how often should you work out
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How many times have you joined a gym or committed to an exercise plan to lose weight, only to back out after a few weeks because you have no idea how often you should work out?

If your answer is “too many to count,” you’re not alone. Knowing how many days you should exercise can be confusing. This is especially so if the amount of time you’re putting in doesn’t match up with your goals.

So, whether your goal is to sweat it out on the treadmill more often to lose a few pounds or to increase the amount of weight you’re lifting in order to gain muscle, the following tips can help you hit your target sooner and with greater success.

How often should you work out for weight loss?

Knowing how often you should strength train and do cardiovascular exercise to lose weight depends on how quickly you want to see results.

The general recommendation is to lose no more than 1 to 2 pounds per week. That said, many people seek programs that are designed for faster weight loss.

In the simplest of terms, you’ll need to burn more calories than you take in to lose weight. Dieting has proven to be an effective method of losing weight, but in order to maintain weight loss, you need to exercise.

How much weight you lose depends on the amount of exercise you’re willing to commit to and how closely you stick to your diet. If you really want to see results reflected on the scale and continue to make progress over time, you need to commit to working out at least four to five days per week.

But remember, you’ll build up to this. To start, you might only want to do two or three days per week and slowly work your way up to five days. Plan your workouts to include a combination of:

  • cardio
  • strength training
  • core work
  • stretching

For maximum results, a workout program should consist of cardiovascular and strength training exercise. When you lift weights, you increase your lean muscle mass. This allows you to increase your metabolism and burn calories at a higher rate, even when you’re not working out.

Cardiovascular exercise isn’t just essential in maintaining good heart health. Cardio exercise can:

  • burn calories
  • boost your mood
  • decrease stress

Cardiovascular exercise

Generally, aim to do either:

  • 30 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio activity at least five days per week (150 minutes per week)
  • at least 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity three days per week (75 minutes per week)

If you want to lose weight, consider two days of moderate activity and two days of vigorous aerobic activity or high-intensity-interval-training (HIIT).

Strength training

Aim for two to three days per week of strength training. Include full-body workouts that focus on compound exercises. These are moves that work multiple muscles at a time. Examples include:

  • squats with a shoulder press
  • deadlift with a bent-over row
  • lunges with a lateral raise
  • pushups and plank with a one-arm row

Other key exercises to include in your strength training program include:

  • squats
  • lunges
  • planks
  • pushups
  • straight leg deadlifts
  • bench-presses
  • pushup dips
  • overhead presses
  • pullups
  • dumbbell rows
  • planks
  • exercise ball crunches

To get the most out of your weight loss workouts, make sure you’re following these guidelines:

  • Vary the intensity of your workouts. Include both HIIT and moderate-intensity exercises.
  • Perform different methods of cardio in a week, like running on the treadmill, biking, and swimming.
  • Use circuit training when lifting weights to keep your calorie burn high. Circuit training involves doing a series of exercises, one after the other, with no rest between each exercise. At the end of the series of exercises, you typically rest for a set period (30 to 60 seconds) and repeat the circuit two or three more times.
  • Take at least two days of rest each week.

How often should you work out for muscle gain?

Finding the right balance of cardio exercise and strength training is key when it comes to putting on lean muscle. Do too much, and you risk overtraining and losing your hard-earned muscle. On the other hand, if you don’t up the intensity and put the time in, your muscle gains will be minimal.

Cardiovascular exercise

Stick to two to three days of cardio per week. Focus on shorter, higher-intensity sessions, such as 25 minutes of HIIT.

Strength training

You need to be hitting the weights at least three days per week. The research says that at the very least, training a minimum of two days per week is needed to maximize muscle growth. How you structure your workouts and the amount of days you devote to strength training depends on your current fitness level.

Here are some basics of strength training to keep in mind, plus an example workout.

Consider this schedule, depending on your training level:

Training levelDays of training
Beginner2 to 3 days per week of strength training (full-body each session)
Intermediate3 to 4 days per week of strength training (split up workout by body part or upper/lower body)
Advanced4 to 5 days per week of strength training (an advanced exerciser might structure their week with three days on, one day off)
 

If four days of strength training feels right, consider splitting your week up into upper (arms, chest, and abs) and lower (legs) body segments. For example:

DayBody segment
Monday upper body
Tuesday lower body
Wednesday rest or cardio
Thursday upper body
Friday lower body
Saturday rest or cardio
Sunday rest or cardio
 

If you’re not gaining muscle as quickly as you like, you might be facing the dreaded plateau. When you train the same body parts with the same exercises and amount of weight over an extended period of time, there’s a good chance your body will stop responding.

In order to get back to a muscle-building phase, you need to change things up. Here are some ways to do so:

  • Add weight to your lifts.
  • Swap out your current exercises for a fresh set.
  • Change the number of sets and reps you’re performing. By varying the rep range, you combine lighter and heavier loads to elicit greater increases in strength and muscle size. For example, a heavy day will consist of three to five reps, a moderate day will have 8 to 12 reps, and a light day will be 15 to 20 reps.

When it comes to adding muscle to your frame, you need to make sure you’re giving your body plenty of time to rest between strength training sessions. Doing the same amount of exercise day after day can inhibit recovery and cause you to lose muscle over time.

If the idea of taking a day or two off each week is hard for you to manage, consider treating these days as active rest. Do a gentle yoga class or spend extra time stretching.

The takeaway

Cardiovascular exercise and strength training both play a significant role in targeting weight loss and increasing muscle size. Finding the right balance of the two will depend on your individual goals, how quickly you want to achieve them, and the amount of time you can commit to exercising.