Is working out three days a week enough?
It’s one of the questions we get over and over again, especially as people start planning out how to get back onto the wagon.
Time and time again, studies show that the number one excuse for why people don’t exercise is, well, time. There’s just not enough time in the day.
So wouldn’t it be great to know that working out 3 days a week is enough? And if so, can you see results working out 3 days a week?
None of us want to go through the effort of exercising (even if just for three days) if we’re not going to see results. And it’s logical to think that going to the gym twice as much will yield twice the results.
But is that right? Don’t be so sure.
We dig into the research and compare dozens of fitness programs we’ve done in the past to share the facts on how many days a week you should work out and what results to expect.
is working out 3 days a week enough?
The answer is not one-size-fits-all and changes based on your goals. Is working out three times a week enough to build muscle? Is working out 3 times a week enough to lose weight? What about for marathon training?
For the time being, let’s ignore all of these factors and go straight to the research.
According To Science
In an interesting study out of the University of Oklahoma, Stillwater, twenty-eight fit, young men worked out either 3-days or 6-days a week for six weeks.
Each of their workouts varied by intensity but included traditional strength training exercises like bench presses, deadlifts, and squats. At the end of the study, each man tested his powerlifting gains and fat-free mass.
The findings showed that it didn’t matter if the men trained 3 or 6 days a week. Instead, the most important factor was the volume and intensity of each workout.
This means that low-intensity workouts every day mean diddly-squat against well-structured, intense workouts just 3 days a week!
These findings are further corroborated in various other studies like, ‘High-Frequency Resistance Training Is Not More Effective Than Low-Frequency Resistance Training in Increasing Muscle Mass and Strength in Well-Trained Men,’ and, ‘A meta-analysis to determine the dose response for strength development.’
This last study sums up their results by recommending ‘training programs designed to optimize the effort to benefit ratio.’
Their team at Arizona State University, Mesa recommends high-intensity workouts 2 days a week for ‘trained individuals’ and 3 days a week for ‘untrained individuals.’
So, with all of this research, what does it all mean? More importantly, how do you know if your workout routine has enough intensity and volume?
According To Experience
What happens to your body when you exercise 3 days a week?
Based on our experience working with thousands of clients, our own results, and the scores of workout programs we’ve done, we do think that three days a week is enough. That means you can expect the same results whether or not you work out 3 days a week or 5 or 7.
However there is one big asterisk: the workout program must be properly structured.
No matter what, you could work out every day for two hours a day and see no results if your workouts are cobbled together, DIY-style. Given that there are many affordable workout programs out there — here are some of the most effective we’ve ever found — there really are no excuses.
Here’s a general workout schedule that fits the bill with the correct volume and intensity to give you results:
- Monday – Chest/Triceps with Core (strength training and cardio/HIIT mix)
- Wednesday – Back/Biceps and Shoulders with Core (strength training/weightlifting)
- Friday – Legs with Core (cardio/HIIT)
(The above is modeled after LIIFT4, a 4-day a week workout program that we love which includes strength training and HIIT. We’ve linked to a sample workout above.)
Also, the off-days shouldn’t be “cheat” days, but active recovery days where you focus on stretching or active hobbies like dancing and jogging. Our Couple’s Yoga Flow Routine is perfect for these days.
Generally, Ryan and I prefer to work out more than the 3 days a week. Frankly, while we believe in the science, we don’t fully believe in the psychology. And you need both. Plus, we like to keep our workouts short to around 30 minutes a day.
Keeping up momentum, feeling energized, and being in a routine are also powerful components to a workout program. Plus, we find that on the days we work out, our nutrition is better.
So, we found our sweet spot at strength training each part of our upper and lower bodies weekly over four days, and allowing our bodies ample recovery (and muscle growth) days. But that’s not to say that you can’t accomplish the same thing in three days a week.
Is Working Out 7 Days a Week Bad?
For the people with specific fitness and competition goals, you may feel like you want to work out more often. Depending on your goal, the science may not support that working out 7 days a week will give you better results than 3 days a week.
However, with enough variation, periodization, cross-training, and recovery, there’s nothing wrong with staying active every day.
Experiment for yourself to find your best ‘effort to benefit ratio.’ And don’t forget to track your progress with our free Fitness Tracking Body Measurement Chart downloadable PDF.
How Many Times a Week Should I Work Out?
We all start from somewhere, and if even working out 3 times a week is daunting, just know that getting in movement every day helps. Better habits and building your routine might be a big enough goal for you today. There’s nothing wrong with that!
According to The Blue Zones, the world’s healthiest and longest-lived populations don’t go to the gym, ever. Instead, they cook real foods, eat clean, and build daily mindless movement into their day. From activities such as gardening, cleaning, taking the stairs, and walking, these all count towards a healthy lifestyle.
(By the way, walking is a great way to weight loss. Here’s our math behind this walking to lose weight chart.)
At the very least, try to log 150 minutes of activity a week — the standard recommended in the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans by the Department of Health. This isn’t just for weight loss, but also heart health, mood, and injury prevention.
So what do you think? Is working out 3 days enough? From our research and experience… yes! Just make sure you make the most of your workouts and follow a well-structured program. We created several comprehensive programs that are available for free. Enjoy!
Get in touch if you need any help!
8-Week Bodyweight Workout Plan
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- Videos of the 70 best upper body, lower body, core, and total-body cardio exercises with professional instruction to ensure proper form.
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- A program guide built for your current fitness level: beginner, intermediate, or advanced.
- Access to all future revisions to the program.
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Hey we're Ryan and Alex
The creators of Ryan and Alex Duo Life. We are a husband-wife duo and “lifestyle engineers.”
After eight years working in the corporate world as engineers, we left our high-powered jobs to tackle our true passion — helping couples engineer their best lives.
The synergy of our engineering minds and ten years of health coaching experience produced Ryan and Alex Duo Life. Our mission is to help you transform your bodies, minds, and relationship as a couple.
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