Work very hard on your workouts, but do as little as possible in between them. Extra work will defeat your purpose.” —Peary Rader, American bodybuilder, and Olympic lifter
My man Peary had it right: You don’t need to work out every day to get fit.
There’s no blanket answer for the question of how many times a week you should work out, but there are specific schedules you can adapt depending on your fitness goals.
I’m going to assume you want the spend a few days a week working out as possible while still getting results. I’m also going to assume you’re not training for a marathon.
If you’re with me so far, let’s examine three possible fitness goals to see which one fits you. From there, we’ll figure out how many days a week you need to work out to accomplish that goal.
Start by Determining Your Fitness Goal
People who exercise typically have one of three goals:
To burn fat
To build muscle
To maintain their results
A lot of first-time lifters think they can hit all three goals at once. Let’s clear that up right now: You can’t.
The reason is, it’s insanely difficult to burn fat and build muscle at the same time. This “holy grail” of fitness is called body recomposition, and it’s incredibly difficult.
You’ll need to pick one goal before moving forward.
Let me offer some advice—burn fat before you build muscle. You look more cut when you’re lean because new muscle isn’t hidden under a layer of fat.
Don’t worry, you can switch goals later if you want. When I first hacked my fitness, I wanted single digit body fat. Now I’m working to add muscle and bulk up.
Once you know your goal, it’s time to set a schedule.
How Many Days A Week You Need For Each Goal
Based on the idea of a Minimum Effective Fitness Protocol, or the shortest amount of time needed in the gym to achieve our desired results, here’s the breakdown by a goal.
1. Burn Fat: 45-60 minutes, 3 days a week
Dedicate one day to each of the three main compound lifts:
Overhead press (push)
You can add in secondary lifts on each day if you want, but don’t overdo it.
2. Build Muscle: 45-60 minutes, 4-5 days a week
My preference here is four days with your push day being split into separate days for chest and shoulders:
Bench press (push - chest)
Overhead press (push - shoulders)
If you’re all about aesthetics and want to do a fifth day for arms, you can. I think it’s a waste of time.
Don’t be deceived by your newbie gains if this is the first time you’ve lifted heavy. You’ll actually go through body recomposition—burning fat while building muscle—but your progress will slow down.
3. Maintenance: 45-60 minutes, 3 days a week
The same schedule you had for burning fat, only this time you eat more calories.
You aren’t going to gain body fat, but your strength gains will come slower than they did before. Have patience and stay disciplined so you don’t fall off the wagon and lose your gains.
You Won’t See Results If You Don’t Take Rest Days
On workout days, give max effort. On rest days, don’t do shit.
It really is that simple.
When you’re doing compound lifts three or four days a week, your body needs those in-between days to recover so you’re ready to give max effort again the next time.
Don’t climb a mountain on your rest day, or enter a Tough Mudder, or do HIIT with your girlfriends because the hot Singaporean fitness guy with 100,000 followers dropped a new video.
On your rest days, as Peary said, do as little as possible.
Your body will thank you!
Author Bio: Jay Kim a full-time desk jockey and fitness hacker. He works with world-class athletes and other high performers to help them achieve the fitness results they need and shares his methods at http://hackyour.fitness