How Many Days a Week Should You Work Out?


arnold3To build muscle optimally you should be doing 3-4 workouts per week consisting of weight training and bodyweight exercises.

This works well for most average guys with busy schedules and what might be less than optimal recovery ability.

When you have a full time job, a family and tons of stress in your life, like most of us have in today’s modern society, your ability to recover from training is compromised.

So 3-4 training sessions per week works out quite nicely. It gives you the stimulation needed to build size and strength and also plenty of days off to live the rest of your life and recover from your workouts.

If you can only get three trips to the gym in, full body workouts will be your best choice. Hit an upper body push, an upper body pull, a lower body exercise and maybe some loaded carries or a little gun pump. Just focus on bang-for-your-buck exercises and make the most of your time.

In addition to the 3-4 strength-training workouts I recommend one other day of hill sprints or sled work. This will help you gain muscle without getting fat.

If it’s totally out of the question for you to squeeze in that extra day then you can simply add some sprint or sled training to the end of one or two workouts each week. All you need is 10-15 minutes and you’ll be good to go.

Or you can even do a double session on one of those days if time permits. Maybe you get up 30 minutes early and go outside for some hill sprints before work, then hit the gym on your way home, later that day. There are plenty of ways to get it in.

Another reason I like limiting strength training workouts to 3-4 sessions per week is that I believe everyone should play.

It’s incredibly beneficial both physically and mentally to get out and actually play like we did as kids. Join a flag football league, play beach volleyball on the weekends with friends, go hiking, surfing, skiing, or take a martial art.

Fitness is about more than just lifting weights and performing impressive feats in the gym. You need to get out and move and have some fun. If you do this not only will your fitness improve but so will your stress levels and your overall enjoyment of life.

What if I Can Only Train 2 Days Per Week?

If you can only make it to the gym twice a week due to an insane work or social schedule it’s not the end of the world. You can still make progress. Just know that it will never be optimal. High level athletes train quite a bit. So to think that you will maximize your strength, size or conditioning on just two workouts is probably a bit far fetched.

But don’t let that discourage you. Two is better than zero and you can still make some nice gains.

One thing to remember is that a workout doesn’t have to last an hour for it to be worthwhile. Often times when I’m incredibly busy I train at home and my workouts don’t last longer than 20-30 minutes. So there’s always that option.

All you need at home is a pair of rings. Throw in a kettlebell or two with that and you’re set.

Two can work, but obviously, 3-4 days will be better if you’re looking to make a rapid physical transformation. This gives you more opportunities to send an anabolic signal to your body, meaning you’ll have more growth stimulation throughout each week.

You’ll also stay leaner because properly planned strength training workouts improve insulin sensitivity and allow you to eat more carbs without gaining fat.

In addition, your metabolism will get a nice spike from the more frequent workouts so that you’re always burning more body-fat throughout the day.

Overtraining has become a thing people fear more than death. But the reality is that you can handle more than you think and it’s very hard to reach a true deep, dark state of overtraining.

If you’re smart about your workouts (meaning you don’t go too heavy, do grinding death sets, beat up your joints or train to failure), get enough sleep and eat properly you can largely avoid any type of overtraining.

Gymnasts and Olympic lifters train every day. So do sprinters and most other athletes. Guys do heavy manual labor every day to make a living. Then some of them go train after. It won’t kill you.

If you went out and threw fifty fastballs today, having not pitched in ten years, your shoulder would feel like it was going to fall of tomorrow.

However, if you got in the habit of doing it more regularly the pain would go away. The same thing happens with strength training.

Even if you only do three serious strength training workouts per week you should still do something active (stretch, hike, bike, swim, pick up games, mobility work, etc.) at least two or three other days.

The human body is built to move; not sit around on the couch.

Remember- to rest is to rust.

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21 Responses to How Many Days a Week Should You Work Out?

  1. Niel Rishoi April 22, 2012 at 9:27 am #

    When I was younger (much younger) I adopted Steve Reeves’ workout plan: 3 full body workouts 3 times a week. It worked for awhile, meaning a few years, but I did this for much too long, and the sessions themselves for too long a duration – 2+ hours. My body adapted and quit growing. Now I’m up to 6 days a week – 3 days on, one day off, 3 days, etc. Best gains (and fat losses!) ever are happening NOW. Less than hour each time, with the variations throughout the week – farmer’s walks, an unplanned deadlifting session…anything to keep things fresh. I love working out now better than any other time in my life: experience teaches you (hopefully), and what was once a pastime is now, firmly, a lifetime commitment, a part of life like eating, sleeping – that I could never do without.

  2. Trevor-FoundatioNutrition April 22, 2012 at 10:01 am #

    Love the article! As mentioned I have always found the key is finding out what works for you…Assuming you have the correct diet and amount of rest-you will see huge gains with either philosophy….I am a big fan of changing my training up every few months…For example, doing a split routine for maybe 3 months 5 days a week and then for a month do the 3 day a week plan…Love the results and it keeps your body guessing!

  3. Nick April 22, 2012 at 11:00 am #

    I try to train 6-7 a week. As you said, as long as you aren’t working to failure, and aren’t working the same things every single day, working out every day keeps the habit going. Jack Lalane probably never took a day off from exercise in his life. Worked pretty good for him.

    • sid April 22, 2012 at 12:03 pm #

      do you mean full -body workouts like squat deadlift and bench press 6x/week not going to failure? could it be possible if i just go to school each morning and dont train.Secondly do you suggest instead of sprints i go play football for 2 hrs or bust my ass off on my bike instead of sprints after my weight training workouts? apart from that very helpful article thanks…regards and looking forward for ur reply

  4. Michael Hodge April 22, 2012 at 1:13 pm #

    Hey Jay, how would you recommend adding more training days to uncaged?

