If you’re anything like me, movement is a highlight of your day. Whether it’s
walking, running, Pilates, HIIT training, or yoga, exercise keeps me refreshed, clear-headed, and feeling my best. But considering how good it is for you, does that mean you should be working out every day? TBH, the answer really depends on exactly what you’re doing to ensure you aren’t overtraining. So how much is too much?
To be clear: There is nothing wrong with taking rest days. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends adults do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio (or 75 minutes of high-intensity cardio), plus at least two strength training sessions, per week. So, depending on your schedule, you could meet these minimums in just a few days. But if, say, you prefer shorter workouts, you could feasibly find yourself dedicating more days to your fitness routine, hence the need to know how to do that in a way that optimizes your efforts and doesn’t undo them.
Meet the experts:
Rebecca Stewart, CPT, is a certified personal trainer, mobility coach, and pain-free performance specialist.
Josh Bonhotal, CSCS, is a certified strength and conditioning specialist and Future trainer.
Whitney English, CPT, RD, is a certified personal trainer and registered dietitian.
Katrina Pilkington, CPT, is a certified personal trainer and fitness educator.
It’s also important to shift your mindset on what exercise can look like, says Rebecca Stewart, CPT, a certified personal trainer, mobility coach, and pain-free performance specialist. “If your definition of a workout is a high-intensity, sweaty, all-out gym session, then no, you shouldn’t be working out daily,” she explains. “Variety is important not only physically, so you have time to recover, but also mentally so you don’t feel like you’re getting into a rut doing the same thing.”
That said, how many times a week you should get sweating depends on your goals (and, to some degree) preferences. Here’s the low-down on the pros and cons of working out every day—plus guidelines for making daily exercise work for you.
How much exercise is ideal?
As a refresher, the gold standard is to achieve 150 minutes of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes of high-intensity cardio, and at least two strength training sessions a week, says Stewart. “It seems like a big commitment when it’s written out that way, but when you break it down you can cover your moderate-intensity cardio with a brisk 20-minute walk per day, or a 30-minute walk five days out of the week,” she explains. “This generally can be covered as part of your lunch break, or a nice post-dinner movement break.”
That said, your ideal amount of exercise will depend on your goals, says Stewart. Here’s what she recommends for the following fitness goals:
- Weight loss: If your goal is to lose weight, Stewart says to aim for daily movement. “Ideally, you should attempt to include two to three strength training sessions per week and filter in other activities around those sessions,” she explains. Think 30 to 60 minute full-body training, or alternating between push and pull workouts, she explains. The remainder of the week could include a daily 30-minute walk or gentle yoga.
- Strength: Training for strength requires extra rest when you’re lifting heavy weights, says Stewart. “Aim for two to three weightlifting sessions per week with a mix of heavier and lighter days,” she explains. On the days you aren’t lifting, supplement with moderate-intensity cardio and low-impact recovery like yoga, mobility training, and stretching, she adds.
- Muscle building: For general muscle gain, you should include two to three days of resistance training in the 10 to 15 rep range for three to four sets per exercise, says Stewart. And yes, resistance training for muscle building can include bodyweight exercises, cable or weight machines, free weights, and/or resistance bands, she adds.
- Cardio endurance: If you’re new to fitness or getting back into regular exercise, start with 10 to 15 minutes of cardio activity a day until you slowly increase to 150 minutes throughout the week, says Stewart. Try walking, swimming, biking, elliptical, climbing stairs, rollerblading, dancing, and/or jumping rope.
Okay, but how do you know your amount of exercise is right for you and your goals? “A good rule of thumb is to pay attention to how your body is feeling and if you believe you’re recovering properly, so you’re not overly tired or sore,” says Stewart. If your body feels good, then you’re most likely in the optimal range. “It’s also okay if your amount of exercise varies during different parts of the year,” she explains. “We all have busier seasons and it’s important to honor that without adding more stress into your life.”
7 Benefits Of Working Out Every Day
Whether the idea of daily sweat sessions brings you joy or sounds overwhelming, moving your body every single day offers some pretty legit potential perks.
