When you first start working out, it can be daunting enough to get through one single session. Imagining exercising several times per week can seem nearly impossible, and asking yourself how many days a week should I work out, is one of the first questions that pop up.
However, after even the most reticent beginners get a few workouts under their belt, creating a consistent fitness routine becomes not only something that feels feasible, but also an enticing goal.
Whether you are a runner, triathlete, CrossFit fanatic, fitness enthusiast, average “Joe” or “Jane,” or just getting started on your fitness journey, one of the most important questions to have a handle on is, “How many days a week should I work out?”
Determining how many days a week you should work out isn’t necessarily as straightforward as we would all like it to be, but by considering several different factors, you should be able to figure out how many days a week you should work out in order to meet your health and fitness goals.
In this guide, we will discuss the important factors to consider when asking yourself how often should you work out, and provide general guidelines based on your goals and needs. We will cover:
- Factors that Affect How Often You Should Work Out
- How Many Days a Week Should I Work Out to Lose Weight?
- How Many Days a Week Should I Work Out for Overall Health?
- Is It Bad to Work Out Every Day?
- So, How Many Days a Week Should I Work Out?
Let’s get started!
Factors that Affect How Often You Should Work Out
When asking yourself how many days a week should I work out, the ideal number will depend on several factors, including the following:
#1: The Length of Your Workouts
In most cases, the longer your workouts, the fewer days per week you need to exercise.
Exercising three days per week for an hour is essentially equivalent to exercising six days a week for 30 minutes, provided everything else about the workouts are the same.
#2: The Intensity of Your Workouts
The more vigorous your workouts, the fewer workouts per week you may need to do to meet your fitness goals and physical activity needs.
For example, if you ride a stationary bike at a low resistance and your heart rate stays below 70% of your maximal heart rate, the intensity and stress on your body will be significantly less than if you’re doing a challenging high-intensity interval workout (HIIT) with heavy resistance and climbs out of the saddle.
Allow your body rest days between vigorous workouts to prevent overtraining.
#3: The Type of Exercise You Perform
Exercise places physical stress and strain on the body, so one of the key factors to weigh when asking yourself how often should you work out, is the type or types of exercise you plan to do in your sessions.
High-impact activities, such as running and jumping, should usually be performed less frequently than low-impact exercises like cycling, rowing, or swimming The risk of injury increases if you train too often with high-impact activities, particularly if you have a history of musculoskeletal injuries.
With strength training workouts, you need to give your muscles adequate rest between sessions to allow the muscle fibers to repair and build back stronger.
If you perform total-body strength training routines, you should have at least one full day in between workouts, meaning that you would work out no more than four days per week.
On the other hand, if you do body part split routines, wherein you focus on one or two particular muscle groups or body areas per workout (such as legs, chest, back, abs/core, and arms), you can work out every day because you’ll be cycling through different muscle groups, allowing several days of separation before re-working the same muscles.
The same principle can be extended to all types of exercise: the more variety in your routine, the safer it is (lower risk of overuse injuries) to work out more frequently.
For example, if you only run, you should plan to take at least one day off per week in most cases, in order to give your body a chance to rebuild, repair, and reap the benefits of your training without breaking down.
In contrast, if you run a few times per week, do yoga once or twice, lift weights a handful of times, and swim laps, you can probably work out more frequently (even potentially twice a day) should you want to.
Again, when it comes to the type of exercise you do, the impact level of the activity, repetitiveness of the exercise motion itself, and the overall variety in your exercise routine influence the maximal advisable workout frequency.
On the other end of the spectrum, with certain types of exercise, you may need to work out more days per week in order to achieve certain health and fitness goals, like weight loss or chronic disease prevention.
This harkens back to the intensity of the exercise. For example, if you’re only walking for exercise, unless you’re doing vigorous power walking, wearing a weighted vest, or walking briskly up an incline, you’ll need to walk most days of the week to meet the guidelines for physical activity (150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise).
#4: Health and Fitness Goals
Your health and fitness goals play a major role in how many times a week you should work out.
