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What Does an Optimal Weekly Workout Routine for Maximum Fitness Look Like?

What an optimal weekly workout routine looks like will vary slightly from person to person, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t have solid sports science to paint the picture for us. In this guide, RAVE explores how to build an excellent weekly workout regimen for fit people looking to make the most out of their time.

According to the World Health Organization, 1 in 4 adults do not meet the recommended amount of physical activity. And those who do make efforts to remain physically active often waste time on ineffective routines, or even risk damaging their bodies by working out too much.

Key Takeaways: To maximize your overall fitness, every week aim for 2-4 hours of strength training, 1-2 hours of high intensity cardio (VO2 Max), and 6-10 hours of low intensity exercise (Zone 2/Fast Walking).

Table of Contents

Introduction to The Ideal Workout Routine

Experts suggest that a good average workout routine sits somewhere between 2 to 4 hours per week. But for fitness enthusiasts looking for more than average results, a higher-than-average investment is required. They key is to invest effort optimally, so as to not waste time or effort.

So how should someone invest their time to make progress towards their fitness goals?

To make the most out of your time, build an optimized routine.

In order to build a solid foundation for your workout routine you’ll need to first know why you want to exercise in the first place.

To establish why you exercise is to build your source of motivation and intention that’s needed to plan an effective routine. If you exercise to achieve a high level of fitness and don’t want to waste your valuable time, then consider the optimal weekly workout routine presented in this guide.

We’ve dug deep into expert opinion and sports science to find answers. (And if you need more help making a plan and sticking to it, consider our guide to free workout tools and resources).

What Does an Optimal Weekly Workout Routine Look Like?

The Priorities of an Ideal Workout Routine

Bulking and cardio are often viewed through separate lenses when discussing workout routines, but when discussing an optimal plan they shouldn’t be.

  • A workout plan specifically for bulking will include some cardio, but will be more focused on high intensity weight training.
  • Plans based on building aerobic endurance will focus more high-intensity interval training (HIIT).
  • Routines for fat burning would focus more on cardio with consistent workouts of low-to-moderate intensity.

Simply put, training for cardio and muscular endurance often involves routines that are different from weight lifting or strength training for power. But that doesn’t mean that you have to choose exclusively between these types of workouts, it just means you need to know what types of workout match your priorities (check out our guide on the best workouts to do at home).

A balanced approach is recommended if your goal is to build an optimized workout routine for overall health and fitness that respects your time.

This balanced approach to building an optimal workout routine will include both strength training for major muscle groups (within the upper and lower body) and two types of cardio for muscle endurance and improved energy levels.

For optimal results, we recommend practicing the same workout routine consistently that consists of this schedule:

  • Resistance Training: 2-4 hours per week
  • High Intensity Cardio: 1-2 hours per week
  • Low Intensity Cardio: 6-10 hours per week

Avoid overtraining and give your body the break it needs on your rest days.

Key Points: An ideal workout program contains a three-fold balance between strength training, high intensity cardio, and low intensity cardio.

Why is an Optimal Workout Routine Important?

optimal weekly workout routine

The benefits of increasing fitness through physical activity are numerous and impactful.

  • Reduces the risk of disease and psychological issues
  • Improves cognitive functioning
  • Reduces the risk of death

An optimal weekly workout routine is important because it improves the rate at which the human body achieves the benefits of greater health. In short, fitness is a multi-dimensional factor of success in life, physical health, and daily activity.

A consistent workout schedule that employs strength training can help you gain endurance, muscle strength, and build muscle mass. This improves the strength of your body’s frame and the support that your muscles give to your joints and to back and shoulders, and can even correct issues of poor posture and stiffness.

Strength training has even been shown to prevent or lessen the symptoms of chronic conditions such as:

  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Arthritis
  • Back pain
  • Depression
  • Obesity

With an optimal weekly workout routine that includes both high intensity and low intensity cardio, your cardiovascular system works more better by delivering nutrients and oxygen to your muscle tissue more efficiently. This boosts the resilience of your immune system and improves your metabolism.

Pursuing optimal fitness through working out also improves your lung and heart health, giving you more energy to complete everyday activities by increasing oxygen levels in your blood by lowering blood pressure.

There’s also the long list of psychological benefits to exercise that experts have documented for decades.