1. You’ll be less sedentary.
Many adults spend 70 percent (!) of their time awake sitting, according to the Mayo Clinic—a fact that’s wreaking havoc on public health.
Committing to making some sort of exercise a daily part of your routine helps combat this—and ultimately makes it easier for you to make the habit stick, says Future trainer Josh Bonhotal, CSCS. “This removes an all-too-common tendency to rationalize not working out by convincing yourself that you’ll do it tomorrow instead,” he says. Whether it’s a walk outside or a strength training session, a daily commitment to movement means a less sedentary (and healthier) life.
2. You’ll be more likely to reach your fitness goals.
The true key to achieving whatever fitness goal you’ve got your sights on: consistency.
“Stringing together workouts on a daily basis can help you gradually ramp up their intensity and difficulty over time, leading to even greater results,” says Bonhotal.
3. You’ll enjoy a major daily mood boost.
Elle Woods knew what she was talking about. Moving your body daily not only supports your physical fitness, but your mental wellbeing, too. “Exercise helps to release endorphins, a.k.a. happy hormones, which can help reduce stress and anxiety,” says trainer and nutritionist Whitney English CPT, RD. In fact, researchers consistently identify exercise as a noteworthy treatment for depression.
Plus, daily exercise can ease symptoms of stress, depression, and anxiety, says Stewart. “A simple 10-minute walk or yoga session can greatly increase your wellbeing, just note that exercise should be a compliment rather than a replacement to formal mental health treatment,” she explains. “It’s a piece of your self-care toolbox.”
4. You’ll think more clearly, too.
Exercise has been shown to improve both memory and problem-solving ability, according to research from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (It may also protect you from neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, per a study published in Frontiers in Neuroscience, if you needed another motivation to get moving.)
On top of that, regular exercise improves energy levels which boosts mental clarity, says Stewart. “If you’re a person that gets a post-lunch or mid-afternoon slump, and you tend to reach for more coffee, taking a quick 15- to- 20-minute walk can have a better effect on your energy level than a cup of coffee would,” she explains. “Just don’t exercise too close to bedtime because you could find it harder to fall asleep.”
5. You’ll be more likely to eat better.
For many people, exercise and healthy eating go hand-in-hand. “If you’ve just worked out, you’ve made a conscious investment in your health, and are more likely to pass up the potato chips for a healthier alternative,” Bonhotal says.
Daily exercise may also help you better practice moderation with after-dinner drinks and late-night snacks, according to English. (That second glass of wine may not appeal as much when you know you’ve got a 6 a.m. run planned the next morning!)
6. You’ll increase mobility.
A regular workout routine promotes mobility which lets you move with more ease throughout the day, says Stewart. “Resistance training promotes muscle strength and greater bone density, but mobility helps reduce the chance of injury and pain while we age,” she explains.
7. You’ll sleep better.
Regular-to-moderately vigorous exercise (either strength training, cardio, or both) correlates with improved sleep quality and duration, says Stewart. As a result of high-quality snoozing at night, you’ll promote muscle recovery and feel better in your day-to-day activities. “Your body rebuilds and recovers at rest, so you need quality sleep in order to achieve your goals,” she explains. “It’s a two-way street.”
The Potential Downsides Of Working Out Every Day
While the benefits of exercising daily can be ~so~ real, there are three major potential drawbacks to keep in mind.
1. Inadequate recovery time can hurt your progress.
In case you think daily exercise means daily high-intensity exercise, know this: “Your gains don’t happen until you recover from a workout,” says trainer Katrina Pilkington, CPT.
Strength training, for example, breaks down muscle tissue, adds English. If you want to see the results you’re working for, you need to give your muscles adequate time (ahem, days) to repair. Otherwise, you may physically overtrain your body and ultimately undermine the effectiveness of your workouts, she says. (Excess fatigue and unusual aches and pains signal you’re doing too much.)
2. Mental burnout is a very real thing.
Another serious downside of doing too much too often? A quick departure from motivation station.