For example, if you’re looking to do just enough exercise to reduce your risk of lifestyle diseases like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and stroke, you will likely be able to work out fewer days per week than if you are trying to lose a significant amount of weight or train for a competitive athletic event.
#5: Your Current Fitness Level
The fitter you are, and the longer you’ve been working out consistently, the stronger and more resilient your bones, muscles, joints, and connective tissues, so you can work out more frequently.
Beginners need adequate time to gradually build their endurance and give the musculoskeletal system time to adapt to the physical demands of exercising.
The same workout will be less taxing on the body when you’re “in shape” and accustomed to working out.
#6: Your Age
Older adults usually need more rest days per week to recover after hard workouts. To prevent overtraining, it’s important to listen to your body and give your body a chance to recover and get stronger.
#7: Your Overall Health Status
If you have a health condition, certain cardiovascular disease risk factors, musculoskeletal injury, or other contraindications to vigorous physical activity, it might affect how often you should work out.
#8: Your Lifestyle Physical Activity
When most people think of exercise, they only consider deliberate workouts, but physical activity in your general life also factors into your overall “exercise” profile.
Depending on your fitness and health goals, the more active you are in your daily life besides the exercise you get in your designated workouts, the fewer times per week you may need to work out.
For example, if the goal is simply meeting the physical activity recommendations for health and disease risk reduction, someone working a construction job could get away with fewer workouts than someone sitting at a desk all day working as a secretary.
#9: Your Availability and Time Restraints
This factor is a given. We all have busy lives these days; your schedule may allow for only a few mornings to work out each week, or your workout time might be confined to what you can squeeze in during your lunch break at the office.
Whatever the case may be, many people are limited in how often they can work out by the competing demands life throws their way.
How Many Days a Week Should I Work Out to Lose Weight?
To lose one pound of stored body fat, you have to create a caloric deficit of roughly 3,500 calories. Therefore, to lose one pound of fat per week, you need to create a daily caloric deficit of 500 calories per day.
A 500-calorie per day deficit can be generated by consuming fewer calories, burning more calories, or a combination of both.
Exercise factors into the calories you burn. In general, however, most people find they lose weight more effectively through dietary adjustments. That said, exercising 4-6 days a week is typically sufficient for weight loss when combined with a nutritious, calorie-controlled diet.
How Many Days a Week Should I Work Out for Overall Health?
According to the CDC, adults should aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise per week to reduce the risk of lifestyle diseases.
The recommended 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise works out to 30 minutes a day 5 days a week, or you can do 25 minutes of vigorous exercise 3 days per week.
That said, if your workouts include a mix of both, or if you are closer to the “vigorous” intensity category, you are more than meeting the minimum recommendations for health with working out 30 minutes 5 days a week.
Is It Bad to Work Out Every Day?
It’s not necessarily “bad” to work out every day, though it’s also not necessarily “good.” Depending on the type of exercise you are doing, the length of your workouts, and the intensity of your effort, working out every day can increase your risk of injury, overtraining, and burnout.
If you want to work out every day, the key to mitigating it is to vary the type of exercise you do. For example, if your focus is strength training and you want to work out every day, do split routines instead of full-body workouts to give your muscles a chance to rest and rebuild.
If you cycle every day, consider swapping out another form of exercise like rowing, swimming, strength training, yoga, or running to use different muscles and challenge different energy systems.
It is usually advisable to take at least one day off per week to allow your body to fully rest and recover.
So, How Many Days a Week Should I Work Out?
Clearly, there are quite a number of factors that you need to consider when asking yourself, “how many days a week should I work out?”.
If you’re looking to get as fit as possible, and don’t have any significant contraindications, in an ideal world, you should work out 5-6 days a week for best results.
These workouts should involve a mix of strength training and cardio exercise. The more variety you can include in terms of the types of exercise you do, the better.
Don’t feel discouraged if you only have one or two days per week to work out. Anything is better than nothing; just do your best, give yourself grace, and make your workouts count.
If you are looking to set your first running goal, you can check out our couch to 5k training plans!