As we try to fit fitness into our busy lives, worrying about how much exercise we should be doing is an added stress that we don’t really need. Everyone seems to ask themselves the same question: ‘How often should I go to the gym?’.
And it’s an impossible question to ask. One that everyone seems to have a different answer to. We try to answer it in the number of days per week. Is three times a week enough? Or should we be going every day? What about rest days? And how much exercise per day is enough?
There are loads of questions and a frustrating lack of answers. Nobody seems to have the golden rule about workout frequency. And there’s a pretty good reason as to why. You guessed it. Because everybody is different. And it depends on what your fitness goals are.
So, how do you figure out how often you should be exercising? Here’s a couple of considerations to give you the guidance you need.
What are your fitness goals?
The amount of time you need to spend in the gym depends entirely on your fitness goals. There are loads of different reasons to exercise. Fitness goals can be broad, like ‘I want to be fitter and healthier‘ or specific like ‘I want to be able to do a pull-up’. How you train needs to be specific to your aim.
Your fitness goals will depend on the role you want exercise to play in your life. For some people, going to the gym is an essential part of their life. They will spend almost every day in the gym for hours on end to achieve their goals. Other people just want to keep in good health. Exercise has its part, but there are more important things they want to spend their spare time doing.
The key is finding goals and, therefore, a frequency that is enjoyable and sustainable for you. Your gym routine should complement your lifestyle and make you happy. Work out for the right reasons.
How much recovery do you need between gym visits?
One of the biggest things that underpin your workout frequency is the amount of rest you need depending on your current fitness levels and the type of exercise you’re doing. If you’re lifting weights, especially heavy ones, you need to take regular rest days. Recovery is essential for strength training. It’s when you’re at rest that your body recovers, repairs, and rebuilds your muscles.
If you’re mainly doing cardiovascular exercise, you can go to the gym more often. Your aerobic system doesn’t need as much time to recover, but just be careful not to do too much intense activity too often. ‘Active rest days’, including some walking, is still classed as cardio, but it’s much more gentle on your body.
Acknowledging your current fitness levels
It’s crucial to consider your current abilities with exercise when planning a routine. If you’re a beginner, you’ll need more rest than an exerciser who is more advanced. The body takes time to adapt to the demands of exercise, and fitness is built up slowly. Listening to your body, respecting your tiredness, and increasing exercise gently is the way to see real improvements without getting sick or injured.
Those gradual increases in exercise don’t have to equal an extra gym session in your week. You might not have that kind of time. Start by adding extra time or an extra exercise to your routine. If you’re lifting weights, that might mean another set or more reps. These kinds of progressions are really telling measurements of improved fitness and should come first before you think about adding another gym session to your weekly schedule.
How many times a week should you go to the gym?
Goal: To increase your aerobic fitness
It’s recommended that you do some form of aerobic exercise every day, so at least 30 minutes. But, that means walking, which you probably do without noticing.
For more moderate or intense forms of aerobic exercises like running, swimming, or cycling, aim for between 1-3 sessions per week, depending on your ability.
If you prefer more intense forms of cardiovascular activity that see you exercises for short, sharp bursts like HIIT, it’s important not to do too much. One session of this per week is enough, and a maximum of two.
Goal: To increase your strength
Increase your strength sessions slowly and gives your muscles plenty of time to recover. The number of times you go to the gym to strength train depends on how you segment your workouts.
If you do full-body workouts, make sure to take at least a day in between training. Try not to work the same muscle groups on back-to-back days. Aim to build up to at least 2 training sessions to see some steady progress.
If you segment your workouts by upper body and lower body, you can go to the gym a bit more by alternating between each. Aim for between 2-4 sessions per week. If you segment your body parts even further, you could go to the gym between 5-6 times a week. Just make sure your sessions aren’t too intense and you’re giving yourself adequate rest across the week. Always take rest days.
Goal: Weight loss
If you’re looking to lose weight and want to use exercise as a way to help you do that, it first helps to figure out the calorie deficit you want to achieve each week. That means the number of calories below the number your body needs to maintain your current weight.
The calories you consume should be the first thing you calculate. From there, you can decide how many extra calories you want to burn each week and, therefore, how many gym sessions per week would help. Focus on your diet first, do more general movement each day, then aim for 2 gym sessions to encourage your efforts. Cardiovascular exercise burns more calories for every 30 minutes of exercise, but it’s always worth including some weight training in your routine to help look after your body.
How do you decide on exercise frequency?
It’s clear there’s no one size fits all when it comes to figuring out how many days to spend in the gym. But there are things to consider to help find your perfect formula for frequency:
What is your fitness focuses for the week?
Mainly strength with a bit of cardio thrown in.
What does life look like?
Work is a bit busy this week, but weekday evenings are mostly free.
How are you feeling?
A bit sore from last week, but all in all, feeling pretty motivated.
What other activity have you got on?
Doing a big family walk on Saturday.
Answering these questions can help you figure out your formula. For the example above, the answer to the above might be an extra two rest days on Monday and Tuesday to fully recover from the week before, an upper body workout on Wednesday evening, a gentle run on Friday morning, and a lower body workout Sunday.
Remember. You can always test it and change it. Each week will be different from the next. And everybody is different. Your exercise routine is your own.