If you don’t vary your daily workouts enough (nope, you definitely can’t do the same HIIT session every day), you can quickly experience psychological burnout and become unmotivated to stay active, Bonhotal says. And you can’t enjoy the benefits of daily exercise if you bail on the habit.
On the other hand, you want to prioritize rest and recognize the need for recovery, adds Stewart. “If you start to feel like you have to workout every day or bad things are going to happen, it might be time to scale it back.”
3. Injuries can halt your progress and movement.
Overexercising can lead to repetitive injuries if you’re using improper form or not varying your training modalities, says Stewart. Without giving you body adequate recovery, you’re upping the risk of fatigue, injury, and overuse which can set back your goals and hinder progress, she explains.
How To Balance Your Fitness Routine So You Can Work Out Every Day
To skip the burnout and get straight to the benefits of daily workouts, you’ve got to get strategic with your routine.
Low intensity: If you gravitate toward low-intensity exercise (like walking or yoga), you can pencil it in every single day because it doesn’t stress your system, says English.
High intensity: However, if your workout style tends toward higher-intensity exercise, alternate between tougher days and easier days in order to give your body a break while still staying active, Pilkington explains.
For example, if you do HIIT on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, stick to lower-intensity workouts on Tuesday, Thursday, and the weekend.
Weight lifting: Varying your intensity is also key if strength training is part of your plan. In this case, alternate which muscle groups you focus on so that you don’t work the same parts of your body on back-to-back days, suggests Pilkington. If you do a lower-body workout today, for example, focus on upper body tomorrow. That schedule naturally gives some muscles a rest day while you work another area of the bod.
Strength and cardio: To incorporate both strength training and cardio, either tack light cardio onto the end of your strength sessions, or use cardio days as buffers between strength training days, suggests Bonhotal.
Cardio exercise: Doing back-to-back cardio days? Mix up the intensity there, too. “If you want to run multiple days in a row, for example, you would be wise to mix up a longer duration run one day with a sprint workout or shorter intervals the next,” he explains.
Whichever approach appeals to you, your weekly routine should include workouts that match your goals but still allow enough rest and recovery to make daily training safe. Keep a “live to fight another day” mentality, Bonhotal says. This way, you leave enough gas in the tank to get after it tomorrow.
How To Tell If Your Daily Workouts Are Too Much
If working out every day is pushing your body too far, a few tell-tale signs will pop up to let you know it’s time to pump the breaks. If any of the following ring true, shift toward low-impact cardio workouts and other forms of light exercise like walks, yoga, and mobility training, Bonhotal says.
1. You’re crazy sore or in pain.
Muscle soreness can be a totally normal part of exercising, but if it lasts for more than a few days or makes it hard just to walk around during the day, it’s an indicator that you’re doing too much in the workout department, says Bonhotal.
Injuries (like muscle tweaks and pulls) also signal that you aren’t giving your body enough rest and recovery to handle daily exercise, English says.
2. Your cycle is off.
Excess stress on the body can affect your menstrual cycle, so be wary of any changes to your period when exercising daily, English notes.
3. Your mood and energy are all over the place.
Overdoing it on exercise also impacts your mood and energy levels—so if you find yourself fatigued and irritable, your everyday workout routine may be to blame, according to Bonhotal.
4. Your appetite changes.
Another side-effect of going overboard with the daily sweats: an up-and-down appetite, Bonhotal says. In fact, both a diminished appetite and crazy cravings can signal that something is off.
Exercising every day sounds great, but how many days a week do you need to work out?
Again, the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends adults log at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio, plus at least two full-body strength sessions, per week to support overall health.
If you want to exercise seven days a week, aim for about 30 minutes per day, English says. If not, Bonhotal recommends shooting for at least four days of workouts per week. Ultimately, though, it all depends on your individual goals (and schedule!).
Andi Breitowich is a Chicago-based writer and graduate student at Northwestern Medill. She’s a mass consumer of social media and cares about women’s rights, holistic wellness, and non-stigmatizing reproductive care. As a former collegiate pole vaulter, she has a love for all things fitness and is currently obsessed with Peloton Tread workouts and hot yoga.