How Often Should You Work Out?
Puzzled by Workout Frequency? Here's What You Need to Know
Maybe you've been exercising steadily for a while, but you're not seeing the results you want. Or, maybe you're just getting into strength training, or getting back into a cardio workout routine after a long pause. Either way, you're likely wondering how often you should be working out to maximize your fitness. It's a common question that crosses any health-conscious mind, but there's no clear-cut answer that fits every body. Rather, it depends on your starting point and your individual fitness goals, whether they be losing weight, gaining strength, improving endurance, or achieving?muscle growth.
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As a general rule, one workout session per week is obviously better than nothing at all. But if you really want to commit to fitness, most people should aim to tackle some cardio exercise and resistance training at least four to five days per week.?If you're quite fit, however, and feel comfortable with a well-established workout routine?Tony Horton, personal trainer and creator of P90X, says?that six days of workouts each week is ideal.?
Of course,?you may not have the time to commit to an extended full-body workout every day, nor should you put your body through?intense exercise every day, but the key is to remember any activity counts here.?Horton believes that maintaining a steady workout frequency – no matter how short the sweat sesh – helps to enforce the mentality of taking good care of your body and your overall health throughout the week (not just on weekends, or whenever else you can fit in a workout session).
"Inconsistent exercise is the fitness equivalent of driving across the country on surface streets. You’re bound to hit nothing but stop signs, streetlights, detours, construction ... you don’t get any momentum," Horton says. "The six-days-a-week mentality and lifestyle will get you on the 'open highway' to better fitness and results."
How Often to Work Out at Every Fitness Level
As noted above, your weekly training volume and the level of intensity you aim for depends on your fitness level. You don't want to push yourself too hard from the start as this will put you at greater risk of injury. You're also likely to become discouraged if you run out of gas too quickly and then skip subsequent workouts. In the end, that would defeat the point and make it that much harder to reach the goal of being consistently mindful of your health every day.
Although you don't want to hurt yourself by overtraining and pushing your body past the point of recovery, remember that even your rest days can incorporate some light physical activity, such as a leisurely walk or slow-paced yoga practice.
With that in mind, the following guidelines are key to keep in mind when it comes to how often you should work out at every fitness level.
- Beginner: 2-3 three days per week of full-body workouts
- Intermediate: 3-4 days per week, alternating muscle groups
- Advanced: 5-6 days per week, alternating muscle groups
Now, it's easy to throw numbers out there, but how do you actually implement a good workout schedule to fit your needs? We spoke to Alex Rothstein, Coordinator and Instructor of the Exercise Science degree program at New York Institute of Technology to find out more. He shares that it all comes down to determining which body parts to focus on with each exercise routine and how much rest to give those body parts between workouts. The answers to these questions, however, depend on several factors.
How Often to Workout for Beginners
First, be realistic with yourself about how experienced you are with resistance training. As a beginner, you should focus on two to three workout days per week with one or two rest days between them, focusing on compound movements.?
"Each workout should incorporate a full-body approach, meaning all of the muscles of the upper and lower body are targeted to some extent, but not necessarily isolated," says Rothstein. He adds that the goal should be to train each body part twice per week?(and scientific research agrees). So stick to compound movements, such as weighted lunges which allow you to target your arms and legs in one of your three strength training workouts for the week.
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When it comes to rest, you can incorporate true off days and cardiovascular exercise activities to keep your fitness plan well-rounded.
How Often to Workout for Advanced Fitness
When it comes to more experienced individuals, Rothstein agrees with Horton, noting that six days per week is a great goal for training frequency. He notes, however, that workout intensity plays a huge role when it comes to determining rest periods in this scenario. Obviously, there are only seven days in a week, so a six-day workout regimen involves careful planning to not overtax any muscle group too many days in a row.?
Unlike the two- to three-day workout regimen for beginners, the workouts in a six-day regimen should not focus on a full-body approach. Instead, the schedule should utilize alternating days focused on the upper body (chest, arms, abs, and back) and lower body (legs), with some cardiovascular exercise thrown in the mix, as well as different intensity levels to allow for proper rest without having to ditch a workout altogether.?
"When an individual performs a lower body workout with a very high-intensity level, they place a tremendous amount of stress on their muscles, bones, and nervous system," says Rothstein. "This usually means the individual should either rest the next day or have a less intense workout the following day using different muscle groups."
He also notes that a six-day workout regimen is not a one-size-fits-all plan by any means, even for those at an advanced fitness level. Its success depends on (and should be catered to) how well an individual recovers from one workout to another. This can be affected by anything from how well they’re feeding their muscles with the right foods to how well they sleep.
That said, if you feel well-rested and well-recovered from one workout to the next, you should feel confident to carry on with a six-day workout regimen that properly alternates muscle groups, intensity levels, and activity styles. If you find yourself excessively fatigued, however, Rothstein suggests decreasing the intensity of your workouts or even how often you're working out until your muscles gain more strength.
Focus and Dedication Are Key to Frequency
No matter where you start or how soon you?get to the goal on your fitness journey, Horton encourages individuals to stay focused. He suggests making a "plan of attack" and plotting your schedule of workouts on a calendar to show your dedication to your regimen.
"If you want to experience optimal health and dramatic results, it’s going to take planning, determination, accountability, and commitment," says Horton. "[So] put the calendar in a place where you’ll see your progress every day, [and] when you complete your workout, cross it off with a thick red marker."
Finally, despite the myriad benefits of a rigid schedule, Horton also cautions against complacency. He suggests sticking to your planned schedule of workouts, but keeping things fresh by introducing new routines. As you keep your muscles guessing, it will help you avoid overtraining and hitting a plateau. But, maybe even more importantly, it will help to keep things fun and interesting so you look forward to your workouts each day.
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