How to schedule your week of workouts

Hi, friends! Today, we’re talking about how to schedule your week of workouts. And this is a topic that I’m frequently asked about, so I wanted to do a full post on it. And you can follow me over on Instagram for more tips!

Even though small daily habits add up to create change over time, what you do over the course of the week matters too. I think it’s really important to look at your workouts on a week-by-week basis to make sure you’re scheduling and completing them in a smart way to maximize your results and give your body variety. 

I share my weekly workouts each week in my Friday posts. And even though I’m in the fitness world as a group fitness instructor, my weeks are not perfect. But I recap them each week to show you the structure I strive for — variety, but smart variety.

What I’m going to share with you today is how an ideal week could look for you, and I’m also answering some common questions about workouts.

How to schedule your week of workouts

How to schedule your week of workouts by A Lady Goes West

How you schedule your workouts each week is actually quite dependent on your goals, lifestyle and needs, so everyone will be different.

By the way: The information I’m providing here is for the average everyday beginner or intermediate exerciser. When it comes to professional athletes and physique competitors, their training styles and routines need to be incredibly structured and precise, following a specific program. But if you’re just someone who wants to feel good and look good, you don’t need to make things too complicated. And you don’t have to follow a program, although those can be very beneficial depending on your goals. We’ll get to that later.

How many days a week should you work out?

It depends on what you can reasonably fit into your lifestyle and schedule and your goals.

As a general rule: You should work out at least three times a week to stay consistent, build on your progress and get results. And you could do as many as seven times a week, as long as you are smart about it.

You should also strive to space your workouts out throughout the week, rather than fit them all into a weekend or a couple days. Monday/Wednesday/Friday is better than Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday, to support proper recovery and performance.

But it should go without saying that if life gets busy and you can only fit in two workouts over the weekend back to back, that’s much better than doing no workouts at all that week.

How long should your workouts last?

Your workouts can be as short as 20 minutes and as long as 60 to 75 minutes or so.

The length of the workout should probably depend on the intensity. A high-intensity interval training session done right should never be longer than 25 minutes or so, because you’ll be totally exhausted. Whereas a yoga class or steady-state cardio session could go as long as 75 minutes.

It’s great to have a variety of workout durations during the week.

However, just like the last point, if you only have 15 minutes to devote to your workouts each day, that’s always better than not doing anything at all.

How to schedule your week of workouts - by A Lady Goes West - June 2020

What elements should you include in your week of workouts?

No matter what your goals are, every week should include all four of these elements …

  1. Cardio exercise (like cycling, running, fast-pace walking, aerobics, BODYATTACK, BODYCOMBAT, kickboxing, dancing or anything that gets your heart-rate up)
  2. Resistance training (like BODYPUMP or like using weights, resistance bands, gym equipment or your own bodyweight in order to challenge your muscles)
  3. Flexibility training (like yoga and stretching to lengthen and mobilize your muscles and joints)
  4. Recovery (like a rest day or foam rolling to encourage repair)

You can do these elements on separate days, or you can combine a couple of them each day to fit them all in.

Do you have to take a full rest day each week?

Yes (with an exception noted below).

You guys know how much I preach about the rest day. And that’s because exercise can be a little addicting, and sometimes it feels so good we want to do it every single day. But exercise can also tear down your body if done too often, without the right recovery. In fact, when you don’t properly rest, you run into overtraining issues. You can get injured, mess up your hormones, impact your sleep or just plateau your performance. 

I’ve always said that your rest day should include nothing but walking or light yoga. And I still mostly think that’s the right idea. But I do think that some forms of lighter workouts, like a super low-impact cycle session or a flowing light Pilates could also be acceptable, depending on your fitness level.

If you’re really active, and you are good about stretching and foam rolling and sleep, then you may be able to get away without an “official rest” day, and instead do something super light. But if your body is sore and you have low energy, that’s a sign you may just need to take a day fully off of formal exercise to truly rest.

Usually, it’s great to have one to two rest days a week. I always go for one.

Can you do the same workout more than once a week?

Yes, you can do the same workout more than once a week.

However, you wouldn’t want to do that same workout on consecutive days. And ideally, you wouldn’t repeat an exact workout (for instance a 30-minute steady state, 3-mile run outdoors or the exact same weights circuit) twice a week. Mix it up, and build on intensity.

