Kicking off a regular workout routine requires figuring out what to do and when. The latter often means answering the common question: How many days a week should I work out?
The ideal workout plan includes a mix of strength training, and aerobic exercise spread throughout the week. Additionally, the right amount of exercise depends on your fitness goals, activity level, age, and more. And at the end of the day, the best weekly workout schedule for you is one you can do consistently.
Here’s how many days a week you should work out, when to take rest days, and how to choose a workout schedule that suits you.
Ideally, if you want to boost your general health and fitness, you want to aim to exercise about five days a week, King Hancock, ACSM-CPT and Sweat 2 Success instructor on NEOU, a fitness streaming service, told Health. That might sound like a lot, but every day shouldn’t be intense, and your workouts can last for as little as 30 minutes.
How often you work out depends on your experience with fitness and the time you have available too. If you’re new to exercise, for example, start with a smaller goal, like finding a way to reduce the amount of time you spend sitting (e.g., going for a walk before or after a meal). Or, if your schedule doesn’t allow for five workout days a week, aim for three days and see if you can make those sessions a little more intense.
You’ll also want to switch up which types of workouts you do on those five days. If you can, aim for two or three days of cardio and spend the other two or three days on strength training, also known as muscle-strengthening activities.
If you’re doing fewer workouts during the week, you can mix strength and cardio on those days. For example, you could go for a 20-minute jog followed by 25 minutes of weight training.
It can also be tempting to believe that different fitness goals depend on different workouts. However, whether you have a weight loss or strength-building goal, it’s key to incorporate cardio and weight or strength training into your workout regimen. Combining these workouts can help you live longer and become healthier.
So, if you love running, you still want to add some cross-training. If you love lifting heavy weights, you still want to get your heart rate up with more cardio. “Our bodies are meant to adapt to stressors,” Hancock said, “so it’s important to mix up those stressors to keep the body transforming.”
Ultimately, though, how you schedule your workouts and what you do for those workouts comes down to what you enjoy the most, Kristian Flores, CSCS, an NYC-based strength and conditioning coach, told Health. Finding pleasure in your workout will keep you coming back for more sweat and lead to results.
Physical activity recommendations include 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week, which could be broken down into five 30-minute workouts. You could also opt for 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week.
Working out at this level helps keep your heart healthy while helping you prevent or manage other conditions like diabetes. Plus, it helps boost your brain function and mood and betters your bone health.
Cardio workouts typically contain intense exercises. Exactly what you do for cardio again comes down to what you like doing, Hancock said. Cardio options could include:
- Indoor cycling
- Outdoor biking
It could also be as simple as walking up and down the stairs in your apartment building—as long as it raises your heart rate, it counts as cardio.
If you’re working out three days a week, aim for your cardio workouts to be more intense, Hancock said. “If you want to work for longer, go at a lower intensity.” Hancock and Flores agreed that the most efficient and effective workouts are HIIT and Tabata.
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) or circuit workouts can also help cut back on time while still giving your body a good sweat session, Flores said. Tabata is a more intense version of HIIT that can be done with or without weights. It entails working out for 20 seconds, resting for 10, and repeating for eight total rounds.
Elite athletes have used interval training for decades to improve their performance, and with good reason. Interval training does what walking can’t: It provides both aerobic and anaerobic exercise. In other words, Tabata and HIIT can burn fat, improve heart and lung function, and build muscle all at once.
Because you’re working so hard through HIIT workouts, you can easily work up a solid sweat in 25 to 30 minutes. “Most importantly, you want to think about HIIT as working in spikes of effort that take you to that [uncomfortable] feeling and then giving yourself enough recovery to repeat those efforts,” Hancock said.
You can do upper, lower, or total body focus on your strength training days. Strength training entails three main parts:
- Intensity: The amount of weight or force you use in relation to the amount of weight you can lift
- Frequency: How often you do these types of exercises
- Sets and repetitions: How many times you do strength-related exercises
“As you get fitter, aim to increase the volume of your session, which means increasing the weight used and the total reps per exercise,” Flores said. Continuously progressing in this way will lead to better strength gains and lean muscle building.
However, it’s also important to note that strength-training results only appear for the muscles involved during strength-training sessions.
So, to get the most out of your strength workouts, Flores suggested two 30-minute workouts that target the entire body and include compound movements—those exercises that work multiple muscles at one time. Push-ups, bench presses, and seated cable rowing are just a few compound exercises you can try.
If you have more days for strength and want to break it up (particularly if you’re looking to build muscle), Hancock suggested doing an upper body day and a lower body day.
On those upper body days, think about push and pull exercises, Hancock said. Push moves include push-ups, chest presses, or chest flies. Pull exercises include rows, pull-ups, lateral pull-downs, and swimmers or supermen.
You can also mix in bicep and tricep moves on these days, Hancock added. For lower body days, Hancock suggested doing squats, lunges, and hinge exercises, like deadlifts.
Allowing for at least one or two days of rest is crucial to let your body recover and rebuild. Hancock recommended getting to know your resting heart rate (RHR) so you can see when you’re fully recovered and ready to take on the next round of exercise. Most fitness trackers and smartwatches will track heart rate and give you insights into your resting rate.
Your RHR is the number of times your heart beats when you’re at rest. A low RHR means that your heart is pumping more blood with less effort. This is a great sign that you are getting fitter and your heart is getting stronger.
A normal RHR is typically between 60 to 100 beats per minute. If you are monitoring your RHR regularly, you may notice that it stays elevated for hours or even days after a vigorous workout. As a general rule, it’s best to wait until your RHR returns to its normal rate before heading back to the gym.
Rest days are, more than anything, a chance to listen to your body’s needs so that you can be more prepared for your next workout. There is no shame in using a rest day to focus on hydrating, healthy meal-prepping, and getting extra sleep if that’s what you need. Rest days are also a great time to take a stroll around the block or do some light stretches and foam rolling.
“It’s about actively taking care of your body so you can produce efforts that support your goals, whether that’s getting strong, building lean muscles, getting fit, or losing weight,” Hancock said. “It’s important that people listen to their bodies, and it’s important that you are mixing it up and adding variety.”
At a minimum, you should dedicate five days to participating in physical activity. However, the number of days you can work out may vary depending on how much time you have available and how familiar you are with fitness.
The main types of workouts to engage in are cardio and strength training. It’s a good idea to mix up the type of workouts you do, either on the same days or across alternating days when you exercise. Finally, as it is important to get exercise, it’s just as important to include rest days during the week too.