Importance of an Optimal Routine: It provides proven forms of exercise both for cardio and strength training in a balanced regimen that improves fitness efficiently and safely.

Resistance Training: 2-4 Hours per Week

What Does an Optimal Weekly Workout Routine for Fitness Look Like?
Close up of sportive young woman training with dumbbells in modern gym, focus on heavy dumbbell in hand

Resistance training will be a key part of an optimal routine. Research on the benefits of weight training is clear. It can boost many metrics of health and longevity.

Here’s a few key benefits of strength training to consider:

  • Protection to joints from injury
  • Increased flexibility and balance
  • Better weight management
  • Increased muscle-to-fat ratio
  • Greater stamina
  • Improved posture
  • Increased bone density and strength and reduced risk of osteoporosis.
  • Improved sense of wellbeing
  • Improved sleep and avoidance of insomnia

What is Resistance Training?

Resistance training is a strength training activity used to improve muscular fitness by working with a muscle group against external resistance. It also enhances your body’s lean muscle mass and protect you against bone loss.

While weight training is a form of resistance training, not all resistance training is weight training. We’ll explain the various approaches shortly.

It’s best to commit to at least two hours of resistance training every week. A 3-day split routine helps train your nervous system to prepare and recover from draining and extensive workouts. A 3 day split routine involves training 3 days a week with different workouts on different days. You would also take a day off following each workout with one two-day break at some point.

This workout routine is always nice if you want to lose weight, as it helps your body burn more kilojoules while at rest.

  • Your Body Weight
    • Push-ups, squats, and chin-ups can all be done with your own body weight. These weight exercises are also considered one of the best for total body training.
  • Resistance Bands
    • They resemble giant rubber bands and provide resistance when stretched. They are lightweight and adaptable to any workout program. Throughout a movement, the bands provide constant resistance to muscle groups, making it best for starting a strength training routine.
    • The simplicity of resistance bands make them great for beginners or those looking to workout from home.
  • Free Weights
    • Free weights are the traditional choice for strength training, also referred to as heavy weights. Some may use dumbbells or barbells. It is a proven effective for lower and upper body exercises that helps you target specific muscle groups and burn more calories.
  • Weight Training Machines
    • These are devices with adjustable seats and handles connected to either weights or hydraulics. Each machine is designed to provide a workout tailored to different muscle groups.
    • Using different machines on different days is a great way to easily follow a split schedule.

Key Points: Beyond building muscle mass and tone, weight training offers some of the most extensive and impactful health benefits.

High-Intensity VO2 Max Training: 1-2 Hours per Week

What Does an Optimal Weekly Workout Routine for Fitness Look Like?
Training for competition, athlete prepares for outdoor cardio exercise.

Unlike low-intensity cardio, high intensity interval training (HIIT) is a form of cardio training meant to be fast and intense. You won’t need to do much of it in a given week though.

Because of this, you’ll want to make sure you’re giving your all when you do–since the whole point of this type of exercise is to push your body’s cardio to the max for brief periods of time.

What is High-Intensity VO2 Max Training?

Studies show that high intensity training is one of the most effective ways to improve how your body uses and stores oxygen–something directly linked to fitness.

VO2 max is defined as the maximum amount of oxygen that your body uses during workouts and endurance activities. This similar to peak oxygen uptake which is also known as maximal oxygen uptake or maximal aerobic capacity.

VO2 max tests are widely regarded as the gold standard for assessing cardiovascular fitness. VO2 max training through high intensity cardio also lowers resting heart rate, which means that your heart works less to get blood where it needs to go in the body.

Lower heart rates are associated with a healthier heart overall, and lower risk of heart-related illnesses.

1. 30/30 and 60/60 Intervals

30/30 and 60/60 interval training was created by French exercise physiologist, Veronique Billat. It is a VO2 max intense training method commonly used by professional and amateur athletes, especially runners.

  • Start with a 10-minute warm-up and then run for 30 seconds at maximum effort.
  • After letting your body cool down, you then jog at a low intensity for another 30 seconds. It is very crucial to let your body rest from strength training to avoid muscle tissue tears.
  • You should begin with at least 12 intervals in your first session, gradually increasing to 20 intervals in subsequent sessions. 
  • Begin 60/60 intervals when you are ready, starting with 6 intervals and then progressing to 10.

2. Hill Intervals

Hill intervals involve running up a gradient for a set amount of time and then jogging down as a recovery exercise.

