Alexa Tucker is a freelance writer and editor based in Denver, Colorado. She covers all things health and wellness including fitness, nutrition, and general health, as well as travel, beauty, and lifestyle.
The ideal breakdown between strength training, cardio, and sweet, sweet rest.
It’s the first question on many people’s minds when they’re considering starting an exercise routine: How often should you work out? And what should you do during each workout to make the most out of it?
Like most things in the fitness world, there is no one answer to that question: It all depends on your fitness background, the time you have available, and your personal goals. The best exercise routine for you—and how many days you work out—might look pretty different from a solid routine for someone else. It’s not super-helpful, for instance, to model your weekly workout routine after someone who’s training to run a marathon if you’re interested in learning how to strength train.
But if you don’t have super-specific fitness goals—say, you’re looking for a bit of everything to increase strength and endurance so you can move better and feel better—there are some guidelines that can help you figure out a doable workout program. Here, what you need to know about how often you should work out, what to focus on, and how to make it a habit that sticks.
How often should you work out each week?
Like we said, there’s no simple formula that’s right for everyone. If you’re looking to amp up your fitness level, your magic number of days depends on how active you already are.
For example, you’ll probably see physical (and mental) results from one day a week if you don’t already work out at all, Noam Tamir, C.S.C.S., founder and CEO of TS Fitness in New York City, tells SELF. But if you’re used to multiple workout days a week, one day probably won’t challenge your body enough to maintain your fitness or make progress.
The breakdown varies depending on your specific goals, but in general, four to five days a week will do the trick if you’re aiming to improve or maintain your fitness.
Of course, if you’re just getting started and don’t exercise currently, that might be too big of a jump at first, says ACE-certified trainer Sivan Fagan, owner of Strong With Sivan in Baltimore. And that can turn you off completely from working out. Instead, try starting with two workouts a week, which you can increase gradually.
How can you build working out into a habit?
Setting a doable goal for how many times you’ll start working out each week can be helpful by making sure you don’t get burned out, says Fagan.
But shooting for a bit of movement each day, even if you’re not doing an actual workout, can also help you make working out a habit that will stick, she says. This might mean a 10-minute walk or a series of gentle stretches.
Another important consideration is determining when you’ll work out. Again, there’s no right answer to this, but it helps to take a careful look at your schedule when figuring out when you should pencil in your workout. For instance, if your mornings are super-hectic with lots of last-minute changes, it could be self-defeating to plan on morning workouts, says Fagan. In that case, an afternoon or evening workout may be more likely to happen as scheduled.
And pay attention to your body too: Some people feel more energized in the morning, while others are dragging. Matching up your workout time to when you feel the best can make you more likely to want to stick with it, Fagan says.
What should each day of working out look like?
If you want to work out five days per week and are working on both strength and cardiovascular fitness, try three days of strength training, two days of cardio, and two days of active rest. If you want to work out four days a week, think about your goals: If you want to add muscle, cut a cardio day. If you want to improve endurance, skip a strength day. Or switch it each week, says Tamir.
Remember, it’s important to be realistic about your own schedule when you’re asking yourself, How many times a week should I work out? If four days makes more sense for you than five days, do that. But if five days is reasonable, great!
Either way, here’s how (and when and why) to crush it at each one.Strength Training: 2–3 Times Each Week
Why: Strength training is a super important way to keep your body functional for the long haul, says Fagan: It helps prevent the bone loss and muscle loss that comes with aging. It also strengthens your joints too, says Tamir.
How: To build muscle mass, you should try to work each muscle group two to three times a week, says Tamir. So in a two- to three-day strength plan, this means you should aim to do full-body workouts—you’ll want to hit the major muscle groups of your upper and lower body, including your glutes, quads, hamstrings, chest, shoulders, back, arms, and core. That might sound like a lot, but that’s where compound exercises come in. Moves like squats, lunges, rows, and chest presses work more than one muscle group at a time, so you get more bang for your buck. Read more https://www.self.com/story/heres-what-a-perfect-week-of-working-out-looks-like