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How Often Should You Go to The Gym: The Ultimate Guide

If you’re asking "how often should I go to the gym", you’re likely new to the gym or having some doubts about your current routine. Whatever the case, let's clear things up

The consensus within the fitness community is that you should be working out at the gym 3-5 times per week, with each session lasting between 45 minutes to an hour.

But why? 

If you regularly use Tiktok and Instagram, you’ll find people training almost 2 hours per workout or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, only 30 minutes. Some people train 3 days a week, and others 6 days a week.

I train 3-4 days a week for around 90 minutes a session and while I’m no Chris Bumstead, I’m proud of the physique that I’ve developed over the years. In this guide, I’ll explain why you should be training a minimum of 3 days per week to get a great physique. Yes… Only three

Me 3 years apart

How Often Should You Go To The Gym

How often you go depends greatly on your goals. Is it weight loss? Muscle gain? General health? Most people go to the gym to get in shape. So going forward, that’s the goal we’ll use. Also, we’ll be focusing on muscle building more than weight loss because weight loss is directly linked to diet rather than training.

To build muscle effectively, we break down training by muscle group. We have chest training, back training and legs training. This is called Push/Pull/Legs in the gym community and is the most bang for your buck routine.

With 3 days of training a week, you can hit all the big muscle groups and maximize recovery using the remaining 4 days of the week.

Add a short tricep workout to your chest day and a bicep workout for your back day, and you’ll effectively work out your arms too. 

But maybe you feel like you want to train your arms more, or maybe your shoulders are lagging behind. All you have to do is add another day of training, an Arms Day.

The point is, with a basic plan of Push/Pull/Legs, you can add on a 4th or 5th day to maximize your training. It’s not necessary, but you will get better results as long as your diet is good and you’re getting enough recovery.

How Long Should You Train Each Session?

A meta-analysis states that based on their findings, “it would appear that performance of at least 10 weekly sets per muscle group is necessary to maximize increases in muscle mass”.1

Doing 10 sets with 2-minute rests in between would roughly get you 45-60 minutes in the gym. But that’s if you focus on the major muscle groups of the chest, back or legs, not including triceps, biceps and shoulders.

Endurance and time are factors to consider. Doing 20 sets a day is daunting. A better alternative to that is to stick with 10 sets of the major muscle and 5 sets of the minor. You can then combine those minor muscles, 5 sets each, on an arm day. This would get you to around 90 minutes in the gym per day.

If you’re a beginner, it’s better to ease into the gym rather than go all in. The same meta-analysis I referred to earlier concluded that there is a dose-response relationship between training volume and muscle growth.

The more sets you do (up to 20), the more muscle growth you’ll get. This way, you can do as many sets as you can handle and work your way up week after week.

An example for a beginner could be 8 sets of chest followed by 3 sets of triceps.

To sum it up, how long you’re in the gym largely depends on how many sets you do and how much you rest in between each set. You’ll be looking at 45-90 minutes.

Rest Days

Rest days are all about prevention of the negatives that would occur if you didn’t take them and promoting positives when you do. Let me explain

When we engage in resistance training, it results in microscopic damage to muscle fibers called microtears. The body then needs time to repair the damage and strengthen the muscles. It is collectively agreed in the fitness space that without sufficient rest, performance can be negatively affected, and muscle growth may be reduced.

A statement article by the European College of Sport Science and the American College of Sports Medicine highlights the importance of preventing overtraining rather than “curing” symptoms as they come along. You can read this article on deloading to help you understand how you can maintain maximum performance and, by extension, muscle growth by giving the body adequate time for recovery.

Rest days also promote good mental health, which may sound strange since it’s common knowledge that exercising provides good mental health. You have to remember that pushing yourself hard in the gym puts a lot of stress on your nervous system. In controlled amounts of 3-5 days, maybe spread out across the week, it is optimal. But 6-7 days, and without a deload week for extended periods, can lead to depression, not enjoying your workouts, and difficulty sleeping.

It’s important to experiment with your training and rest days to better understand what’s optimal for you and your goals.

The Beginners Guide to Gym Routine

I’ve provided a whole lot of information, and you may or may not have an idea of how you want to go about the gym. Here I’m going to provide a short guide on how I would go about the question, “How often should you go to the gym.”

My Goal: Gain as much muscle as possible.

This assumes that I’m getting in sufficient protein and calories and that I’m training with good form. If you’re a skinny guy or girl, you’ll need to know what the best bulking foods are.

To be the most efficient with my routine, I’ll use the Push Pull Legs model. 

Push day: Chest, Triceps and side delts

When working the chest, you’re also working the front of your shoulders (front delts), and when you’re working the upper back, you’ll also be working the back of your shoulders (rear delts). Side delts are the only ones missing adequate usage, so I would add lateral raises to my push day.

Volume: 6-7 sets Chest, 3 sets Triceps, 2 sets Side delts.

Add an extra 1 or 2 sets where you’d like if you’re not completely exhausted.

Back day: Upper Back, Biceps, [Extra] Rear delts or Forearms

Volume: 6-7 sets Upper Back, 3 sets Biceps, [Extra 2 sets] Read delts or Forearms

Leg day: Quads, Hamstrings, Calves

Volume: 3 sets Overall legs, 2 sets quads focus, 2 sets hamstring focus, 3 sets calves focus

With this routine, you get a balance between difficulty and results. You’ve hit all major muscle groups that will give you the most muscle growth and get you in shape. It’s worth noting that when you hit chest, your triceps are also working, and when you hit back, your biceps are also working. Doing 3 sets of isolation for the bicep and tricep is still, however, superior to that and even more so if you did another 2-3 sets. 

[Extra] Arms day: Triceps, Biceps, Shoulders

Volume: 5 sets Triceps, 5 sets Biceps, 2-3 sets shoulders (Front Delts or Side delts)

Maybe you’re not ready for an arms day, or maybe you couldn’t live without it. If you want to maximize your growth, get as close as possible to that minimum of 10 sets per muscle group.

Wrap up

So if my goal was to gain as much muscle as possible, whether you’re a beginner or not, I’d follow the structure of Push Pull Legs and train at least 3-4 days a week. I’d use the remaining days to focus on recovery, which means my diet and caloric intake. If I feel like I can take on more, I’ll go to the gym an additional day to train an underdeveloped muscle group.

It would also be wise to spread Push Pull Legs throughout the week. For example, Push = Monday, Wednesday = Pull, Friday = Legs, and Saturday = Arms.

Word of advice, always have a rest day after arms day since you’ll be engaging your triceps/biceps on push/pull days, respectively.

Finally, DON’T skip leg day.

References:

  1. Schoenfeld BJ, Ogborn D, Krieger JW. Dose-response relationship between weekly resistance training volume and increases in muscle mass: A systematic review and meta-analysis. J Sports Sci. 2017 Jun;35(11):1073-1082. doi: 10.1080/02640414.2016.1210197. Epub 2016 Jul 19. PMID: 27433992.

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