  • Intervals of 2 to 3 minutes are thought to be the most effective for VO2 max training as it allows more time for your body to cool down.
  • Following a warm-up, you’ll then run uphill for 2-3 minutes at an “all-out” effort before returning to the starting point with a gentle jog.
  • This process can be repeated up to ten times at 2-minute intervals or seven times at 3-minute intervals.

3. Lactate Intervals

Lactate intervals are the most challenging workout for increasing VO2 max, but they also increase what’s known as lactate threshold, or the body’s endurance of high-intensity cardio.

Those who have mastered the previous two ways are likely the only ones who will want to attempt this intense training.

  • Minimum of 10-minute warm-up (three laps).
  • Run a distance of 800 meters (two laps on a full-size running track) up to 1200 meters.
  • An easy 400-meter jog helps your body cool down and recover (one lap).
  • Repeat up to 6 times.

Beginning with 800 meters, you should gradually increase the length of the high-intensity interval. Each session should consist of around 5000 meters of high-intensity running, equivalent to 6 to 7 800 meter intervals, 5 of 1000 meter intervals, or 4 of 1200 meter intervals.

Key points: While one of the most intense forms of exercise, VO2 Max Training is one of the most proven methods to improve athletic endurance.

Zone 2 (Fast Walking): 6-10 Hours per Week

What Does an Optimal Weekly Workout Routine for Fitness Look Like?
Group of people doing cardio training in gym.

What is Zone 2 Training?

Zone 2 training is one the most common types of training in most peoples’ workouts.

A good way to think of Zone 2 training is that you want a level of exercise that’s like going for a jog or riding a bike, but you’re still able to talk. In other words, a Zone 2 exercise aims for low-intensity cardio that puts you at about 60% to 70% of your maximal heart rate.

But how do you calculate our maximal heart rate? You can do it yourself, but the accuracy is debatable. We don’t go into the process here, but there’s plenty of good resources on how to do it.

Almost all running athletes include this training in their weekly workout plan as this is one of the best lower body exercises. You can perform this training at least 6-10 hours per week or 5 days a week.

Zone 2 exercise offers many great benefits:

  • Trains the body to use its fat stores as a fuel source.
  • Increases VO2 Max
  • Lower resting heart rate
  • Better blood flow
  • Allows you to increase aerobic capacities before lactic acid builds up
  • Increases the body’s ability to achieve rest and recover
  • Improves endurance for more intensive cardio exercises

Steps to Start a Zone 2 Training Routine

1. Determine your Maximum Heart Rate

While there’s a few approaches to this that involve calculating your exact heart rate during maximum cardio output, we recommend taking a more common sense approach.

  • Hop on a treadmill and start at a jog until you’re out of breath.
  • Continue reducing the incline and/speed until you’re walking or jogging at a rate that isn’t causing you to go out breath.
  • Consider making a phone call or talk to a workout friend to test this.
  • Make sure that you’re able to maintain this pace for an hour where you don’t feel shortness or breath.
  • Lower the speed even further for your next Zone 2 workout if you notice being out of breath by the end.
  • As your endurance increases, start this process again to find comfortable increases in speed.

2. Find a Comfortable Exercise for Zone 2 Cardio

The go to workout machine for Zone 2 exercise is a treadmill or exercise bike. Some will find one more taxing than the other, so make sure that you’re adapting the strain of the workout accordingly.

In general here are some great options for Zone 2 exercises:

  • Treadmill
  • Exercise bike
  • Elliptical
  • Outdoor walks
  • Hikes
  • Road biking
  • Swimming (you need to be really fit for this to not raise your heart rate too much)
  • Rowing machine

3. Set your schedule

To get the most out of Zone 2 exercise, set your schedule and stick to it. Because this form of exercise is designed specifically so that you do not need too much recovery time afterwards. As such it’s totally fine to workout in Zone 2 multiple days in a row, so long as you limit yourself either to 5 days a week or 10 hours per week.

Key Points: Zone 2 exercise is the perfect way to work towards your fitness goals while multi-tasking. Listen to an audiobook, watch a show, or make some calls while you exercise!

Jack Kelle

Jack is an entrepreneur, outdoorist, and animal lover with a background in philosophy, psychology, and business. He enjoys music, friends, and family. At RAVE, Jack works as the manager of marketing and content development.