is better than nothing.
So, the real answer to the question is:
You should workout as often as you can realistically workout in a week. 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 adequately, and enough time to rest and recover.
This also means that you can divide each workout session evenly, training 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 like I describe in How many exercises should you do per workout.
Is Exercising 3 Times A Week Enough?
Yes, exercising three times per week is also enough.
If your goal is to improve your strength or fitness, 3 times per week is the minimum training frequency that I would recommend.
You have two ways of maximizing a 3 day workout week.
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 Workout Splits.
Is working out 5 days a week too much?
On the other hand, you may be someone who can exercise more regularly because you have a predictable schedule.
I still recommend that you workout 3 to 4 times per week.
Because it is the most sustainable for busy people like you and me.
Can you work out more than 3-4 times a week?
You can exercise as much as 5-6 times per week.
The caveat is that you must maximize your recovery so that you properly adapt from your workout sessions.
If you choose to train as often as 5-6 times a week, it is important that not every workout is taxing to your body.
One or two of these sessions should consist of a lighter workout or perhaps an active recovery style, low-intensity cardio session.
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 only recommend 30-minute training sessions.
But if you can only train 1-2x per week, I recommend that you increase your workout to at least 60 minutes, doubling the normal amount of volume you would do.
For example, instead of doing 3-4 sets of squats, you would do 6-8 sets.
Or, you can get yourself a nice set of resistance bands from amazon and work out at home.
Alright, now that we have your optimal training frequency out of the way…
Let’s discuss how often you should workout based on different fitness goals.
How Often Should you Workout To Lose Weight?
What if your goal is to lose weight? Is there an ideal amount of time you should work out for, to burn fat?
The honest truth is that 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 anything in your diet, then 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.
Are you ready for it?
It is anywhere from 3-6 times per week, just as we discussed above. This, of course, depends on your schedule and what you can realistically accomplish.
If weight loss is your goal, your workouts should include:
- Resistance training in the form of compound exercises,
- High intensity interval training (HIIT)
- Walking. A lot of walking.
The more you exercise, the more calories you will burn.
But I repeat, your diet is far more important. 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 to learn of a few key strategies of how to maximize the calorie-burning potential of exercise.
What About Cardio? How Often Should You Do Cardio To Lose Fat?
Just as we mentioned above, cardio is not necessary to lose weight.
Cardio is just another form of exercise that will not work unless you address your diet.
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 for weight loss.
Some of you won’t care, and still, spend hours doing cardio.
If your preference is to do cardio (and I’m referring to medium intensity cardio such as a 1-hour jog or elliptical session), then the optimal amount of times you should do cardio is 2 to 3 times per week and no more.
This is because 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 resistance training can actually eat away at your muscle mass unless you are actively using them.
So what is the best set up?
2 days a week of medium intensity cardio workouts (or 1 day a week of high intensity cardio)
At least 2 days a week of strength training
How Often Should You Workout To Build Muscle?
What if you don’t care about cardio and you just want to build muscle? Is there an ideal number of days per week you should workout?
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. You must perform some type of resistance exercises for each of the major muscle groups:
- Your upper body pushing muscles,
- Your upper body pulling muscles,
- Your lower body flexion muscles,
- Your lower body extension muscles and
- Your core.
The resistance exercises can be in the form of free weights, machine weights, or bodyweight exercises.
Tips For Maximizing Muscle Gain
When doing resistance training, the vast majority of these exercises should be large compound exercises that train multiple muscle groups at once.
After you provide your body with the appropriate stimulus, you must then allow for recovery.
In general, you should avoid training the same muscle groups in 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 allow them to recover appropriately.
Lastly, you need to drive new adaptations.
This is done by progressively overloading and changing the exercises that you are performing so that over time, your muscles are slowly doing more and more work.
We go over the principles of Stimulus, Recovery, and Adaptation further in How To Build Muscle Naturally.
How Often Should You Workout To Tone Up?
What about toning? How often should you workout 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 workout 3-4 times a week with resistance training as the primary focus.
- The only difference is that in order to “tone”, you must also lose body fat.
The best way for you 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 easier time toning up than someone who is an ectomorph.
Don’t know if you are an ectomorph or an endomorph? Check out Which Body Type Am I? Ectomorph, Endomorph and Mesomorph.
Is More Better? Is It Bad To Workout Every Day?
We live in a world where more always seems to be better.
Is this true for exercise as well?
Well, it depends.
It all depends on the intensity of the exercise. If you are planning on lifting weights every day, then no, you shouldn’t.
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 you 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.
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
Training every day can help you establish a routine and decrease your chances of having to miss a workout.
Just make sure to create balance in your routine!
Is It Better To Workout On Consecutive Days Or Every Other Day?
Either approach is fine.
If you choose to workout on consecutive days, then it is important that you do not train the same muscle groups on both of those sessions.
If you train every other day, then you can perform any kind of workout split.
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.
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 haul.
If you can lift twice a week, great. 5 times a week? Awesome.
With that said, science has shown that the optimal number of times for you to workout is 3 to 4 times a week.
These sessions should be in the form of resistance training so that you can develop healthy lean muscle mass.
On off days, it is still important to be physically active and move around. This can easily be accomplished by increasing the amount of walking that you do.
Lastly, cardio is not necessary if you want to lose weight, but if you enjoy it, then do no more than 2 cardio sessions per week.
A Simple Workout Template To Help You Achieve Your 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, to optimize your fitness achievements.
You can find it at:
Now that you know how often you need to workout, its time to start answering the next few questions you might have regarding workout routines.
Related Posts On How Many Times A Week You Should Workout
- How Long Should I Workout For?
- How Many Exercises Should I Do Per Workout?
- How Much Weight Should I Lift?
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!