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Home » OSL Blog » Workout Frequency and Strategy: Tips and Tricks

Workout Frequency and Strategy: Tips and Tricks

August 28, 2019

Key Takeaways

  1. Some people might think that to attain your goals, you need to spend hours at the gym. That’s simply not true.
  2. When it comes to how often you should work out, quality beats quantity.
  3. Most people can meet their goals in two to four days per week, spending up to an hour a day.
  4. Your workout routine will look different than others because your goals are different, but you need to have a realistic schedule to meet your goals and get the physique you’re striving for.

Whether you are a seasoned gym-goer, or just starting out, you may be wondering: how often should you work out?

Are there benefits of working out every day? Or should you stick to a few times a week?

Are you risking injury if you work out daily? Do the types of exercises you do make a difference?

There is not a one size fits all approach to how often you should work out. Even Golden Era bodybuilders took different approaches to how often they worked out and the routine they used.

Tom Platz
Golden Era bodybuilders including Tom Platz had different training approaches.

To determine the answer, there are a few questions you need to ask yourself first:

  • What goal(s) are you trying to reach?
  • What skill level are you at currently?
  • How much time do you have to reach your goal(s)?

Today, we’re going to answer all these questions and more. We’ll tell you the right amount of time you should spend at the gym each week to meet your goals. And if working out too much puts your body at risk.

How Often Should You Work Out for Weight Loss

People choose to make a commitment to working out for various reasons. For most, it starts out as a journey to lose weight. 

But how often should you workout at the gym to obtain that goal?

Working out
Losing weight requires a plan & dedication to reach weight-loss goals.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you should aim to lose one to two pounds per week. That doesn’t really sound like a lot, but if weight loss is your goal, your mantra should be slow and steady wins the race

working out
Maintaining weight-loss requires lifestyle changes like regular activity.

Losing weight isn’t just a temporary process. Sure, actually losing the weight is. But maintaining and keeping the weight off is not.

Lifestyle Changes

In order to keep the weight off, you need to make lifestyle changes that will last. That means:

  • Eating healthier
  • Being active regularly
  • Reducing sedentary activities
  • Finding things to do and foods you enjoy that will make your lifestyle change permanent
  • Making realistic goals and keeping them
  • Figuring out what motivates you to keep you going

Looking to lose one to two pounds per week? That means you need to have a calorie deficit of 500 – 1,000 calories daily. The calorie deficit can either be by eating less than your daily calorie allotment, or by exercising each day.

healthy meal
Healthy eating is essential to supports weight-loss & bodybuilding goals.

If you aren’t sure how much you should be eating, definitely check out our article about calculating macros. It will help you determine how much you should be eating each day. You can adjust the amount you need to eat daily as you lose weight and become more active.

If you need a goal to aim for, start out by losing five percent of your body weight.

If you are 250 pounds, that’s 12.5 pounds to lose. Going with the CDC recommendation, it should take you 6 – 13 weeks to complete.

Activity Time Spent

The amount of time you actually need to work out will depend on how you create your calorie deficit. Let’s say you choose to eat a deficit three times per week. You definitely don’t want to do a strenuous workout on those days, if at all.

Thirty minutes of swimming laps burns 255 calories.

Now, keep in mind that working out doesn’t necessarily mean you are hitting the gym. Let’s broaden your horizons a bit by offering some other calorie-burning activities:

  • 30 minutes of hiking = 185 calories
  • 30 minutes of light bicycling = 145 calories
  • 30 minutes of swimming laps = 255 calories
  • 30 minutes of jogging = 255 calories

These calorie-burning numbers are based on a 155-pound man. Keep in mind, the more you weigh, the more calories you burn per activity. 

Thirty minutes of hiking burns 185 calories.

Burning Calories at Home

Don’t forget, normal daily activities can also burn calories as well. Let’s see what you are already doing at home to burn some calories:

  • 30 minutes of playing with your kids = 150 calories
  • 30 minutes of heavy cleaning = 167 calories
  • 30 minutes of cooking = 93 calories
Thirty minutes of heavy cleaning burns 167 calories.

