Q: How many times should I be working out?
A: Simply depends on your long and short term goals.
Let's explore that in more depth.
In current times working out is not a priority. In fact the average American works out an average of two hours weekly. That's not enough! According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), your should exercise 20 to 60 minutes, three to five days a week for health/fitness promotion (ACSM 1995). But then how many times a week should you?
If you follow typical personal trainer or magazine recommendations they will traditionally advice 4 times per week while more mainstream health magazines or shows advice on 3. What's the right amount for you to stay healthy? To lose weight? Or gain muscle?
If you are just getting back into the rhythm of things after taking a long break from exercise or have not been in an exercise routine, then training 3 times a week is a great way to start. You get a rest day in between all your workouts and you start with a foundation that you can slowly add more too. Exercising only three days a week may be enough for some to improve their fitness, but it will take more exercise to see further improvements.
After you've began on a routine and are being steady with the three times a week I would suggest you add an extra day and then once you've established a routine of going 4 times consistently add another day. The workouts should be tailored to your fitness goals. For example if you are trying to lose weight than a good 35-50min strength and conditioning routine with an added 25-30 minutes of cardio at the end is a solid foundation to your weekly routine. However, if you trying to increase other factors such as power, strength or increase muscle size (hypertrophy) than spending a bit more time in the free weights are is recommended.
Don't make the mistake however of following someone else's routine. Hire a trainer to begin with or consult with someone prior to any exercise regiment. I know that for my clients I actually discourage them from wanting to train with me 4-5 x/week the first month. We start slow with 2-3 sessions and slowly add a session over time. The slower you progress to adding more sessions the more your body slowly adapts and responds better to your desired goals.
Often people are told that they should not lift weights on consecutive days, whereas they are told that they should do cardiovascular exercise as often as they can. However, there is nothing wrong with lifting weights every day and similarly nothing wrong with running every day or doing your favorite type of cardiovascular work.
One of the most important questions you should be asking yourself isn't how many times I should push hard at the gym, but how my eating habits are. Those will truly impact your results more than anything else. Progress little by little, don't jump into an advanced routine if you haven't laid the foundation for your body to learn the basics. Start with a workout routine that challenges you 3 times a week and then progress to more.
As your lifestyle adapts to your workouts you can add more days and rest on the days that either your schedule is too busy or you feel the need to mentally and physically relax. Often now too people will talk about over training. This tends to happen more to those that do not sleep enough and don't eat properly for their goals. So ensure you are feeding your body what it needs to properly keep recovering properly.
As you become more and more advanced there is nothing wrong with working out 3 times consecutively and resting one. This is what I personally do.