Countless articles offer advice on how you should be working out, when the best time to exercise is, and how often you should work up a sweat — sometimes offering conflicting viewpoints on the matter. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that at the very minimum, adults should be getting 2 hours and 30 minutes (150 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (e.g., brisk walking) every week, as well as engaging in muscle-strength training activities two or more days a week, which work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms). It may sound like a lot to squeeze into a hectic week, but if you’re looking for results, you have to make time as you would for anything else and schedule gym time the way you would a dinner date or a lunch.
So, how much time should you be carving out of your schedule for gym and/or workout time to actually see results and gain significant health benefits?
Fortunately, there’s no need to play guessing games when it comes to how often you should be exercising. There seems to be a definitive answer to this frustrating and confusing question that may motivate you to work out more (or less) depending on how many times a week you regularly hit the gym. If you’re already one of the lucky motivated ones who works out five to six days a week — keep it up! You might even want to consider adjusting your routine to something less intense if you can still reap the same results and benefits.
Exercise scientist Shawn Arent at Rutgers University explained how often you should be working out in order to see the benefits. Arent, in an interview with Business Insider, said that you should try to exercise three days a week. “A minimum of three days per week, for a structured exercise program. Technically, you should do something every day, and by something I mean physical activity — just move. Because we’re finding more and more that the act of sitting counteracts any of the activity you do,” says Arent.
That said, don’t be discouraged if you can only squeeze in two sweat sessions a week to start. It’s important to remember that some exercise is certainly better than none. However, Arent warns that exercising just two days a week might not yield the results you’d like to see.
But there’s an interesting split between exercising two days per week and three days per week, and it has to do with the frequency you stimulate the system. So with three days per week — you get significant gains early on, and you’re going to want to progress beyond that three, ideally. Two days per week, you don’t get much change — you just don’t do it frequently enough to have some of the other positive health outcomes that come along with it.
If you’re more of a sedentary guy, starting off small with two days a week is great. This will keep you motivated without overextending yourself, but over time, it’s best to add on days for additional benefits as long as you don’t take it too far. Gradually building up your workout sessions seems to be the consensus with cardio and movement.
Just don’t forget the strength training you should be adding to your routine. To build some muscle and see results strength-wise, Certified Personal Trainer and strength coach Lee Boyce explains in a Men’s Fitness article that you should focus on three big movements: squatting, dead-lifting, and bench pressing. Boyce says that four days a week of training should do the trick when adding in a day for isolations, weak links, and other specifics. Strength training, as he notes, requires heavy lifting and sets, which have a greater impact on fatiguing the nervous system, making recovery time vital. That said, it’s OK to take a day off in between. Rejoice.
So what does this all mean? It means that you if you really want to see noticeable results in your health and physique, you’re going to have to put in the time. There is no substitute for time, unfortunately. Combining cardio, interval training, strength training, and let’s not forget diet, is a sure-fire way to keep you on track. It will not only make you feel good after the workout, but you’ll feel the long term effects as well — and that should be motivation enough. So get moving.