Most people know that exercise can be healthy. Find out whether working out 3 days a week is enough for a variety of fitness goals.
First of all, for most people, working out 3 days a week will be enough to gain muscle if they use a good workout plan, eat enough nutrients, and rest enough.
Losing weight is another popular fitness goal. Since most people can achieve this without exercise, by making changes in other lifestyle areas, working out 3 times a week can also be enough to see weight loss results.
Additionally, an exercise routine like this will generally offer benefits like improvements in mood, sleep, cardiovascular health, bone density, etc.
However, to hit the adult exercise guidelines for good general health, working out 3 days a week is generally not enough unless these sessions would be really long and intense.
Is working out 3 days a week enough to gain muscle?
To gain muscle in certain areas you have to challenge the muscles with enough pressure, do enough repetitions, give your body enough nutrients, and rest enough.
How much will be enough depends on things like what your workouts actually look like, your experience level, your genes, etc.
Resistance training beginners could even see results with just one day of strength training a week. Very advanced bodybuilders, powerlifters, and other individuals may need 4 or more days.
That being said, for most people, lifting 3 days a week, often even 2 days, should be more than enough to gain a nice amount of muscle.
In the second case, you could add a workout day with cardiovascular exercise too.
If you are not that advanced yet but you are not seeing results with the lifting frequency above, you likely need to implement a better workout program, eat more nutrients, or give your muscles enough rest in between training days.
One study divided 34 healthy resistance-trained men into three groups. These groups all did resistance training 3 times a week but the number of sets each group did per exercise varied (1 vs 3 vs 5).
The relevant result is that working out in the gym 3 days a week was enough for all groups to gain muscle and see improvements in strength and endurance (1).
That means that even the resistance-trained participants who only did 3 sessions of 13 minutes of actual working out were able to grow and strengthen their muscles.
Something to note is that the groups that did more sets also saw more results.
However, this study does show that it should be possible for most people to grow and strengthen their muscles with relatively short workouts 3 days a week.
And since muscle growth results seem to depend more on how much weight you lift per week instead of how often you work out, fewer days can likely offer nice results too (2).
Is working out 3 days a week enough to lose weight?
Whether this amount of exercise a week is enough to lose weight is a bit more straightforward than in the previous section.
Most people can lose weight without any exercise at all. That means the same applies to people working out 3 days a week.
To lose weight, more specifically body fat, you have to make it so your body requires more energy to function than is coming in from food.
At this point, your body starts turning to energy stores like body fat to get the remaining energy needed.
Working out can help with the weight loss process by making it so your body uses up more energy. However, that is definitely not the only way to influence this process.
Another way to get to the point of losing weight is to make changes in lifestyle areas like your diet.
If you are working out 3 times a week and not losing weight, you definitely want to take another look at these other lifestyle areas.
In short, working out 3 days a week can definitely be enough to lose weight since you don’t necessarily need to exercise to lose weight.
On the flip side, with bad habits in other lifestyle areas, even working out 5 days a week or more could not be enough to see fat loss results.
Other results of working out 3 days a week
Besides the two more specific fitness goals of building muscle and losing weight from above, there are also a variety of other positive results you can get from working out 3 days a week. Some of these include:
- Improved cardiovascular health: Even weight lifting workouts will engage your cardiovascular system. Working this to safe extents can strengthen it which reduces the risk of a variety of conditions.
- Better bone density: Besides activities like swimming, most exercise sessions put extra pressure on your bones. As long as you don’t overdo it, this can make them stronger or at least slow down degradation.
- Sleep quality and duration improvements: One of the habits that can positively influence sleep a nice amount is working out consistently.
- Better mood: Besides just reducing the risk of conditions that decrease your mood, exercise promotes the release of hormones that tend to make you feel better.
- Slow down aging: Exercising can slow down how fast certain age measurements progress. This tends to come with a reduction in risk of a variety of conditions.
These other results are harder to measure precisely but that does not make them less valuable.
Considering all these effects, for many people, it is definitely worth finding the time and courage to exercise 3 times a week or more.
How long does it take to see results from working out 3 times a week?
How long it takes to see these results depends on what you are keeping an eye on, your body, and other lifestyle habits like nutrition and sleep. That being said, there are some rough estimations you can make.
Some results like the extra calorie burning, mood improvements, and better sleep (tend to) happen in your first few workouts.
Next, muscle growth, bone density improvements, cardiovascular capacity improvements, and significant weight loss can happen in the first few weeks.
Especially if you are not used to exercising, approach your workouts right, and implement good habits in other lifestyle areas.
Lastly, the processes that cause the positive effects on your tendon and joint strength and aging do happen during each workout but to see significant results, it often takes a bit longer than a few weeks.
How effective is working out 3 times a week?
From the study above with the resistance-trained participants, you can conclude that lifting 3 or even 2 times a week can be very effective for growing and strengthening muscles. At least until some strength level.
When it comes to losing weight, you can get some idea of effectiveness in terms of how many calories you can burn extra in a week.
A 155-pound (70 kg) person will burn around 311 calories in a 30-minute spinning (indoor cycling) class.
If this same person follows the class 3 times a week, he/she burns an extra 933 calories per week (as long as their weight stays the same).
Since one pound (0.45 kg) of body fat is around 3500 calories, that would mean burning the equivalent of around 0.27 pounds of body fat per week in 3 workouts a week.
When it comes to effectiveness in other areas, it is hard to make many statements. Partly because of all the details that can vary and partly because of the lack of precise human knowledge.
Is it enough?
Since the muscle and weight loss effects were already discussed, the main question that remains is whether 3 days of exercise a week is enough for general health.
At the time of writing, the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion recommends the following exercise guidelines to adults (3):
- Moving more and sitting less throughout the day
- At least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity a week. Preferably spread throughout the week.
- You can gain additional health benefits by engaging in physical activity beyond the equivalent of 300 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity a week.
- Muscle-strengthening activities of moderate or greater intensity that involve all major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week.
These guidelines will obviously not be perfect for every single adult but they are a start.
In theory, you could add some cardio after your lifting sessions. In practice, this will be too much for your body and require free time blocks most people don’t have available.
Working out 3 times a week will generally not be enough to hit the exercise guidelines for optimal health.
Is it better to work out 3 days a week or every day?
Whether it is better to work out 3 days a week or more up to every single day depends on your body, sleep, stress levels, what exercise you do, etc.
That being said, if you approach it right, working out every day will generally offer more positive results. Even something like lifting 6 days a week which may sound crazy at first can be done successfully.
At the same time, freeing up more time for exercise is a good opportunity to implement cardiovascular workouts too if living healthy for longer is one of your goals.