How Often Do You Really Need to Work Out?

how often should you really work out?

One of the questions I get asked a lot from you guys is, “how often do I really need to work out to meet my goals?”

The first answer that always comes to my mind is that depends on your body—and your own personal goals. Someone trying to lose 20 pounds is probably going to need to work out more than someone trying to just maintain, just as an athlete looking to boost their strength and conditioning will want to work out more often than someone just looking to look better in a bathing suit.

But, since that answer doesn’t really satisfy anyone (I wonder why…), I’m going to do my best to give you some guidelines on how often to work out based on your goals:

If you’re looking to lose weight:

This probably won’t come as a big surprise to you, but (for the most part) the more often you’re able to fit a workout in, the quicker you’ll see results.

If you’re just starting out, I’d suggest aiming for around 2-3 HIIT workouts a week, trying to get in something active on most other days—go for a long walk, take a bike ride, go for a hike, go rock climbing with a friend, etc. Ideally, you’ll find something fun and active that you actually look forward to on your non-workout days to reinforce the idea that being fit and healthy is part of a lifestyle, not just torture sessions in a gym.

If you’re more advanced or have been working out consistently for a while, you can aim for 4-5+ days a week of HIIT.

One thing to keep in mind: although establishing a consistent workout schedule is incredibly important when you’re trying to lose weight and keep it off, nutrition can’t be ignored. If you’re working hard consistently and still not losing weight, it’s time to reevaluate your diet.

If you want to build strength:

When you’re trying to get stronger, the key is less about frequency and more about intensity. If you only work out two days a week but work really, really hard during those workouts and push yourself to the max, you will be noticeably stronger in just a few short months. Some people will even see significant strength gains within just a few weeks, especially if you’re starting closer to a beginner level (it’s harder to gain strength quickly once you get to a certain more advanced level).

Of course, if you want to supercharge your strength gains, working out more often is only going to help you get stronger faster. Most people do well on a 3-5 day workout schedule with a few rest days a week.

And if you want to put on muscle, you’ll have to boost the intensity even more, doing the hardest version of the exercise you can manage, even if that means you have to switch to a modified version partway through the set in order to be able to complete it. For example, a good way to build leg muscle and get strong quickly is to do as many full pistols as you can and immediately switch to a modified version (such as holding onto a door frame) as soon as you can no longer do the full version.

If you want to be more athletically fit:

Those looking to get fitter for a sport are a special breed, because often the hardest thing is not making sure you get enough workouts in, but making sure you get enough rest. For a lot of people (including myself) it’s a tough to figure out the right balance, and often depends on your own body and how quickly you recover.

For those trying to get more fit for a sport or some sort of race, usually the more training, the better—especially if you’re looking to gain endurance. That probably means that you not only work out six days a week, but you also try and fit two a days in at least some of the time, as well as including necessary recovery (such as foam rolling, stretching, even yoga).

And as long as you’re feeling good in your workouts and look forward to them for the most part (why do something if you hate it?), you should be just fine working out this often.

However, if you’re starting to lose motivation, are getting sick all the time or keep getting injured, you’re most likely overtraining and need to figure a way to cut back on your workouts, whether it’s working out less often or just lowering the intensity of your workouts a few days a week to give your body more rest.

Have fun with your fitness

Although it may not be this way at first, some of you, like me, will find that you just feel better when you’re active on a daily basis.

I work out six days a week, and it’s actually tough for me to take a day off because I just get so antsy (I never used to be this way). If this sounds like you, working out this often is fine, just make sure to take at least one day off of intense training a week (active rest days are fine) to give your body some time to repair itself.

On the other hand, if you’re feeling burnt out from working out so much or you’re feeling overly fatigued (rather than energized, like you should feel), that’s probably a good sign that it’s time to take a break. Some athletes make a point of taking a week off of training every couple of months to give their bodies an extended break. Although I’ve never tried this (maybe because I’m scared I’d get too used to not working out again…), I can see how it might be useful every once in a while, especially if it’s for something fun like a vacation (ideally an active one).

And remember, the key is to listen to your body and keep track of your progress so you know when something you’re doing is working or not.

