The answer to the question ‘How often should i workout?’ really comes down to one other question, ‘What are your goals?’
Having said that, no matter the answer to the second question, the answer to the first question will always be ‘whatever works best for you’.
Creating a gym routine needs to be sustainable, not only so that you can stick with it long enough to achieve your goal, but a more sustainable goal is generally a more enjoyable goal. A gym routine that worked for person A, won’t necessarily work for person B. Furthermore, just because it worked for person A, does not mean it is the only way to achieve said goal and therefore person B must be able to stick to the same routine or they may as well quit now before they waste any more of their time. The key here is to build a routine that will allow you to be consistent over a long period of time and is enjoyable as that is what is going to garnish the best results.
For the sake of this article, let us pretend we live in a perfect world and you can train to the perfect schedule; let’s have a look at what that might look like based around a few different goals we commonly see in the gym.
How often should you workout to lose fat?
The key here is movement and that dreaded phrase, ‘calorie deficit’. We can’t really help too much with the latter (although the more you train in the gym, the easier it is to get into a calorie deficit), that is all about your nutrition, the foods that you eat each week. If this is something you struggle with, seek out an reputable dietician in your area and get to work (or see Jono Steadman, he does online consults and is great https://www.theguyetitian.com.au/ )
People tend to see the best results here with a mixture of weights and cardio, if you are doing your cardio exercise outside of the gym, we would suggest anywhere from 2-5 sessions each week of weights. If you are new to training or just getting back into it, start with less and work your way up as your body gets used to moving so much again and as you start to feel the great mental benefits and just WANT to train more.
A rough guide to follow would be from week 1 to week 4; 2 weight sessions and 2 cardio sessions each week.
From week 5 to week 10; increase that to 3 weight sessions and 2 cardio each week.
From week 11; you could look at doing 4 weight sessions each week and 2 cardio sessions. You could look at doing 3 weight sessions each week and 3 cardio sessions. You could look at doing 5 weight sessions each week and 1 cardio. You could even combine some sessions and make them weights and cardio. Whatever works best for you.
The important thing here, is that you just get moving as often as possible and make sure you include at least one rest day each week. The more you can move and the longer you can keep that regular movement up, then the better your results and your overall health is going to be. There is no real point in doing 8 sessions a week if you are only going to keep that up for 12 weeks, then return to little movement at all. You are much better off aiming for 3 sessions a week and keeping that up for 3 years+, if that is a routine that works for you.
How often should you workout to build muscle?
In order to build muscle, we would recommend a minimum of 3 gym sessions each week however you could quite easily get away with 6 sessions a week should you wish to do so, granted your recovery was adequate.
A 3-day split for building muscle might look something like this.
Day 1 – Upper body push – think bench press, shoulder press, push ups, tricep push downs, tricep dips.
Day 2 – Lower body push (think squats, lunges, leg press)
Day 3 – Lower and Upper body pull (think deadlifts, bent over rows, bicep curls.
With a 6-day split, you could really break that down into specific muscle groups.
Day 1 – Chest and Tris
Day 2 – Legs
Day 3 – Shoulders and Abs
Day 4 – Back and Bis
Day 5 – Chest and Tris
Day 6 – Legs
As with fat loss, nutrition is going to play a large role here and if you are wanting to build muscle, you need to be focusing on your nutrition, this time eating in a calorie surplus, your sleep and your water intake. A good guide is 1.6 – 2.2g of protein per kilogram, then fill the rest of your calories with carbs and fats getting in lots of fruit and veg.
How often do powerlifters train?
Anyone looking at competing in powerlifting, or simply increasing their squat, bench and deadlift numbers, it is important to be hitting these lifts at least once a week, every week. Some elite level lifters do not need to; however, it is unlikely elite level lifters are reading a blog post for tips on setting up their gym routine, so let’s not focus on them for now.
For someone just looking at getting stronger, you could start with just 2 sessions per week.
Day 1 – Squat and Bench plus any accessory work.
Day 2 – Deadlift and Bench plus any accessory work.
If you have a moderate amount of training history and are looking to get stronger, break a plateau or enter a competition, then we would recommend training 4–5 times per week.
Day 1 – Squat and accessory work
Day 2 – Bench Press and Accessory work
Day 3 – Deadlift and accessory work
Day 4 – Bench Press and accessory work
Day 5 – If you wish to hit the gym 5 days per week, we suggest doing a second leg session.
A good starting point is find a 3-5 rep max, and base your training sets off these. Anywhere from 65% of your max up to 95-100% is effective. We would recommend starting down the lower range with higher reps (6-8 reps) and finishing towards the end of your training block with higher percentages and lower reps (1-3 reps).
You will notice that with both our 2-day split and our 5-day split, we had bench press in there twice. There are two main reasons for this. The first being that you can recover faster from a bench press session than you can from a squat or deadlift session.
The second being that bench pressing is a skill that requires practise, and it is the lift that will most likely improve the slowest, therefore getting in as many sessions as you can (most people could do it more than twice a week and get great results) will really help your progress.
How often do athletes train?
This is the trickiest of all schedules to work out. Why? Because most athletes, especially junior athletes, train so much. Strength and conditioning coaches are aware of this, and hopefully care about this. They truly want the best out of their athletes and don’t want to see them injured. They understand the importance of rest and avoiding under recovery in order to help prevent injuries.
Unfortunately all too often, sport coaches care about 1 thing, winning. They don’t care that Sam has 3 school training sessions, a school game, 2 club training sessions, a club game, 2 rep training sessions and 2 rep games this week; they care that Sam does the work of everyone else in that specific team and that Sam helps them win. Because of this, all too often the thing that would help kids the most in their busy schedules, strength and conditioning, is the thing that gets pushed to the side first.
Having said this, in a perfect world, we would recommend that any athlete playing sport includes 2 x strength sessions per week in their schedules in order to improve power, move more efficiently and reduce the chance of injury.
For children, both sessions should be full body sessions focused on movement as a whole and increasing their force production and power output.
For adults, we recommend splitting that up into a lower body session and an upper body session focusing more on movements for their specific sport.
As you can see, the more specific the goal, the more specific the schedule needs to be. All goals will benefit from a structured performance however in simple terms, if you want fat loss, just move as much as you can. If you want to build muscle, lift weights. If you wish to get stronger, lift heavier weights. If you train as an athlete, follow some structure. If you wish to compete in powerlifting; follow a more structured program.