Your body is a reflection of your habits. For results, you must expose yourself to the right exercises for your goal at a frequency that tells your body it’s time to adapt. In other words, shake up what your body is used to and introduce it to a new norm that it must condition itself to. That conditioning can come in the form of fat loss, muscle gain, increased strength, or learned skills – depending on how you train. Given this reality, it’s important to understand how many days of training are required to meet your fitness and body goals.
Certified personal trainers often tell clients they need to dedicate at least three days per week to training to garner any hope of results. But, in reality, trainers know that number should be at least four days per week. The three-day prescription is a compromise with clients, who on average have fallen so out of regular exercise that telling them to train for half of the week can sound overwhelming. However, as written above: Your body is a reflection of your habits, and training three days out of seven days per week is less than half the physical exposure the body needs to fully adapt to a regime. Below are general guidelines for how many days per week one should train for maximum results per each goal in the form of split routines.
What’s a Split Routine?
A split routine is the opposite of a full-body training regime. In a split routine (or split training schedule), specific muscle groups are trained on separate days, as opposed to all muscle groups trained during one exercise session.
The Benefit of Split Routines: Optimum Recovery
Growth happens in recovery. The danger of full-body routines is overtraining; or exercising muscle groups that have not recovered adequately from being exercised previously. As a rule, small muscle groups (arms, calves, abs) require approximately 2-3 days of recovery or rest for optimal muscle growth and repair, and large muscle groups (back, legs, glutes) require between 4-7 days recovery. Rest or recovery does not mean zero physical activity, but the intensity of physical activity should be decreased. As such, many professional training routines include “light” and “heavy” training days or “Pre-hab” days, in which muscles are still exercised but at a low intensity or with a focus on function or flexibility, for example.
Recommended Training Days Per Goal
Goal: Fat Loss & Muscle Growth/Tone
- The Minimum: 4 Days/Wk
- Optimum: 5+ Days/Wk
Four days of exercise offers enough stimulation for the body to begin making adaptions. This is the case for most people. Such is why a four-day training minimum is recommended over a three-day minimum from most trainers. Five days or more of training will help you lose fat faster than three days of exercise. Seven days of training per week, however, is often unnecessary. The body requires rest to avoid overtraining, prevent injury, and for muscles to recover and grow.
A sound fat loss weekly training schedule should include a blend of cardio and strength training. Cardio liberates fat and increases caloric burn during exercise; similarly, stress placed on muscle during strength training causes elevated caloric burn, except caloric burn from strength exercise lasts for days after training. The process of repairing and building muscle is a calorie burner in itself.
- The Minimum: 4 Days/Wk
- Optimum: 5+ Days/Wk
Skill training involves learning how to manipulate the body in space, using only your bodyweight or tools and structures, like rings, bars, kettlebells, etc. Common skills are handstands, muscle-ups, pistol squats, and flips. To master these skills, the body must make many adaptions: increased proprioception, muscular conditioning – and in some cases, corrective exercises may need to be done to address muscle imbalances before certain skill exercises can be embarked on. Further, a trainee might have to develop their patience and concentration, because unlike typical cardiovascular exercise or strength training, skill training frequently involves holding specific positions for long periods or repeating difficult exercises again and again. And then there’s the necessity of developing a tolerance for the dizziness that often comes with body inversion, tumbling, and manipulation that must be practiced.
Frequency is Key
To successfully acquire skills like handstands and others, like learning to walk for the first time, the body needs frequent exposure to the movements and progressions leading up to mastering a skill. This why training at least 4 days per week is recommended, and up to 7 days of training is not uncommon. The difference between training 4 days per week versus seven is the intensity of training embarked on for your skill goals. If your skill days consist of bodyweight only at low volume (a few sets and a few reps each set), training 7 days per week will not pose a great overtraining risk. However, having differentiated training intensities, switching up muscle groups, and throwing in a recovery day or two each week is still wise.
Conversely, if you’re skill training involves a lot of ring work, weights, and plyometric movements, training at such an intensity 7 days per week is unwise. Muscles worked at high intensity need rest for growth so you can come back stronger. As written above, “growth comes with recovery.” This is again where light/heavy days come in. Many trainees who do strenuous skill training have, for example, two heavy days per week, two light days per week, and one-to-two active rest days, e.g., stretching and pre-hab (e.g., band exercises, mobility exercises, etc.).
- The Minimum: 3-4 Days/Wk
No optimum amount of training days per week is necessary for this goal; just train at least 3-4 days per week. Of course, training beyond four days per week Is fine in a maintenance period. So long as good nutrition is followed, three-to-four days per week of exercise works well for most people desiring to simply maintain a specific level of fitness and body composition.
Sample Week of Training for Each Goal Above
Note: Although each sample schedule of training is written for one week in the same month, that does not mean one should follow the entire calendar of training days. Each week is meant to be viewed as a window into just one type of training: fat loss, muscle gain/tone, skill, or maintenance – separately. It is not recommended that all forms of training be embarked upon exactly as pictured, as each week is formulated for a different goal.
Not all goals, fitness levels, and body types are equal. Therefore, while 3-4 days of training per week might be sufficient for maintaining one fitness level, it might not be for another. For general good health and fitness, however, the above guidelines for the above-listed goals are effective for most trainees.
Interesting Video from a Neuroscientist About How Exercise Improves the Brain, and How Often She Recommends Training
“How Often Should You Work Out,” Healthline.com: https://www.healthline.com/health/how-often-should-you-work-out#4
“How Many Times Should I Exercise Per Week?” Livestrong.com: https://www.livestrong.com/article/503173-how-many-times-should-i-exercise/c
“This Is How Many Times Per Week You Need To Workout To See Results,” WomensHealth.com: https://www.womenshealth.com.au/how-many-times-per-week-should-you-workout
As an athlete for over 19 years and a broke single mom for most of that time, I created brokesinglemomfitness.com, now LLAFIT.com, to aid anyone who believes the road to fitness requires a lot of cash or time. In reality, the way to fitness is paved with knowledge and firm principles; teaching readers how to master both is the goal of this site. LLAFIT – Lifelong Applied Fitness