If your goal is to get leaner, you may want to measure your body fat levels every few weeks or so, just as if your goal is to get more athletically fit you may want to take the 100 burpees test every month in order to test how your conditioning is going and see if you need to make any changes to your routine.

Ultimately, you’ll have to figure out what the right workout schedule is for you—keeping in mind that being fit and healthy isn’t a race, but a lifestyle to embrace for the long-term.

9 thoughts on “How Often Do You Really Need to Work Out?

  1. Great article Krista, covers all the options for how to exercise in a concise, clear way.
    The only thing I need is more time to fit in more workouts!!! don’t suppose you can magic that up in a post can you ( I train for triathlons so am an endurance athlete with only time for 3 good sessions a week at the moment).

    • Haha, I would love to give you more time if I could 🙂 It definitely gets more challenging to fit in your workouts when you’re training for something like a triathlon or marathon, since by the nature of those activities your workouts need to be longer at least some of the time. I’d say do your best to fit in your longer workouts when you need to, then try and squeeze as many short HIIT sessions into your week as possible. Even a four minute Tabata workout here and there will help. Good luck with your training!

  2. Great post,Krista! I usually try to go with the flow,that means doing HIIT 6 days a week,most weeks. Some weeks I feel tired and might only do 5 or 4 days. I love what you wrote about strength gaining – which is also a great way to mix it up. You rock!

    • That’s awesome Christina… I’m so glad you’re able to listen to your body and know when to take a day or two off. Honestly, that’s something I need to get better at! You rock too 🙂

  3. I love this post! I have just recently started hiit workouts instead of going to the gym 5 days a week! I am IN LOVE with hiit workouts. They are hard, challenging and make me sweat, but I don’t have to spend hours at the gym anymore. I still squeeze in one or two long(er) distance runs in each week because I like to switch it up and running relieves stress for me.

    So you say you work out 6 days a week plus normally something active on your “rest” day…sounds like me! But when you say you work out 6 days a week, is that just one hiit workout each day? Or do you do multiple hiit workouts, or add a challenge or AMRAP workout in with a hiit? Since I’m still new to hiit, it seems almost too good to be true to only have to do one 12 minute workout each day.

    Thanks for such an awesome website with great fitness resources! I bought your app the other day and can’t wait to be able to afford the “get fit” 3 month program…consider making it cheaper, pleeeaaase!? 😉

    • So glad to hear you like the HIIT workouts, Janelle! As for my workouts, I rarely do more than one HIIT workout a day… sometimes if I want to work on a specific skill (like pistols, bridges, handstands, etc.) I’ll spend a bit more time working on that, and I do go to a gymnastics class once or twice a week for fun. If I feel extra antsy or ate too much the day before, I might do a tabata workout or two earlier in the day and a HIIT workout later in the day, but that’s about it.

      As for your workout program request, I’ve been thinking it’s time to introduce a cheaper option. How much would you hope to spend on a 4 or 8 week program so I can try to make sure it’s in your price range? And is there anything specific you would want from the program that you don’t already get from the app?

      • I’m so excited to hear you’re thinking about developing a cheaper option! I would probably spend $25 on the 4 or 8 week program.

        Since I don’t have the 3 month program, I don’t know exactly what it includes…But what I would really love to see in a guide I pay for is workouts (of course 😉 ), recipes and food guides (examples of what to eat over the course of a day) and a place to keep track of it and workout progress (which I think your guide already has).

        Thanks for responding and showing interest in what your followers are interested in! Can’t wait to see what you come up with.

  4. Hi! I am training for a big ride in 2015 – I am a regular cyclist (for many years!) My cycling programme sees me training 3 times a week. How many 12 min sessions should I do in addition? My 2 cycling sessions in the week are intervals on a turbo and the 3rd is a 3-4 hr ride on the road. I need to lose a couple of kilos (max)
    Thanks in advance!!

  5. Hi Krista – After commiserating with others about what you were saying in the Crossfit post, I got the apps! I’m loving the workouts. Without sounding creepy, your body is ideal- it’s where I was in probably year 1 of crossfit – before the bulk started. Are the 12 min workouts all you do? Or do you supplement with running or yoga or anything?

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