These figures again, are based on a 155-pound man. You can even use a calculator to determine how many calories you burned based on activity.

The more active you are, the faster weight loss results are achieved.

The more active you are, the better. You’ll start to see weight loss results faster. But remember, you don’t want to lose to fast and then reach a plateau.

The worst thing you can do is not see results and then lose motivation to continue. Weight loss will be a process, and then you can move on to building up muscle.

How Often Should You Work Out to Build Muscle

If building muscle is your goal, then the amount of time you’ll need to work out will be different. Again, you’ll need to have a goal for building muscle.

  • Are you looking to increase muscle mass (hypertrophy) in a specific muscle group?
  • Or are you looking to increase the diameter of a particular muscle?
  • Are you looking to reach a specific goal weight?
muscle growth biceps
Building muscle requires a different set of goals & exercise regime.

No matter what your goals are, you should avoid working the same muscle group two days in a row. That is just asking for an injury and doesn’t allow enough time for proper muscle recovery. 

Refrain from working out the same muscle group two days in a row to avoid injury.

If you are just starting out building muscle, do you think you should spend more or less time working out? The answer may surprise you.

How much should a beginner workout?

It is actually better to spend more time a week working out as a beginner than an experienced person.

This is because it takes less time to maintain muscle growth than to build it up. 

Don't work out every day
Working out every day is not wise as muscles need proper time for recovery.

Now, we’re not saying you need to spend every day working out. In fact, working out 6 days a week is probably too much, especially in the beginning. Your muscles need time for proper recovery.

So, how often should you work out to get your muscle gains? Let’s take a look at some studies to find out.

The Science: Quality over Quantity?

In a review and meta-analysis of 21 studies comparing high- to low-resistance training, high-resistance training won.

Using heavier loads with lower reps increased muscle strength better than lighter loads with higher reps. 

To increase muscle strength it is better to use heavier loads with lower reps.

This meta-analysis comparing eight studies showed the ideal number of sets to increase muscle hypertrophy. Muscle size increased as much as 40 percent more doing two to three sets over just one set. When comparing four to six sets, the stats were very similar to two to three sets.

So, what does this mean? That you can spend less time doing two to three sets of an exercise to get similar results to higher sets. A more effective time spent for the same result is ideal for many.

Another meta-analysis of 15 studies backs up this theory. Yes, more time is slightly better, but not enough for significantly better results.

Exercise Volume Study

In another study, a group of 34 resistance-trained men were put into three different groups:

  • Low-volume = 1 set per exercise per session
  • Moderate-volume = 3 sets per exercise per session
  • Heavy-volume = 5 sets per exercise per session

After three sessions per week for a total of eight weeks, results were in. The men who spent just 13 minutes three times a week saw similar strength and endurance as the five-set.

When building muscles, quality is valued more than quantity.

Finally, we’ve got one more study to share on the subject. Eighteen men were divided between two groups: one worked out twice a week, the other four times a week. After six weeks, the results showed two key takeaways:

  • Both groups showed an increase in performance and muscle size in the lower body
  • The group that trained just twice per week showed better overall body composition and higher upper body muscle gains

Surprised by this?

It just goes to show that quality over quantity really does work when working out to build muscle.

How Often Should You Work Out to Tone Up

Building muscle is different than toning up. What’s the difference?

  • Building muscle = increase muscle mass and overall size of the muscle
  • Toning up = reducing body fat to shape the muscle and give it a more defined appearance
toned physique
Toning up is about reducing body fat to shape up & define muscles.

Do you find yourself thinking How often should I exercise to tone up? Let’s take a look and find out.

1. What Are You Eating?

First, you have to really take a look at your diet when you have a goal to tone up.

If you aren’t eating a healthy diet, you won’t be able to rid yourself of unwanted body fat.

healthy diet
A healthy diet is essential for weight-loss & muscle growth.

