When it comes to healthy weight loss, including both cardiovascular exercise and strength training in your overall program is key to losing and keeping off the pounds. While you may have a core understanding of this information, knowing the number of days you need to exercise can be confusing.
To lose weight, plan on exercising five days a week, with two to three of those days spent at the gym participating in strength-training activities.
How Much Gym Time?
The general recommendation for safe weight loss is no more than 1 to 2 pounds per week. If you want to lose 1 pound each week, you need to create a 3,500-calorie deficit, which means, you need to burn off 3,500 more calories than you eat in one week or 500 calories each day.
With that in mind, adhering to a five-day-per-week exercise schedule should help you reach your goals. Since fitness looks different for everyone, all five of these days don't have to be at the gym.
If you enjoy outdoor aerobic activities, you can choose to do your strength training, plus one to two cardio sessions, at the gym three days a week and do your other two days of cardio outdoors. But if the gym is where you like working out, there are plenty of activities to spread out over your five days, including cardio equipment, weight training and fitness classes.
Exercise for Weight Loss
Health.gov's Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends at least 150 to 300 minutes a week of moderate-intensity or 75 to 150 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise.
To lose weight, the guidelines also recommend going beyond the 300 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity a week. Additionally, they recommend doing strength-training activities that involve all major muscle groups at least two days each week.
How much you need to move beyond the 300 minutes depends on a variety of factors, including your current weight, age, caloric intake, gender and your goals.
Cardio for Weight Loss
Perform cardio exercise three to five days a week for 30 to 60 minutes each session. These sessions can be moderate-intensity exercises such as walking, swimming, or cardio equipment at the gym.
If you choose to do high-intensity interval training, you can reduce the total amount of time. For example, do sprints alternating with jogging intervals on the treadmill for 20 to 30 minutes. Stick to two days of high-intensity interval training and three days of moderate-intensity cardio sessions.
To maximize your time spent doing cardio exercise, consider choosing physical activities that burn the most calories in the least amount of time. This typically involves using the large muscles of your lower body at an intensity that's equal to moderate or vigorous, such as running, cycling and most cardio machines.
Importance of Strength Training
Sure, sweating it out on the treadmill is going to increase the number of calories you burn. But to lose weight, it's also a good idea to include at least two to three days a week of strength training. Including resistance training in your overall fitness routine helps you increase lean muscle mass, which helps to increase your metabolism and burn calories at a higher rate.
Structuring Strength-Training Workouts
To get the most out of your two to three days at the gym, focus on full-body workouts that include compound exercises such as rows, squats, lunges and chest press. Structure your gym workout according to some basic guidelines:
- Choose one to two exercises per body part, for example, squats and lunges for lower body, chest press for shoulders and chest, rows for back and biceps and planks for core and upper body.
- Perform two to three sets of eight to 12 repetitions of each exercise.
- You can also mix in pushups, planks, pullups and arm exercises such as dips and biceps curls.
- Follow an alternate-day schedule. For example, do a full-body strength-training workout on Monday, Wednesday and Friday or Tuesday and Thursday if you're only doing two days of resistance training.
Read more: Strength Training for Losing Weight
Flexibility and Rest
To round out your fitness routine, make sure to include flexibility and stretching exercises on your workout days. And don't forget about rest: Schedule at least one to two days of rest each week. You can participate in active recovery exercises such as yoga or light stretching on your rest days.
- Mayo Clinic: Strength Training: Get Stronger, Leaner, Healthier
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: How Much Physical Activity Do Adults Need?
- New England Journal of Medicine: Aerobic or Resistance Exercise, or Both, in Dieting Obese Older Adults
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Losing Weight
- Health.gov: Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd Edition
- Mayo Clinic: Metabolism and Weight Loss
- Mayo Clinic: How Many Times a Week Should I Go to the Gym to Lose Weight?