Though most people are aware that participating in some form of regular exercise is important, the subject of frequency remains an area of debate and confusion – and for good reason. Striking the right balance between exercising enough to reap the rewards and avoiding overexertion is crucial.

For this article, we will focus on optimal frequency for structured, intentional exercise rather than activities of daily living—because, if you don’t already know, you should be moving your body every day!

Before we dive into the specifics, let’s re-establish why exercise frequency matters: Regular physical activity has a profound impact on various aspects of health, both mental and physical. It improves cardiovascular function, strengthens muscles and bones, enhances flexibility, aids in weight management, and boosts immunity.

Exercise is also a great stress reliever, promoting the release of endorphins that elevate mood and combat anxiety and depression. If taking care of your body is important to you (and we hope it is), then regular exercise should be non-negotiable!

That said, optimal workout frequency ultimately depends on the individual. We will focus on three main things that will factor into the right frequency for you: intensity/duration, fitness level, and current condition.

How often should I be working out?

Pillar #1: intensity/duration

The intensity and duration of a workout impact the optimal frequency, largely due to the recovery time required. This is why ideal frequency varies between types of exercise (cardiovascular exercise, resistance training, flexibility work, etc.)

For example, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) might require fewer sessions per week than moderate-intensity cardio for similar benefits. HIIT is high-impact and requires less time, however, the intense nature of the style is taxing and requires longer recovery. Excessive HIIT reduces the effectiveness of the technique because the body needs time to heal in order to perform with optimal speed and power; the point of HIIT is to work at (or close to) your maximum level of output.

On the other hand, a moderate yoga session or jog may be repeated daily. Generally, these types of workouts are more gentle on the body and require less rest between sessions.

On the subject of duration, it’s important to remember that exercise duration exceeding ninety minutes can tip the intensity scale. Any exercise activity performed for a long period of time will elevate the intensity and require more recovery.

pillar #2: fitness level

Perhaps unsurprisingly, someone looking to maintain overall health and well-being does not need to exercise as often (or intensely) as a competitive athlete. In other words, your fitness level and conditioning (along with your goals) are important factors to consider when determining how often you should exercise.  

Experienced trainees may have no issue with working out daily, while beginners or individuals returning to exercise after a break may need to start with a lower frequency and gradually increase as fitness improves.

Jumping into an intense exercise program without a solid base of fitness can increase the likelihood of injury and weaken results. Imagine trying to tackle a black diamond run the first time you put on a pair of skis: best case scenario, you won’t make it down on your feet; worst case scenario, you injure yourself. If you want to ski the black diamond safely, you need to start on the bunny hill and work your way up through the green and blue runs.

The same concept applies to fitness frequency. If you try and train every day with no experience, you could exhaust or hurt yourself. Beginners should start with a couple of weekly sessions and work their way up from there.

pillar #3: current condition

Age and existing health conditions play a crucial role in determining exercise frequency. Older individuals and those with certain medical conditions may need to adjust their exercise regimen accordingly.

As always, it’s important to talk to your doctor before beginning and exercise program. Total health and wellbeing should always be at the forefront of your fitness goals.

optimal frequency

Now that we’ve explored the factors to consider, here are some general guidelines for exercise frequency to help you determine the right frequency for you. 

Cardiovascular Exercise: For overall cardiovascular health, aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity cardio spread throughout the week. This translates to about 3-5 sessions per week. Beginners may start with 2-3 sessions and gradually increase frequency.

Strength Training: Engage in strength training exercises that target major muscle groups on 2-3 non-consecutive days per week. Adequate rest between strength training sessions is essential for muscle recovery and growth.

Flexibility and Mobility Work: Incorporate stretching, yoga, or mobility exercises 2-3 days per week to maintain flexibility and reduce the risk of injury. These can be done on rest days or after workouts.

Rest & Recovery: Don’t underestimate the importance of rest and recovery. Allow muscles time to repair and grow by incorporating rest days into your routine. Active recovery activities like walking or gentle yoga can also be beneficial.

Listen to Your Body: Pay close attention to how your body responds to exercise. Fatigue, persistent soreness, and decreased performance could indicate the need for more recovery time.

Variation & Progression: Periodically vary your exercise routine to prevent plateaus and overuse injuries. Gradually increase intensity, duration, or frequency to challenge your body and make progress.

Consult a Professional: If you have specific health concerns, consult a healthcare provider or fitness professional. They can help you design a safe and effective exercise plan tailored to your needs.

final words

Optimal exercise frequency isn’t a one-size-fits-all concept. Striking the right balance between pushing your limits and allowing adequate recovery is key to unlocking the full benefits of exercise.

Whether you aim to shed a few pounds, enhance your athletic performance, or lead a healthier life, tailoring your exercise frequency to your unique circumstances will set you on the path to success. If you’re struggling to develop an exercise program that’s right for you, personal trainers (like us) are here to help!

Click here to set up a free initial consultation and start your fitness journey today.