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How often to work out for health, strength, and weight loss

03/23/2021 06:00AM | 2736 views

How often a person needs to work out to see results will depend on their fitness goals. Losing weight, building muscle, and increasing endurance and stamina each require a different approach to training.


Exercise has a range of important benefits. It enhances overall health, helps a person maintain a moderate weight, relieves stress, and can promote restful sleep. 

Due to this, what people wish to achieve through exercise differs among individuals. Some people may use exercise as a weight loss technique, whereas others may want to build their strength.

This article addresses how often a person should work out based on their particular goals. 

It is advisable to consult a doctor before starting any workout or strength training program, as they can offer advice on how to work out safely and minimize the risk of injury.

At its most basic level, weight loss is about solving a math problem. 

A person must burn off more calories than they take in on a daily basis. Some of the ways a person can accomplish this include:

  • eating fewer calories each day than they burn off 
  • increasing their physical activity to burn off more calories 
  • increasing their muscle mass so that they burn more calories at rest 

There is controversy surrounding whether exercise alone is enough to achieve weight loss. 

For example, some research suggests that exercise can cause the body to start to compensate by adjusting metabolism as a means to hold on to body fat. 

Exercise still has a role to play in weight loss, but for maximum benefits, a person should combine it with a healthful calorie-controlled diet that reduces their calorie intake. 

Researchers also note that continuing to exercise after weight loss can help stop people from regaining the weight. 

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommend a combination of cardiovascular training and strength training to boost health and burn calories. 

Cardiovascular training 

The AHA recommend getting at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity throughout the week. 

A person can also engage in a mix of moderate intensity and vigorous activities should they prefer.

Example of moderate intensity activities include:

  • brisk walking at a speed of at least 2.5 miles per hour (mph)
  • dancing 
  • gardening 
  • riding a bicycle slower than 10 mph 
  • tennis 
  • water aerobics 

Examples of vigorous activities include:

  • hiking, particularly uphill or while wearing a heavy pack 
  • jumping rope 
  • running 
  • swimming 
  • taking an aerobics class 
  • vigorous yard work, such as digging 

Ultimately, a person can gain the greatest health benefits by engaging in at least 5 hours of physical activity a week. 

Strength training

Strength training involves using resistance to build muscle. 

Muscle can help make the body more metabolically active, increasing the rate at which it burns calories. 

The AHA recommend engaging in moderate-to-high intensity resistance training on at least 2 days of the week. Examples of approaches to resistance training include:

  • Lifting weights: This could involve using weight machines or free weights to perform exercises such as biceps curls, bench presses, and leg presses. 
  • Using body weight for resistance: Exercise examples include lunges, squats, and tricep dips. A person does not require any equipment to do these.
  • Using resistance bands: Resistance bands are stretchy elastic bands that help increase the amount that a person’s muscles must work. Resistance bands vary in tightness, with tighter ones increasing the exercise intensity. A person can perform exercises such as squats, lunges, biceps curls, and triceps extensions using resistance bands. 

Anyone who is new to exercise and unsure where to begin may wish to consult a certified personal trainer. A trainer can advise the individual on what exercises are suitable for their level of health and fitness, as well as how to perform them correctly and safely. 

Just as there are various possible approaches to exercise and weight loss, a person can take different approaches to building muscle mass through weight training. 

Weekly training schedules 

The following are some examples of weekly muscle-building training schedules and their benefits. 

High intensity interval training (HIIT)

HIIT is a weight training approach that involves alternating short bursts of high intensity exercise with brief recovery periods.

Often, these sessions are shorter than traditional weight-training sessions, usually lasting about 15–30 minutes

The benefits of a HIIT approach to resistance training is that a person can achieve muscle mass gains and improve their cardiovascular capabilities without spending a lot of time in the gym. 

The following is a sample HIIT workout from the American Council on Exercise. The total duration is 20 minutes: 

First set: 

  • 20 seconds of high-knee running
  • 20 seconds of diagonal jump-ups
  • 20 seconds of burpees
  • rest for 60 seconds
  • repeat for 5 rounds for a total of 10 minutes

Second set: 

  • 20 seconds of ankle touches
  • 20 seconds of squat jumps
  • 20 seconds of pushups
  • rest for 60 seconds
  • repeat for 5 rounds for a total of 10 minutes

A person can perform this routine 1–3 times a week with at least 1 rest day between workouts. For example, they could complete the workout on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

Extended strength-training sessions 

literature review of more than 15 studies comparing weight-training approaches involving different numbers of sets found that the higher the number of sets per week, the greater the muscle growth. 

The researchers concluded that a person would have to work each muscle group for about 10 sets of 10-to-12 repetitions once weekly to experience the greatest gains in muscle mass.

A person can accomplish this in one of two ways. The first method involves adopting a full body exercise routine that addresses each muscle group.

The second option is to train on a “split.” This means that a person performs resistance exercises on designated muscle groups in one session, then works different muscle groups in their next workout. 

Some people utilize a training split to give their muscle groups a rest between sessions. 

Full body training

A full body training program involves working each of the major muscle groups in one session. These muscle groups are the abdomen, arms, chest, hips, legs, shoulders, and upper and lower back. 

A person can accomplish this using free weights, their own body weight, machine-based weights, or a combination. 

According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), people can perform the following exercises to work the major muscle groups: 

These are just some of the sample exercises that a person could include in a full body training session. 

A person will typically perform 2–3 sets of 8–12 repetitions

Training splits

A common approach to training splits is to do resistance training for the upper body in one session, then focus on training the lower body in the next. 

According to the ACSM, an upper and lower body training split involves training each muscle group on 2 days of the week. 

A sample schedule could look like this:

  • Day 1: Upper body day — exercises that work the biceps, chest, middle and upper back, shoulders, and triceps. 
  • Day 2: Lower body day — exercises that work the abdominals, buttocks, calves, hamstrings, and quadriceps. 
  • Day 3: Rest day.
  • Day 4: Upper body.
  • Day 5: Lower body.
  • Day 6: Active recovery day — a light cardiovascular workout, such as jogging, swimming, or walking.
  • Day 7: Rest or active recovery day. 

If a person trains regularly and increases the weights they use as their strength progresses, they are likely to see results regardless of their specific training program. 

Some people may find that a certain training approach is more effective for their body type. 

Learn about the best way to build muscle for different body types.

Exercise programs for enhancing aerobic capacity and building muscle strength can vary. 

Often, the “best” exercise program is the one that a person is willing and able to perform on a routine basis. 

With regular efforts and increasing intensity, a person should see their desired results over time.


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