Everyone knows you’re supposed to exercise to stay healthy. But how often do you really need to head to kickboxing class, roll out your yoga mat, or get a good home workout in?
There are lots of reasons to work out more that have nothing to do with the way you look. Regular exercise can boost your mood, reduce stress, stave off illness, and contribute to an overall sense of well-being. But if your goal is muscle gain or weight loss, we’ve got you.
Grab your calendar and listen up: Here’s how often you should work out — no matter your goals — and how to create your optimal fitness routine.
If you want to work out just to maintain your physical health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends you aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week.
Moderate aerobic activity (aka moderate intensity cardio) means you’re moving fast enough to talk but not to sing that new Tay Swift song. Vigorous aerobic activity means you’re breathing hard and fast — too fast even to chat.
Split up your minutes however you like — you do you. If your goal is to maintain basic health, even brisk walking for 30 minutes 5 days a week (remember to break a sweat!) will get the job done.
Hold up… Do you have to work out on the daily?
When it comes to general health, there’s no need to bust your butt every day of the week. In fact, there’s such a thing as too much exercise. If you don’t get enough rest, your muscles won’t have time to recover.
That doesn’t mean you can’t take a stroll, bike to work, or take the stairs instead of the elevator every day, though. It’s healthy to move your body consistently.
That depends on how quickly you want to see results. If your first thought is right now, duh, then experts say to hold up a minute 🛑: Dropping pounds super fast isn’t sustainable or healthy.
According to the CDC, healthy weight loss means losing 1 to 2 pounds per week. Losing weight faster than that can set you up for vitamin deficiencies, fatigue, or other complications.
Basically, to lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you consume. So while your diet plays a major role in dropping pounds, exercise can help too.
In general, try to exercise at least 4 or 5 days a week if you want to see weight loss results in both the short and long term.
To max out results, plan on incorporating both cardiovascular and strength training exercises into your regular routine. Your workouts should have a combo of:
Not digging 4 to 5 days of exercise? Build up gradually!
You don’t have to go that hard from the start. Let’s say you don’t exercise at all right now (no judgment!). In that case, even starting with 2 days a week can lead to steady weight loss. As you get used to hitting the gym or working out at home, you can build up to 4 or 5 days.
Mixing cardio and strength training is key for a healthy weight loss plan.
When you lift weights, you build vital lean muscle mass. If you’re thinking, “Wait, I don’t want to bulk up,” hold on just a minute. Building lean muscle mass can actually help you burn fat. It increases your metabolism and helps you burn calories at a higher rate — even when you’re just lying on the couch watching Netflix.
Cardio, meanwhile, is good for your heart and your whole bod. It can also help you burn calories, boost your mood, and ease stress.
At a glance, your weekly weight loss workout routine could look something like this:
|Monday||30 min moderate cardio and full-body workout|
|Tuesday||30 min moderate cardio and full-body workout|
|Thursday||25 min vigorous cardio|
|Friday||30 min moderate cardio and full-body workout|
|Saturday||25 min vigorous cardio|
Cardio for weight loss: 5 days a week
Whether it’s swimming, biking, running, or hiking, choose a cardio activity that works best for you.
According to the CDC, aim to do either 30 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio at least 5 days a week (150 minutes total per week) or at least 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity 3 days a week (75 minutes total per week).
But that’s just for basic health. If you want to lose weight, consider a combo of at least 2 days of moderate activity and 2 days of vigorous activity.
Strength training for weight loss: 2 to 3 days a week
Shoot for 2 to 3 days a week of strength training. For best results, include full-body workouts that use compound exercises (those that work multiple muscles at once). Some ideas:
Don’t worry if you don’t have any equipment or don’t know all the moves — your own body weight and anything you remember from high school gym class can help you get fit. Here are some more basic exercises to try:
Rest for weight loss: 2 days a week
No matter how stoked you are about your #fitness goals, your bod needs a break now and then. Give your muscles time to recover at least 2 days a week.
To max out your weight loss routine, keep these tips in mind:
- Vary your workout intensity with both HIIT and moderate-intensity moves.
- Mix up your cardio routine. Now is as good as time as any to take up rollerblading, right?
- Implement circuit training when you lift weights to keep your calorie burn high. (FYI: Circuit training means doing exercises back to back without rest in between. At the end of the series, you’ll rest for about a minute.)
- Again, don’t forget to take some days off! You deserve it.
If you want to get stronger and build muscle, you need the right balance of cardio and strength training. If you do too much, you risk overtraining and (*gasp*) losing your hard-earned brawn. But if you don’t push intensity and put in the time, your muscle gains will be #weak.
Diet is also important when it comes to building muscle. In general, you’ll want to follow the same practices as you would for weight loss, including:
- eating more whole foods
- eating complex carbs
- eating more fiber
- reducing your sugar intake
- drinking more water
- increasing your protein intake
Here’s how to make your workouts work for you.
Your unique schedule will depend on your current fitness level, lifestyle, and needs. Here’s what that might look like:
|newbie||2–3 days a week strength training (full body) + 2 days cardio|
|novice||3–4 days a week strength training (split into upper and lower body) + 3 days cardio|
|pro||4–5 days a week strength straining + 3 days cardio (recommended: 3 days on, 1 day off)|
Cardio for muscle gain: 3 days a week
Plan to do cardio 2 or 3 days a week. Focus on short, high intensity sessions (think 25 minutes of HIIT).
Strength training for muscle gain: 3 days a week
To max out muscle gains, you’ll need to whip out the weights at least 3 days a week. According to a 2016 study, maxing out muscle growth requires at least 2 days per week of strength training.
After a while, your body may get used to the routine. When that happens, your progress can stagnate. To prevent your bod from reaching a muscle-building plateau, either make your routine harder or mix it up by adding weight or changing up the sets/reps.
If you’re not sure what’s right for you, chat with a personal trainer.
Rest for muscle gain: 2 to 3 days a week
It might sound counterintuitive, but resting up can lead to major gains in your fitness routine. Doing the same exercises day after day can suppress recovery and cause you to actually lose muscle over time.
If you still want to get in some movement on rest days (more power to you), consider devoting them to stretching or gentle yoga. Your bod will thank you.
You may also want to consider splitting up your routine into segments of your body to help your muscle gains. Here’s what working out 4 days per week with cardio and strength training might look like:
|Monday||upper body (arms, chest, and abs)|
|Tuesday||lower body (legs and butt)|
|Wednesday||rest or cardio|
|Thursday||upper body (shoulders, arms, and back)|
|Friday||lower body (legs and butt)|
|Saturday||rest or cardio|
|Sunday||rest or cardio|
Lower body: At least 2 days a week
When your fitness routine’s in full swing, your butt and legs should get some attention at least 2 days a week.
Here are some exercises to try that target your glutes, quads, and hamstrings:
Upper body: At least 2 days a week
Your abs, back, shoulders, arms, and chest need some muscle-building action at least 2 days a week too. To work on your biceps, triceps, deltoids, pecs, and abs, consider busting out the following moves:
Both cardio and strength training are key for meeting your weight loss or muscle growth #goals. What’s right for you will depend on your unique body, lifestyle, and needs. If you’re not sure where to start, chat with a personal trainer.
If you just want to maintain basic health, aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week.