Remember, it’s important to be realistic about your own schedule when you’re asking yourself, How many times a week should I work out? If four days makes more sense for you than five days, do that. But if five days is reasonable, great!
Either way, here’s how (and when and why) to crush it at each one.
Strength Training: 2–3 Times Each Week
Why: Strength training is a super important way to keep your body functional for the long haul, says Fagan: It helps prevent the bone loss and muscle loss that comes with aging. It also strengthens your joints too, says Tamir.
How: To build muscle mass, you should try to work each muscle group two to three times a week, says Tamir. So in a two- to three-day strength plan, this means you should aim to do full-body workouts—you’ll want to hit the major muscle groups of your upper and lower body, including your glutes, quads, hamstrings, chest, shoulders, back, arms, and core. That might sound like a lot, but that’s where compound exercises come in. Moves like squats, lunges, rows, and chest presses work more than one muscle group at a time, so you get more bang for your buck.
You also want to have a balance between pushing movements (like an overhead press or chest press) and pulling movements (like with a row). Remember, strength training is not just about free weights or machines—mastering bodyweight moves will challenge your muscles too.
Shoot for 12-15 reps per set when you are just getting started, says Fagan. Once you’ve become more comfortable with the moves, you can decrease the reps as you add more weight. One to two sets of each exercise is enough for your first month, after which you may want to increase it to three, she says.
You should do different moves in each of the three strength sessions, but repeat those same moves every week.
“I would stay with a program for four to six weeks and progressively increase the weight,” says Tamir. “[The week before your last week] I would have a little bit of a drop-off to give your body a little bit of a recovery, and the last week, really push it hard.”
How Long: A strength-training session should last 40 to 60 minutes, plus foam rolling and a quick warm-up beforehand.
Cardio: 2–3 Times Each Week
Why: As important as it is to strength train, cardio has its place in a balanced workout routine too. “Doing cardio keeps your circulatory system working optimally, helping you to recover faster…[and it] keeps your endurance up,” says Tamir. “It also increases your VO2 max, which helps your body utilize oxygen.”
How: You’ve got a ton of options: an outdoor jog, a bike ride, the good old elliptical machine if your gym is open and you feel comfortable going—the list goes on. Functional movements, like kettlebell swings, and agility work can also count as cardio, as long as you’re doing enough reps during a certain time frame to keep your heart rate elevated.
“Whether something is cardiovascular depends on where your heart rate is at and how long you’re doing it for,” says Tamir. Target heart rates are different for everyone, but Tamir suggests that a good baseline to aim for during your cardio routines is between 120 and 150 beats per minute for 45 to 60 minutes.
Another option is interval training, where you work hard for a short amount of time and alternate that with recovery periods, says Tamir. The best part? You can do this with pretty much anything—indoor row machine, bike, running, functional movements, you name it.