In fact, not eating the proper foods can hinder any weight loss and reduce the likelihood of muscle gains. You can’t out-exercise a bad diet, no matter how much we wish that were true.

Healthy Eating Diets

Not sure what to eat to meet your goals? If you aren’t sure how to start eating healthy, now’s the time to check out our article on the subject. We’ve also researched some well-known diets so you don’t have to:

Once you’ve got a handle on your diet, you’ll want to focus on exercises to help maintain your muscle. The best type of exercises to do would be resistance-training. Lifting weights will provide the best resistance-training.

resistance training
Resistance training is the best type of exercise for maintaining muscles.

2. The Right Type of Exercise Plus Recovery Time

Combining weight lifting with proper eating habits are the best ways to tone your body to make your muscles pop.

So, how often should you work out to see results? Stick with three to four times a week. For the typical person, muscles can take 48 hours or more to recover after a workout.

Massage is a great method to speed up muscle recovery.

Taking recovery time into consideration, you really can’t do more than three days per week. But, what if you don’t really have the time to spread out your workouts throughout the week? We’ve taken that into consideration, too. 

Massage & Cold Exposure

If spacing out your workouts isn’t ideal, then you’ll have to do some post-exercise recovery to speed up the process. The best ways to do that is through massage and cold exposure. Plus, you’ll need to get adequate sleep so your body can repair the muscle fibers.

Cryotherapy is a type of cold exposure that supports recovery.

Cold exposure could be a number of things:

  • Cryotherapy
  • Using cool cloths (soaked in cold water) on the muscles you worked
  • Wearing a cooling vest
  • Take a cold shower

What about supplements?

You can also use supplements to help aid in muscle recovery so you can hit the gym again sooner. Vintage Bliss™ helps you fall asleep and stay asleep, which is when your muscles repair themselves.

vintage bliss
Vintage bliss supports sleep & aids in muscle recovery.

Using these methods could help, especially if you are a weekend warrior. You can easily get in half of your workout sessions over the weekend. Then it would be much more manageable to get in the rest of your time during the week.

Whether you want to work specific muscle groups or do full-body each time is up to you. 

Now, let’s take a look at how often you should work out when doing cardio.

How Often Should You Do Cardio

When it comes to cardio, less is definitely more. The only time you should be doing cardio on a regular basis is when you are focused on weight loss.

If weight loss is your goal, you can do cardio as much as five or six times a week. But make sure to include weight training as well. And limit your cardio to no more than 30 minutes if you are doing more days than not.

cardio treadmill
The frequency of cardio per week depends on your goals.

You should only be doing cardio-focused exercises twice a week if you are looking to build muscle.

Don’t Deplete Your Mass

Doing too much cardio can actually deplete your muscle mass, which will hinder your muscle gains.

Increasing muscle mass requires doing less cardio & increasing weight training.

Since toning is typically weight loss and then a focus on resistance training, you’ll do a mix. Start out with more cardio during weight loss and then taper off to increase your muscle mass.

Before you know it, you’ll start to see real muscle definition. When you start hitting the gym, you can choose to focus on a particular muscle group or do a full body routine. If you get bored easily, switch up what exercises you do from week to week.

Make sure you check out our library of exercises based on muscle group to give you ideas. We give you the best exercises to focus on so you’re sure to see results.

How Often Should You Work Out for Your Body Type

Even though we’ve provided recommendations for each type of goal, you might not get the results you’re striving for.

Have you ever followed a workout plan to reach your goal and be disappointed in your results? Or see someone be wildly successful and crush their goals while you didn’t get the same result?

It could be that you aren’t working out correctly for your body type. Some people are able to gain muscle really easy, while others struggle. Some of us are just naturally lean while others seem to look at food and gain weight.

lack of motivation
Hitting a plateau can be demotivating; a change of plans & goals will help.

If you haven’t already, maybe you should take a look at your specific body type and the recommendations for it. You might be able to figure out what’s been missing from your workouts so far.