    Michael

  5. Vleit April 22, 2012 at 1:22 pm #

    I actually made great gains using the big beyond belief routine. When you looked past the marketing hype the actual 4 day routine was sound hitting the body 3 times per week. I still hit body parts 2-3 times over 8 days if you include sled or prowler and am leaner than I ever was using high intensity hit routines

  6. Raymond April 22, 2012 at 1:27 pm #

    That’s an excellent guideline. I worked out too frequently (5-6 per week) at the start possibly like most but after I dropped back to the 3 times per week I did get better results and in less time.
    However after a few years I’m back to 4 times per week and that seems to be the sweet sopt for me.

  7. David April 22, 2012 at 3:29 pm #

    Well, very interesting article, though I find I can only train effectively with a heavy full body session only once a week. Admittedly, I train to failure, and look to progress in weight or reps each session, though I keep these sessions to 45 mins or less.
    I am prone to DOMS anyway, and while DOMS will subside after 3 to 4 days, a full week is needed to ensure I progress for the next session. This has been the case whether my lifestyle outside the gym had been beach bum to busy with a stressful job, or with 3xweek running sessions in-between or not. While I am in intermediate to advanced lifter, I have always wondered how I could be more effective, and envied those who can lift more frequently. You’d probably say – don’t train to failure, but that’s what I also enjoy about training – go heavy or go home : )

  8. Craig L. April 22, 2012 at 9:13 pm #

    While I am of the opinion that weight training should be limited to no more than 5 days per week, I try to get in some from of physically beneficial activity each and every day – even if it’s just 10 or 15 minutes of jumping rope before my wife and daughters get up in the morning on the days I am taking a break from weight training. Over time this makes a huge difference in your body fat levels and overall physical conditioning.

  9. K.Gopal Rao April 23, 2012 at 5:31 am #

    At 72, I’ve been doing, for the last 10 yrs or so, 5 workouts a week, of which 3 bodywt and two resistance, about 50 min each. This in the mornings, and again 5 evenings a week some cardio (power walking @ my level, i.e. 3.5 mph for 1.5 miles in 26 min). Fat loss results not too good (maybe I eat too much), but fitness feeling level ok. How essential is it to switch from 3bodywt+2 res workouts weekly, to 5 mixed bodywt & res? Some advice on this would be appreciated.

  10. Tyler English April 23, 2012 at 7:43 am #

    Great stuff brotha! Being a Pro Bodybuilder I’ve struggled in the past with overtraining. I’ve found my best strength and hypertrophy success with 3 and 4 times per week training programs in my offseason. Of course as I embark on my 2012 season I’ll work periods of 5 and 6 day training splits back into my program, but will increase the mobility and recovery work too. Thanks for the knowledge.

  11. David - The Natural Health Service April 24, 2012 at 2:41 pm #

    Having always found it difficult to make any progress I used to read a lot of Stuart McRobert’s articles, and he often advocated full body workouts twice per week. However I never found that to work too well, and found three times per week to be better. I’ve tried four times on a two way split, but did not get on well with that either. But that may be because I trained too heavy. So three times per week for me, but I may try four again, but not pushing so hard, and see how it goes.

  12. dave October 23, 2012 at 10:21 am #

    im 41 + train one body muscle per day x 4 days a wk. 3 off. im doing 5 sets of 10 reps. im on 30g protein + 50g cards. every 4 hrs 4 x per day. recently cut down my carbs intake. is this the best way to train for maximum muscle growth + strength. is my diet rite? thanks

  13. Jacob Hunt November 15, 2012 at 7:43 pm #

    i am a Highschool football player and i was wondering what can i do to increase my max weight? And just overall become a better power lifter

  14. Darren December 3, 2012 at 7:07 am #

    Jason, I am 330 pounds at approx 35% body fat and have recently begun Craig Ballantyne’s Turbulence Training program. A lot of his programs for out of shape weenies like me are geared towards either 3 or 4 days per week weight training. In addition to being a fat bastard I lack a fair bit of muscle and strength. Would it be worthwhile dedicating 2 days per week to strength training or would it be more advisable to wait until my fitness is more advanced than it is at present?

  15. Brad January 20, 2013 at 1:48 am #

    Good article and good ‘ guide line ‘ , the only issue I have is it all depends on ones age and condition . When I was younger I would train 5, 6 days a week and because of my youthful hormones could continue this schedule for quite a few weeks. Now that I’m older I do best on infrequent training , 3 days the most , and actually am stronger and more muscular , its all individualized.

  16. Dan April 20, 2013 at 1:02 pm #

    If you listen to Mike Metzner you should only workout once every nine days lol

  17. JBrigga May 27, 2013 at 9:44 am #

    My focus is to burn fat. so all my workouts generally target the full body rather than specific body sections for that day, and I target about 5-6 workouts a week. I also find exercises that activate or engage more muscle groups simultaneously to be super effective. I also include at least one cardio session in the week (but all my workouts incorporates some form of cardio element when i shorten my rest periods).

  18. Francis June 3, 2013 at 9:53 am #

    I train just 2-3 days a week, but I am mostly fine with that. As I have a pretty active lifestyle otherwise so this suits me, however not sure if this would work for everyone.

    • Jason Ferruggia June 5, 2013 at 8:54 am #

      Francis- Three days will work well for most people

  19. Muhammad Abubakar June 5, 2013 at 11:03 am #

    How I will get muscle and what should I have to eat to get big biceps and all muscles.