There’s no magic number of times you should hit the gym every week. How often you go depends on your body, your fitness goals, and your schedule. Still, there are some general guidelines:
General fitness: 4 – 5 days per week
Weight loss: 5 – 6 days per week
Muscle building: 3 – 4 days per week
IF YOU WANT TO IMPROVE YOUR GENERAL FITNESS AND KEEP IN SHAPE…
…GO TO THE GYM FOUR TO FIVE DAYS A WEEK.
If your goal is greater endurance or burning calories, try three days of cardio and two of strength training. If your goal is building strength and muscle tone, reverse that. You could also switch each week to keep things balanced.
Your two off days are “active rest.” It’s important to engage in at least 30 minutes of physical activity per day to maintain good health, even though you aren’t working out. This could include taking a walk around your neighborhood (or the gym track), playing ball with your kids, or even doing yard work or chores.
Benefits: A four to five-day-a-week gym schedule allows for a balanced workout routine. It keeps you active and in the habit of going to the gym, while still allowing your body time to recover between workouts. Many people find that they just feel better when they’ve been to the gym!
Potential Risks: If you’ve got a packed schedule, it may be difficult to work in four to five gym sessions. Once you start missing workouts, it’s easy to get frustrated and out of the habit. Cut back to three days instead and make the most of them. HIIT is a great way to make the most of limited gym time.
When you’re at the gym nearly every day, you may get bored with your routine if you’re doing the same things constantly. Your body will get bored, too, and you won’t be able to maintain a useful intensity. Mix things up! Venture out from the machines and try Small Group Training. Hit the pool. Try meeting up with some friends for a pickup basketball game. Check out barre or Pilates. You’re more likely to stay motivated if you have something new and exciting to look forward to.
IF YOUR GOAL IS TO LOSE WEIGHT (AND BY WEIGHT I MEAN BODY FAT)…
… GO TO THE GYM FIVE TO SIX DAYS PER WEEK.
To lose weight, most adults need 60 to 90 minutes of moderately intense physical activity per day while keeping caloric intake in check. This can vary according to your diet, age, weight, and gender, plus the types of workouts you do.
You don’t have to spend all your time on cardio machines or in an aerobics class to lose weight. Dedicating two or three days to resistance training will tone and strengthen your muscles while burning calories. Focus on aerobic exercise for the remaining three to four days.
Benefits: Going to the gym five times per week allows you to complete your daily workouts in one session and gives you access to many different ways to exercise. Exercising most days of the week is good not only for weight loss but for your overall health and well-being.
Possible risks: When weight loss is your goal, it’s easy to start out super-motivated about going to the gym and then start to burn out. This is especially true if you weren’t active before and are now hitting the gym five days a week. Rather than skipping workouts because you don’t feel motivated, try changing things up. Try swimming instead of running on the treadmill every time. Learn a new sport.
You might also try cutting back your gym time and instead ramp up the intensity with HIIT workouts if appropriate for your fitness level. If you’re burned out going nearly every day, you could try going three or four days a week and adjusting your workout intensity and/or caloric intake.
What if you’re having the opposite problem and working out too much? Overtraining can cause a weight-loss plateau as your body’s protective mechanisms kick in, trying to hold on to weight. If you’ve hit a plateau, and/or you’re constantly sore and fatigued, it’s time to change up your routine and possibly cut back on the workouts. You may be able to ramp up again once your body has had time to rest and recover.
IF YOUR GOAL IS BUILD MUSCLE…
…LIFT WEIGHTS AT THE GYM THREE TO FOUR DAYS PER WEEK.
On a three to four day schedule, focus on two muscle groups per session. Do not work the same muscles on consecutive days—allow them time to recover. Some people do well on a five to six-day-a-week schedule, working only one muscle group each time.
If you want to go to the gym more often, you can…but don’t work overworked tired muscles. They need the rest. Instead, try a restorative yoga class. Take advantage of the sauna or whirlpool to ease soreness. Walk around the track.
Benefits: A three to four-day schedule allows for adequate rest. Muscles don’t grow when you’re lifting weights. They grow as they recover and repair themselves between sessions. Your nervous system also needs to recover so you perform exercises correctly. Push your muscles too hard, too often, and you risk plateaus and overuse injuries.
Potential risks: Even when you’re allowing rest days, you need to listen to your body. Your body may need more time to repair itself than you’ve allowed, especially following a particularly intense workout. If a muscle is aching, pay attention. Don’t work it again until it stops.
WHEN GOING TO THE GYM, QUALITY IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN QUANTITY.
What you do at the gym is more important than how often you do it. If you go to the gym almost every day but don’t push yourself, use improper form, or wear down your body through overtraining, you’re going to less benefit than someone going three times a week and utilizing that time effectively. Consulting a personal trainer is a great way to formulate a fitness plan that works for your goals, body type, and schedule. He or she can help you get the most from your workouts.
Remember too that life is about balance. It’s better to commit to a moderate workout schedule that you can maintain than to go full-tilt and get burned out after a month. Going to the gym is about lifelong good health and feeling your best. Find the balance that works best for your life and your goals.