There is not one right answer for often you should workout. That is good news because this allows you to create a workout plan that best fits you, and it’s ok if our workouts don’t all look the same.
A healthy, safe weekly exercise plan can look a lot of different ways. How often you should workout will depend on your fitness goals, where you are starting from and how much is appropriate for your body.
For example, someone just starting an exercise routine that was previously sedentary may look different than someone who regularly trains for marathons.
Someone who has limited mobility or a pre-existing medical condition may also have a different recommendation for often they should work out.
There are general guidelines for healthy adults for how much exercise to get per week.
However, how you get these amounts in can vary. Also, if you have fitness goals above general overall health, how often you should workout may be more than the general recommendations.
Before starting any exercise routine, it is advised to consult your medical team especially if you have known risk factors for heart disease.
Exercise recommendations per week
The base of any workout plan for most people should be from the general exercise guidelines from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM).
The ACSM (1) suggests the following amount of exercise per week:
- At least 2.5 hours of moderate effort aerobic exercise per week OR 75 minutes a week of vigorous effort aerobic exercise. You can also do a combination of moderate and vigorous aerobic exercise.
- Resistance exercise (lifting weights or body weight exercises) should be done 2-3 times per week that target major muscle groups.
- Flexibility exercises should be done 2-3 times per week to improve range of motion.
- Neuromotor exercise (functional fitness) should be done 2-3 days a week. Examples include balance, agility, coordination and gait exercises.
How you meet (or exceed) these guidelines is up to you. It may be easiest to split your workouts into aerobic exercise days 2-3 times a week with flexibility/neuromotor/strengthening 2-3 days a week.
You should also include at least a rest day per week in your workout schedule.
Where are you starting from?
How often you should workout depends on where you are starting from. Are you just starting an exercise program? It’s best to consult your medical team where you should start exercising. In general, exercising 2-3 times a week may be a good place to start.
Once this gets doable, you can add on more workouts per week. Remember, the main goal is just doing ANY exercise you can and something is better than nothing.
Don’t get discouraged if you aren’t starting a workout program at the recommended exercise amounts. Any movement can provide health benefits.
If you have a specific fitness goal, your workouts per week may look different. For example, if you are training for an endurance event, your time doing aerobic exercise will be more than the ACSM recommendations.
If you are trying to specifically increase your strength, your focus on strength training may be greater and may exceed general guidelines.
Strength train 2-3 times per week
Strength training should be incorporated into your workouts no matter your fitness goals.
Strength training should include targeting all major muscle groups with a variety of exercises and equipment. In general, 2-4 exercise sets with 8-12 repetitions is recommended per muscle group.
Older populations or people who are just starting to exercise should use lighter intensity training with 10-15 repetitions per set.
A common misconception for strength training is you need a gym membership. You can do many strength training exercises anywhere that use your body weight.
For example, push-ups, squats, sit ups and crunches are all examples of strength exercises you can do anywhere.
Another important consideration with strength training is more is not always better. You should allow for 48 hours in between strength training sessions of the same muscle groups.
In other words, if you are doing leg strengthening exercises, wait 2 days before doing leg strengthening exercises again.
If you want to strength train more frequently, strength train different muscles different days. For example, strength training upper body one day and lower body the next day still allows for adequate recovery for muscle groups.
The ACSM guidelines of 2.5 hours of moderate exercise per week can be broken down different ways:
- 30 minutes 5 days a week (can be done in 10 minute incremements)
- 60 minutes 3 days a week (extra 30 minutes above the guideline)
- Combination of moderate and vigorous exercise
How much aerobic and what type of exercise you do can vary depending on your goals and where you’re starting from.
Examples of moderate exercise can include: walking, jogging, dancing, gardening, soccer, etc.
Moderate exercise can be done continuously without making you out of breath. Heart rate is elevated, but the pace could be sustained for a while.
Vigorous exercise is something that is a higher intensity and will make you feel out of breath. Examples include: running, high intensity interval training, sprinting, etc.
Doing a variety of moderate and vigorous aerobic exercise is recommended because both intensities provide health benefits.
If your body can handle it, don’t limit yourself to staying within the ACSM guidelines. Getting more than the suggested amount can provide further health benefit.
How much flexibility and stretching should you do?
Workout recommendations tend to focus on strength training and aerobic exercise. However, flexibility and neuromotor exercises shouldn’t be forgotten.
Flexibility and neuromotor exercises can easily be incorporated before or after either strength training or aerobic exercise.
Muscles should be warm before doing stretching. Hold stretches for 10-30 seconds and repeat 2-4 times.