For example, I may do BODYPUMP twice a week, but it’s typically a slightly different routine. And every few weeks, I try to add weight in some tracks or do even more push-ups on my toes than the last time. The point is to continue to challenge yourself, rather than get stuck in a repetitive rut.

I wouldn’t do the exact same BODYPUMP routine two days in a row. Because you don’t want to re-work the same exact muscle groups within 24 hours, as that doesn’t give them enough time to repair and recover and rebuild.

Can you do the same workout every day of the week?

(This is a question that some of you will say, DUH, no brainer, NO. But then it’s also a question that some of us who are obsessed with a certain workout program or studio may really struggle with. Why can’t you do the same workout every day? Isn’t working out good for you? But I feel so great when I’m doing it? How is that bad? Let me explain …)

I wouldn’t recommend doing the same workout every day of the week. And I certainly wouldn’t recommend doing high-intensity interval training every day of the week. Just don’t.

It’s important to remember that the body begins to adapt to the challenges we put it through, and then you get less out of those workouts. If all you do is run every single day at the same pace, eventually, your body will get on auto-pilot, and you won’t see as big of a benefit from that repeated workout. And with high-intensity work, too much of it can start to break your body down.

As I said at the beginning, you want to include the four elements of cardio, resistance, flexibility and recovery each week. And it would be hard to do the same workout every day of the week to fit all those in.

Switch it up, but switch it up with a plan. It’s also not smart to do something entirely different every day of the week, because then you won’t make progress in certain skills. Smart variety means a little bit of planned repetition, which we’ll get more into in a bit.

Week of workout scheduling - by A Lady Goes West - June 2020

What should you focus on if you want to gain muscle?

Weights! If you really want to gain muscle, I’d recommend doing at least three full-body resistance workouts with weights a week of at least 45 minutes each, and you’d also want to pick up medium-to-heavy weights, not just 5-pounders — to get to true fatigue. Then, you could do some HIIT and light cardio on other days for overall fitness.

Example week for full-body workouts to gain muscle:

  • Monday: Full-body weights workout
  • Tuesday: Steady state cardio
  • Wednesday: Full-body weights workout
  • Thursday: HIIT cardio workout
  • Friday: Rest day or light yoga flow
  • Saturday: Full-body weights workout
  • Sunday: Rest day

I’m a fan of full-body workouts, because I find them more enjoyable, and also, if they are structured with supersets, sometimes you get your heart-rate up and get a little cardio benefit at the same time. Although, it’s also beneficial when you want to build muscle to do heavier sets and rest in between, without adding that cardio element.

You could also try splitting up parts of the body, if you want to lift weights more often each week.

Example week for upper and lower-body split workouts:

  • Monday: Upper-body workout (shoulders, back, biceps, triceps)
  • Tuesday: Lower-body workout (legs, glutes, abs)
  • Wednesday: HIIT cardio workout
  • Thursday: Upper-body workout
  • Friday: Lower-body workout
  • Saturday: Steady state cardio
  • Sunday: Rest day

There are also more specific muscle splits, but honestly, I think that’s only necessary if you have a specific physique goal. There’s no need to be so precise in your training.

You’ll also need to be eating plenty of food, including the right ratio or carbs, protein and fat, in order to put on some muscle. If you’re under-eating, you’ll have a very hard time adding any muscle mass. The pre- and post-workout meals are of supreme importance here too. After your workout, you’ll want to consume protein and carbs to replenish your muscles within an hour or so.

What should you focus on if you want to lose weight?

Everything! Oftentimes we think that the best way to lose weight is to do loads and loads of cardio. And yes, I do think that cardio is the primary way to exercise to burn calories. But you also want to spend time doing enough resistance work to build and maintain muscle mass, because muscle is expensive and naturally makes your body more of a calorie burner throughout the rest of the day. (A BIG benefit!)

In fact, I think the mistake that many people make is that they are cardio heavy in their workouts, forgetting the weights, and this isn’t going to do you any favors long term.

For weight loss, your cardio sessions should be 20 to 30 minutes for high-intensity work and 45 to 60 minutes for steady state or interval cardio.

Example week of workouts for weight loss:

  • Monday: Steady state cardio
  • Tuesday: Full-body resistance circuit training
  • Wednesday: HIIT cardio 
  • Thursday: Full-body resistance circuit training
  • Friday: Interval-based cardio 
  • Saturday: Low-impact steady state cardio
  • Sunday: Rest day

Of course, let’s not forget that losing weight is also a lot about your hormone balance and your nutrition and lifestyle. But that’s for another post.

