The good news for determining how many days a week you should work out is that there is no concrete right answer. There are general guidelines in place for exercise for adults: 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week, strengthening each major muscle group 2-3 days a week and doing flexibility exercises 2-3 days per week.
If you have weight loss goals or other fitness related goals, you may have to increase your exercise from this general recommendation.
In order to determine how many days a week will be right for you, you can factor in your goals, what will be habit forming for you and what will give you a good balance.
Alternate strength days
Strength training, whether at home or a fitness center, can offer many health advantages and can help increase lean muscle mass.
How you divide up your strength training for the week can vary. Having 2-3 days per week is recommended for strengthening muscles, and it’s important to have a rest day in between working the same muscle groups.
If you do a full body strength workout, take a day off in between. If you strengthen for example your upper body one day, the next day can be focused on lower body. Either way can work and your preference may vary depending on time, fitness goals and availability.
What will be habit forming?
Some health professionals have a strong opinion of exercising between 3-6 days a week. The benefit to exercising more regularly is that it can be more suitable to become habit forming.
However, if someone is just starting to exercise, working out 2-3 days a week may be a more realistic approach.
You can work out 3 days a week or it could be 6 or 7. Determine what you will be committed to long term and what is feasible for your lifestyle. Some people do better with 3 days, and some people like 5. Any range can be acceptable, as long as it is at least 2 days a week.
Recognize that your exercise amounts may vary through different seasons. For example, if you are training for a distance race, your training should change throughout the year so you are peaking at the right times for your designated race.
As weight loss turns into weight maintenance, exercise may look different. The thing to remember is to stick with keeping exercise as a part of your lifestyle.
What is your goal?
Your exercise amount per week can vary depending on your goals. Are you trying to get in shape? Are you training for a fitness competition or a race? Are you trying to lose 30 pounds? All these goals will have different exercise plans and specifics.
Your physical condition can also play a factor in determining how many days a week you exercise. If you are recovering from an injury or have other medical factors, it may be in your best interest to exercise fewer times per week.
If you are a seasoned athlete, your body and training goals may be able to handle working out 6-7 days a week.
2, 4 or 6 days a week?
A 2013 study looked at the impact of doing a combination of aerobic and strength training exercise 2,4 or 6 days a week. Researchers split a group of older, sedentary women into either working out 2 days a week (1 aerobic and 1 strength training), 4 days a week (2 aerobic and 2 strength days) or 6 days a week (3 aerobic and 3 strength days). These women followed their workout protocol for 4 months.
Researchers measured stress factors, lean mass, fat mass and strength levels in these women. All groups had increases in lean mass and strength and no negative indications of stress levels.
However, what was different is that the group doing 4 days a week exercise was expending more energy, about 225 calories, per day. This was in addition to the regular exercise. The group exercising 6 days a week were expending about 200 calories a day less through daily living.
These results suggest that working out between 2-6 days a week can help increase lean mass, strength levels and lower fat mass. Exercising 2-4 days a week may improve energy levels and translate into more energy to do other activities through the day.
Exercising 6 days a week will burn more calories in exercise, but it may lead to being more “lazy” throughout the rest of the day.
Bottom line is no matter how much you exercise, remember to notice the rest of your daily living. Are you being a couch potato the rest of the time or are you still moving throughout the day? Do you feel fatigued or pressed for time or are you energized?
There are general fitness guidelines for the week, but determining how many days a week you should work out has some flexibility. Working out 2-3 days a week can provide health benefits, but exercising more than that can provide more physical fitness or weight loss benefit.
Think about what you will maintain for the long haul, not just a few weeks. Also factor in your baseline fitness or other medical history. What is your goal with exercise? General fitness or something more specific? For more individual advice, talk with an exercise specialist who can help you with your goals.
References used in this article