Body Types

There are three main body types:

  • Ectomorph – lean, hard to build muscle, fast metabolism, usually tall with a thin frame
  • Endomorph – gains weight easily and has a harder time losing, natural muscle on an average frame
  • Mesomorph – ability to gain or lose weight with little effort, ideal body type for bodybuilding
body types
Different body types requires specific types of exercises & macros ratios.

Each link will provide you info on what to eat, the ratios of carbs to fat to protein, and the type of exercise to focus on. 

We’d love to hear from you on what body type you are, the struggles you’ve had, and what worked for you.

Sound off in the comments and let others who share your body type see your successes (and failures)!

The Bottom Line

When it comes to the question of how often you should work out, there isn’t a hard and fast answer. From what we’ve learned today, it seems that the optimal amount of days is between three or four each week.

Since everyone’s goals are different, the time invested and exercises or activities used will be different. 

For people who are looking to lose weight, a mix of resistance-training, strength-training, and cardio is ideal.

Building muscles requires a mix of resistance & strength training.

If you are looking to build muscle, you’ll want to focus more on resistance- and strength-training to fill your gym days. 

Toning Physique

Already have the muscle, and looking to tone your physique? Do a mix of cardio and resistance-training. You’ll want more cardio to lose weight and then ramp up the resistance training when you’re ready.

And remember, regardless of your goal, quality will win over quantity every time. You can easily spend 30 minutes getting a quality work out in.

There is no need to spend hours at the gym pumping iron – unless you want to and have the time.

gym workout
Spending out hours at the gym is not necessary for muscle gains.

If the thought of hitting the gym three or four times a week sounds like too much, pick another activity. You can hit the gym once or twice, and then pick something else that will help you meet your goals.

Flexibility is the name of the game for people who lead busy lives and is key to ensuring your goals are attainable. Make a list of activities and exercises you need to do, then get them into your calendar. 

outdoor training
Working out outdoors can spice up your training regime & boost your motivation.

Making time for yourself to get healthier and look better boosts confidence and reduces stress. Once you start making self care part of your daily life, it’s not something you can live without.

Do you agree with us on how often you should work out to meet your goals? What do you find is best for you? Do you work out and eat based on your body type? Let us know in the comments below!

Disclaimer: None of the individuals and/or companies mentioned necessarily endorse Old School Labs or COSIDLA Inc. products or the contents of this article. Any programs provided for illustration purposes only. Always consult with your personal trainer, nutritionist and physician before changing or starting any new exercise, nutrition, or supplementation program.
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Old School Labs™ is the maker of premium supplements that carry on the fitness values of the “Golden Era” of bodybuilding. Old School Labs™ products do not hide behind proprietary blends, contain no artificial sweeteners or artificial flavors, and are manufactured using only high-quality ingredients.

  • It’s all about the quality of your workouts not quantity, you can get way more done with less proper form that alot of horribly executed exercises

  • Getting up and going to the gym every morning helps put me in a good mood and sets the tone for the day. Try n go 5 to 6 days

  • I used to rely on calorie counters and would try to burn off EVERYTHING I ate through cardio only. Doing that did a doozy on my physique 😬

  • This article covered so much amazing material – from diet, to exercise, to every day activities, you guys really laid a broad foundation for the beginner or the expert – thank you again for all the quality content !

  • It really amazes me how my protocol has changed over the years. I started worker smarter and harder in less time. I used to go 7 days a week sometimes spending 2 hours just to get a whole workout in. Now i get that plus some done in 5-6 days going for an hour. Its all a learning process.

  • I used to be that guy who would max out almost every week and workout almost every day. As the years progressed, I cut it to 5-6 days a week. Now, for offseason, I’m doing low intensity fasted cardio every morning and I’m only training 3 days a week. Eventually I will change it and start to increase my frequency. But, as others have stated before, it’s always going to be quality over quantity. What I believe anyone, whether the average person or professional bodybuilder, can benefit from is learning their body type and working with it. As mentioned in the article above, I know for a fact I am a ectomorph where as my training partner is a mesomorph. It’s always going to be about the knowledge and learning what your body is and how it works.

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