How can studio or branded group fitness classes fit into your workout week?

This is the biggest question I get! And the answer is a little complicated.

First of all, you have to think about the group fitness/studio class in question. Does it focus on the whole body? Is it high intensity? Is it high impact? Does it involve weights? 

Most of the time studio classes are full-body and include a combination of cardio and weights. If that’s the case, I’d always put a day in between doing these workouts for rest or variety. 

Here are some popular formats …

  • Reformer Pilates — This is typically full body and includes resistance. I would recommend always putting a day in between these workouts so your body can recover. I would say three times a week is a good maximum here. 
  • Orangetheory Fitness — This is typically full body and includes high-intensity, high-impact and all sorts of equipment. I would recommend always putting a day in between these workouts and limiting to a maximum of three times a week.
  • Barry’s Bootcamp — This is super high-intensity, high-impact and requires all sorts of equipment, but some days involve muscle splits. Even though some classes are muscle splits, I would still recommend putting a day in between these workouts and limiting to a maximum of three times a week.
  • Barre — Here’s where I think you can do the same workout on consecutive days, but not every day. It would be okay to do a barre class maybe three to four times a week, because there is usually no impact. But you do focus on a lot of the same muscles, so it’s always better to put a rest day in between to get the most benefit.
  • Dance — Dance classes are a great way to get your cardio workout in. Some can be intense, but many provide just general cardio benefits, without too much intensity. I probably wouldn’t use dance classes as your only form of cardio, but they are safe to do maybe three to four times a week.
  • Cycling — Cycling classes are a great way to get your cardio in, and they do provide a little bit of resistance work for your legs and core, but I wouldn’t actually call them full body, even if you pick up tiny weights for one song. I think it’s safe to do cycling classes three to five times a week, but you should always complement these classes with work OFF the bike. It’s okay to do a cycle class two days in a row, but not the same exact class, something with a different focus, like a climb one day and a race another day.
  • BODYPUMP — This Les Mills program is a full-body resistance class with a ton of repetition per muscle group. I recommend doing this class once or twice a week, with at least 48 hours in between the workout.
  • BODYATTACK — This Les Mills program is a full-body sport cardio class with a lot of impact and a little bit of bodyweight training. I recommend doing this class once or twice a week, with at least 48 hours in between. (Try this class, as well as BODYPUMP, using my free 30-day trial to Les Mills On Demand here.)

Example week of workouts with studio classes that combine weights and cardio:

  • Monday: Full-body studio class
  • Tuesday: Steady state cardio
  • Wednesday: Full-body studio class
  • Thursday: Long walk or rest
  • Friday: Full-body studio class
  • Saturday: Yoga
  • Sunday: Rest day

How to create your workout week - by A Lady Goes West - June 2020

How do you incorporate cardio and weights into one workout? Should you do cardio first or second?

This is a very popular question. The answer is that it depends.

Before your workout, you want to warm up. Oftentimes people like to warm up with cardio before doing weights. But, I actually recommend warming up with dynamic moves that you’ll be seeing in your workout or warming up with just a few minutes on incline on the treadmill or the rower — not focusing on the “cardio” aspect, but on the movement of the muscles aspect.

If you want to get the most you can out of your resistance work, then you should do that portion first, and follow up with cardio exercise.

But if you prefer to do your cardio first, that’s totally fine. It’s a preference thing. Yet, if you find you are struggling to finish your weights workout (and sometimes ending it early and skipping sets after having completed cardio first), then you should switch it up and see how your body feels with weights first.

How to schedule your workout week - by A Lady Goes West - June 2020

How do you incorporate ab workouts into your week?

Well, the trainer side of me will say this: Every workout is an ab workout if you are properly engaging your trunk muscles and doing it right.

While there are plenty of ab-focused workouts like Les Mills CXWORX, POP Pilates and more, you don’t actually have to do an ab workout separately each week, although it doesn’t hurt to do them.

If you want to do an ab workout, I’d add it on to the end of your weightlifting sessions. You don’t want to do too much to exhaust your core before a weightlifting workout, because that could compromise your form. It’s okay to do steady state cardio after a core session, but you may not want to do HIIT, because you could struggle a bit with body control and jumping if your core is exhausted.

