Working out is full of so many numbers, from reps to sets to seconds in between exercises. It's a lot to keep up with! It's like trying to color-coordinate your closet after a huge vacation – no easy task. To make the effort you put in worthwhile, it helps to know you're doing the right amount of exercise in order to see results. Once you've figured out whether to do cardio or strength training, you're left with one important question: "How often should I work out?"
To get you a straight answer on this ever-elusive question, we got expert advice from certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and Youfit Health Clubs' Master Trainer, Philip Cruz.
How Many Days Per Week?
A great place to get started is making a calendar and scheduling out all the workouts you plan to check off for the week. Cruz recommends you aim for at least three workouts a week on nonconsecutive days.
"If you choose to work out more often, plan on changing up the intensity of the workouts so that your body can recover after a tough workout," he told POPSUGAR. That means if you just tackled a day full of lower-body exercises, like squats, lunges, and deadlifts, you'll want to balance out that workout with a lower intensity cardio session to help with recovery.
Cruz also cautioned that, if you do work out on back-to-back days, you shouldn't train the same muscle group intensely, so your body can recover and come back stronger.
How Long Should Each Workout Be?
We've got the number of days down; now how long do you need to buckle down for each day? Cruz recommends that "workouts last anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes." The range depends on the intensity of the workout. The rule of thumb is, the more intense the workout, the shorter it should be.
For longer workouts Cruz suggests splitting them up into 30 to 45 minutes of weight training, then finishing off with 20 to 30 minutes of cardio. If you're a bit squeezed for time, Cruz's go-to workout is a 30-minute circuit or high intensity workout.
What Type of Exercise Is Best?
Alright, we know how many days and how long to sweat, but how exactly should you be breaking that sweat? Thankfully, planning workouts is a little easier then perusing meal prep ideas, so you don't go crazy eating the same thing every day.
"There are many different ways of working out," Cruz told POPSUGAR. "You can do an interval style workout on the elliptical, resistance train using cables or free weights, or even take a group class."
Variety and consistency are the key. By continuing to do similar workouts and exercises over time you'll feel the movements get easier, and you'll get that satisfying feeling of moving up to the next pair of dumbbells. If you're sticking with three days per week, Cruz recommends breaking those days up into upper body, lower body, then finishing with a core and cardio workout. You'll be able to get the benefits of strength training and cardio. Plus, who doesn't love a little extra core?
We're idealists, planning to do every workout we ever committed to, reading every book, and even flossing twice a day. But it's important to be realistic. Cruz even admits these recommendations are based on an ideal situation, and to never feel guilty or get down on yourself if you miss a workout or have to cut one short.
"Anything is better than nothing" Cruz reassures us. Ultimately you have to experiment and find what works best for you. Everyone is different and every week is different. Some weeks we're fresh off a rejuvenating Netflix marathon, and others you might feel like your to-do list is never ending.
Just remember that consistency is the most important thing. One moment doesn't define you — and one workout won't make or break your goals.