How Often Should You Work Out?

An important part of putting together a fitness plan is deciding how often you want to train. Learn ways you can work around your schedule.

Resistance training can take on many forms. Your goals, current abilities, preferences and schedule can make all the difference.

How often you strength train is known as training frequency or frequency.

You should experiment with frequency like any other part of a strength training plan.

We generally look at frequency in two ways:

  1. How often you work out or the number of sessions per week
  2. How often you train a muscle group or exercise per week

There is a difference between the two. For example, you might train five times per week but, only train your upper body twice per week.

Some things to consider when determining strength training frequency include:

  • Training status (are you a beginner, intermediate, or advanced?)
  • Time of the year (is this a stressful time?)
  • What’s the focus of your program? (strength, muscle growth?)
  • What kinds of exercises are you doing? (are they difficult? What equipment do you have?)
  • What other kinds of training are you doing? (cardio, plyometrics, etc.)

Response to exercise can be very individual. Some people do better with more frequent training sessions. Others might do better with fewer sessions and more rest time.

When planning your own training, it can be hard to know where to start.

The National Strength and Conditioning Association recommends the following as a starting point¹:

  • Beginner: 2-3 sessions per week
  • Intermediate: 3-4 sessions per week
  • Advanced: 4-7 sessions per week

You can use training more often as a tool to make continued progress in your fitness journey. Frequency is one of the ways you can change a program over time to see results.

Another factor in training frequency is the length of your sessions. A general session can last anywhere from 30-90 minutes (or longer).

Most people train for 45-60 minutes 2-3 times per week.

Some prefer sessions as short as 30 minutes and train more often.

How you divide your sessions up is often called a “training split”. Splitting up those sessions often depends on your preferences.

Common training splits include:

  • Full-body
  • Upper/Lower Body
  • Push/Pull
  • Body-Part Splits (Chest and back/Shoulders and Triceps/Legs)

My preference for clients is generally a full body training split.

To see results, you should hit a muscle group at least twice a week. When spaced well, I’ll assign three full body sessions per week.

In each session, there is a focus placed on multi-joint exercises.

Those exercises target large muscle groups;

  • Chest
  • Shoulder
  • Back
  • Hip (Glutes)
  • Quads
  • Hamstrings

Focus on hip thrusting, squatting, deadlifting, bench pressing, pull-ups, overhead presses and rows.

These exercises are often called “main movements” or “core exercises”. They come earlier in workouts.

The exercises you train earlier and more frequently tend to be the ones you see the most improvement in.

The rest of your workouts can be filled in with “assistance” or “accessory” exercises. These are often used to target weaknesses or for looks.

Assistance or accessory exercises often target single-joints:

  • Upper arm-biceps or triceps
  • Abdominal muscles
  • Calves
  • Forearms
  • Upper Back

Say you want nice legs and shoulders for example.

You might start off your session with your core exercises:

  • Squats
  • Overhead Pressing
  • Hip Thrusts
  • Chin-ups

After you finish core exercises, you could target the legs and shoulders directly;

  • Leg curls
  • Seated Hip Abductions
  • Lateral Dumbbell Raises
  • Dumbbell Reverse Flyes/Rear Delt Raises

You might put together a weekly training plan that looks like the following:

An Example of a Full-Body Training Routine

Monday:

Paired Set A: Perform one set of each exercise back to back:

  • Squat (quads) 3x 8-12
  • Dumbbell Row (back) 3x 8-12

Paired Set B: Perform one set of each exercise back to back:

  • Romanian Deadlift/RDL (hamstrings) 3x 8-12
  • Push-up (chest) 3x 6-10

Accessory Exercises: Perform All sets of an exercise before performing the next:

  • Single Leg Glute Bridge (glutes) 2x 8-12
  • Band Standing Hip Abduction (glute accessory) 2x 20-30
  • Dumbbell Lateral Raise (shoulder accessory) 2x 8-12
  • Reverse Deltoid Raise (shoulder/upper back accessory) 2x 8-12

Wednesday:

Paired Set A: Perform one set of each exercise back to back:

  • Hip Thrust (glute) 3x 8-12
  • Eccentric Chin-Up (back) 3x 4-6

Paired Set B: Perform one set of each exercise back to back:

  • Reverse Lunge (quads) 3x8-12
  • Push-up (chest) 3x6-10

Accessory Exercises: Perform All sets of an exercise before performing the next:

  • RDL (hamstrings) 2x 10-12
  • Band Seated Hip Abduction (glute accessory) 2x20-30
  • Dumbbell Lateral Raise (shoulder accessory) 2x8-12
  • Reverse Deltoid Raise (shoulder/upper back accessory) 2x8-12

Friday:

Paired Set A: Perform one set of each exercise back to back:

  • Deadlift (hamstring) 3x8-12
  • Chest Supported Row (back) 3x8-12

Paired Set B: Perform one set of each exercise back to back:

  • Glute Bridge (glutes) 3x8-12
  • Dumbbell Incline Press (chest) 3x8-12

Accessory Exercises: Perform All sets of an exercise before performing the next:

  • Stepdown (quads) 2x 8-12
  • Band Standing Hip Abduction (glute accessory) 2x 20-30
  • Dumbbell Lateral Raise (shoulder accessory) 2x 8-12
  • Reverse Deltoid Raise (shoulder/upper back accessory) 2x8-12

Cool-down at the end of each day:

Stretch all your major muscle groups. Include your hamstrings, calves, quads, hip flexors, etc with exercises of your choice. Hold each stretch for 15-60 seconds.

For those who prefer upper/lower body training splits, simply add a day and move exercises around.

There's really no way for me to tell you exactly how often you should be training.

As you grow stronger, you body may change and you might benefit from some added rest. Consider training more often during less stressful times of the year. Slow down when you're overwhelmed and busy.

Hopefully I got some wheels churning in your brain. This process will take some experimenting!

References:

  1. Sheppard, Jeremy M, and N. Travis Triplett. “Program Design for Resistance Training.” Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, by Greg Haff and N. Travis Triplett, Fourth ed., Human Kinetics, 2016, pp. 439–468.

How much time will you prioritize to train? While you can train anywhere 2-7x a week, having a trainer means that time is spent efficiently.

Want to Start a Training Program?

If you didn’t learn to lift in high school or it’s been a while, a weight room looks like a maze of weights, switches, knobs and bros.

Do more than just go pick up a dumbell; let’s create a plan to build strength, get sustainable results (and look like you know what you’re doing).

We’ll start with the basics of strength training and you’ll walk out with (a starter amount of) confidence.

Phone: 1-573-443-1495