The good news is that if you are doing studio classes, you’ll likely do “abs” at the end of each workout, so that would cover your bases. 

How can you improve your results with your workouts each week?

Here’s where a structured “program” can come into play.

To be totally honest, I am not on a program, but I have been before in the past. I choose to do a smart variety of studio workouts every week, mixed with a solo workout, and that works for me. I feel fit, I enjoy my workouts, and I challenge myself. I don’t follow a program.

However, if you have specific goals to improve your performance in a certain way, or if you really want to change your body composition and build muscle, you’ll want to follow a structured program, which not only includes a combination of workouts each week, but each week will build upon the next.

Typically, when you work with a personal trainer, they will write a program for you. Or of course, some of the app-based exercise programs, like the Kayla Itsines BBG and the Kelsey Wells PWR, are structured workout programs for the masses. You’ll see the difficulty increase as the weeks go on, which is always the best way to get results over the long term.

But this is something you can do on your own. All you need to do is continue to change the training stimulus and work a little harder in your workouts each week, picking up heavier weights, running a little faster, or holding your plank a little longer. Tiny improvements become big improvements as the weeks go on.

Week of workout scheduling by A Lady Goes West - June 2020

(In these pictures, I’m wearing this top, this watch, these earrings, these leggings and using this percussive recovery gun.)

Overall, the best way to schedule your week of workouts …

What I’m trying to get at in this post is that you should have smart variety.

Each week, you want to do two to four cardio sessions, two to four resistance sessions, take a rest day and focus on stretching and flexibility after every workout. You also want to vary the intensity and the duration of your workouts.

If you have only three days a week to work out, that’s totally cool, but use them wisely. If you have all seven days to work out, make sure to include enough rest and recovery so that you don’t experience overtraining injuries.

And one very important point: If you haven’t found a workout format or program that you like yet, keep trying.

There are so many ways to sweat out there that you shouldn’t settle on something that you dread. Life is too short for terrible workouts! 🙂 

Thanks for reading this one, friend! I’ll see you over on Instagram.

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Questions of the day

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What’s your favorite way to sweat?

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  1. My quarantine fitness routine has been ever evolving, but here’s my current schedule which I think I’ll be sticking to for a while:
    Sunday: 3 mile family stroller run
    Monday: Rest
    Tuesday: Grit Strength
    Wednesday: Rest
    Thursday: Body Combat (I try to squeeze in the 55 minute version but sometime only have time for 30 minutes before work)
    Friday: Rest
    Saturday: Body Pump

    I never used to be a home workout type of person, but now my husband and I have been working out together and we have acquired some weights and I’m not sure if I’ll ever go back to the gym! 🙂

    1. Hi Julie! I LOVE the look of your week of workouts — you’ve got plenty of variety, but you’re hitting cardio twice and weights twice, and three good rest days. I also like that your rest days are before and after your bigger workouts. Well done! And how cool that you and your hubs work out together? Keep it up, and thanks for sharing! 🙂

  2. Hi I’m looking for clarification if you mean 45 minutes each session or 45 total for week? “ I’d recommend doing at least three full-body resistance workouts with weights a week of at least 45 minutes, and you’d also want to pick up medium-to-heavy weights, not just 5-pounders — to get to true fatigue.” thanks!

    1. Hi Colleen! That’s a GREAT question, and I’ll edit the post to include the word “each.” While it’s not a hard-and-fast rule, I think that your strength sessions should be 45 minutes three times EACH week, so that each workout is 45 minutes — this can include your dynamic warm-up though. The point is to make sure you’re hitting fatigue with your muscles in all three of those workouts. It’s VERY possible to build muscle if those workouts are 30 minutes, but I think 45 is the sweet spot. Does that help? Thanks for asking!

  3. Hi Ashley, great post!
    I usually work out 6 days a week and do my best to keep it varied. This might be weird but I tend to schedule workouts around washing my hair 😀 Anyone else? At least it keeps me from doing HIIT on consecutive days. I would do HIIT every day if I could, but I know it’s not a good idea.

    1. Hi Andrea! SOOO normal to schedule your workouts around your hair! Truth be told, I always wash my hair the day BEFORE my rest day, so I always have fresh hair on my rest day hahaha. I love the feeling of washing my hair after my sweatiest workout and know it will be fresh for two days hheehe. And I’m also glad you aren’t doing HIIT every day! Thanks for saying hi, friend!

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