How often should I workout? This is one of the most frequent questions we get from people who are just starting to exercise. We even get it from people who have been working out for awhile and are either not seeing results, or are feeling burnt out.
The answer to this question is not straightforward. There is no magic number that applies across the board. The number of days per week you should workout depends on what sort of exercise you're doing, how you're exercising as well as your goals. These variables make it extremely difficult to give a general answer to a specific question. How many days YOU should workout each week depends on your lifestyle. Without exercising, is your lifestyle sedentary? Does your job require you to sit for long periods, followed by long commutes and then sitting around at home? Or are you moderately active, with about equal measures of sitting and movement. Or, are you extremely active, with tons of movement and very little sitting around. What’s more, do you want to lose fat? Gain muscle? Maintain weight? Build upper body strength? Improve cardiovascular conditioning?
What do you want? This will determine how many times a week you should workout, and what you should do when you do workout.
But let’s not get bogged down by this minuta. We're trying to impart some streamlined wisdom, so here's the short answer: you should train every muscle group twice a week, and train your cardiovascular system three times a week. That can sound like a lot, and if you break the days out — training muscle groups separately and doing cardio on separate days than resistance training — you are going to be working out more days a week than you have to. And this doesn't include the stretching you should be doing after each workout and/or separately.
However, if you do HIIT workouts, you can train multiple muscles groups at once and get in your cardio, losing fat and burning muscle in as little as 12 minutes per session. And as little as three days a week of total body HIIT will be enough to get you results.
That's right: just three days.
Once you get into the swing of HIIT, or if you plateau and want to see more results, you may need to up the ante, separating muscle groups into just upper body HIIT days and lower body HIIT days and core HIIT days peppered with a day or two of straight cardio, but as a general rule for beginners, 3 days of total body HIIT a week is enough to get you results that you can see and feel inside and out.
The Missing Link: Active Living
You should also practice active living & recovery, workouts aside. This means taking the stairs more often, walking to the store or your kids to school, taking a stroll on your lunch break, going on a bike ride, playing a recreational sport, etc. Little things like this are critical to your overall health, helping to keep you active, vital and happy.
Your Goals, Your Week
Still fuzzy on how many days a week you should workout? Here are some samples of what your week can look like, based on your current fitness level. (Don’t forget active living on ALL these days, as well as stretching after each workout!)
Monday: Total Body HIIT
Tuesday: Rest Day
Wednesday: Total Body HIIT
Thursday: Rest Day
Friday: Gentle Stretch Yoga
Saturday: Total Body HIIT
Sunday: Rest Day
Monday: Total Body HIIT
Tuesday: Rest Day
Wednesday: Cardio & Core HIIT
Thursday: 30 minute walk/run
Friday: Rest Day
Saturday: Lower Body HIIT
Sunday: Upper Body HIIT with/Gentle Stretch Yoga post-workout
Monday: Interval Cardio — 30 minutes (Walk, Run, Swim, Elliptical)
Tuesday: Lower Body HIIT
Wednesday: Rest Day
Thursday: Upper Body HIIT
Friday: Cardio & Core HIIT
Saturday: Rest Day
Sunday: Total Body HIIT
See? You’re never working out in an official capacity more than five days a week, and your max time commitment per session is 30 minutes, but can be as little as 12 minutes. If you’re following these guidelines — or a similar guideline — and not seeing results, chances are, your diet is to blame. You know what they say: you can’t out-train a bad diet! You don’t need to live in a gym to see gains. Work smart by working hard when you do exercise, and eat a mostly clean diet. The results will be in the bag.
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