• Nicola Dale

How Many Times a Week Should You Workout?

Everyone will have their opinions on how often you should workout. Some saying you need to hit 6 days a week to make progress, others saying 6 days doesn’t give you enough rest time and thus will stop you progressing. It’s important to realise that these are just opinions, not facts, and that there is no right or wrong answer.

If you want to exercise every day, cool do that, if you want to workout 3 times a week, also cool. What’s important is how you’re feeling and are you hitting your goals. Don’t worry about what those around you are doing just worry about yourself. (I’m talking about planned physical activity here, you should still aim to be active in your everyday life – for more on Increasing Your NEAT check out this article I wrote)

So, when deciding how many times a week you’re aiming to workout think about these 4 things:

1. Physical Activity Guidelines

2. Time Available

3. Current Activity Levels

4. Personal Preference

3 mums and there babies being taught by an instructor in a fitness class standing tall with their arms straight above their head.

1. Physical Activity Guidelines

Adults aged 19 – 64 should aim to be physically active everyday (think taking the stairs, walking part way or all the way to work, moving during TV ad breaks and so on), any movement is better than no movement. You should try to break up long periods of sitting and lying down with some kind of movement, even if it’s just standing up for 5mins or doing a couple of stretches at your desk.

You should aim to do at least 150mins of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity a week. Or you can do a combination of the 2. This 150/75minutes can be split up however you like. You could do 2 longer sessions or multiple shorter session, whatever you prefer.

Moderate activity will raise your heart rate and warm you up. It’s at a pace where you can hold a conversation but is too taxing to sing, think brisk walking, swimming, dancing and mowing the lawn. When working at a vigorous level you won’t be able to say more than a few words without pausing for breath. Most moderate activity can become vigorous by increasing the intensity, i.e. running, fast swimming and activities like circuit training and HIIT.

In addition, you should aim for 2 strength based session a week working all the major muscle groups. This could be lifting weights in the gym, going to Yoga or Pilates classes, or working out at home using your bodyweight. Things in daily life like carrying heavy shopping bags, manual labour and lifting and carrying children all also help strengthen your muscles. (Lifting weights can actually be counted towards moderate/vigorous intensity minutes and strength sessions hitting both targets at once).

This may seem like a lot but just by becoming active in your daily life you can hit a lot of these without even thinking about a workout. Start by always opting for the stairs, parking a little further away from work or the shops and pacing whilst you’re on the phone. These small changes can go a long way.

If you're interested in weight lifting but don't know where to start read So You Want to Start Lifting.

2. Time Available

Be honest with yourself here. Often we convince ourselves we don’t have time but in fact we could get out of bed a little quicker in the morning, spend less time scrolling through social media and spend 10minutes less watching TV in the evening. There you have 30mins you can use to workout. I’m not saying on a really busy day you have to find an hour to go the gym, but by being a little more organised with your time could you fit some short bursts of exercise in here and there? Again, start small and build up.

Set aside time each week specifically for exercise and treat that like a work meeting that you can’t miss or just push off to another day. Every Sunday I like to open my diary and plan the week ahead. I schedule in which days I’m going to go to the gym and put whether it will be in the morning, lunch time or evening. Allow yourself some flexibility. We all have unexpectedly busy days or days where we simply don’t have the energy but be sure this is actually the case. Use a little discipline and 9 times out of 10 you’ll feel better for it. And if you do miss a work out, don’t stress, there’s no need to punish yourself for it. Just carry on with your plan and perhaps find somewhere else to fit that workout in.

3. Current Activity Levels

It’s not good setting yourself the target of going to the gym 6 times a week if currently you don’t go at all and spend most of your time sat at a desk. You’re setting yourself up for failure which will most likely cause you to fall into that all or nothing cycle. As I’ve said above, make small changes gradually and create habits of moving.

3 women with barbells on their back in a sumo squat in a gym studio

Start with 2 or 3 workouts a week focusing on working the whole body, and look at where you can increase your overall daily activity. Currently hitting 4000 steps a day, increase it to 5000. Sat at a desk all day? Set a reminder every couple of hours to stand up and pace about for a few mins or go for a short walk. Find what fits into your lifestyle and work from there.

4. Personal Preference

How much do you want to exercise a week? Is the gym your happy place and you love being there 6 times a week? Wonderful stick at it. Maybe you like the gym but also want to get involved with a sports team. Ok go to the gym twice a week and play your sport once or twice a week. Perhaps you don’t like the gym but enjoy classes and swimming. That’s great do that.

At the end of the day when you look back at your life do you want to remember punishing yourself with exercise to look a certain way or fit a certain stereotype, or do you want to remember yourself being happy and just taking part in what you enjoy? I know what I’d prefer.

For ideas of new exercises to try check out 10 Workouts to try this Winter.

So how often should you work out? Well that’s down to you. Have a think about what you’re currently doing, what your goals are and remember if you’re not an athlete you don’t need to train like one. Unless you want to of course.


NHS Physical Activity Guidelines

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