A common excuse for not working out consistently is lack of time. Many people believe that if they can’t exercise for at least 30, 45, or 60 minutes, their efforts will be fruitless.
But when it comes to exercise, more doesn’t always mean better. I firmly believe that something is better than nothing, and moving your body for just a few minutes is better than sitting on the couch.
But how long does a workout need to be in order to be effective? For overall health and wellness, it’s recommended to work out for at least 10 minutes at a time and for 150 minutes in total per week. However, your goals, the types of workouts you do, and how hard you’re training can all affect the length of your workouts.
In this article, I’ll discuss all of the factors that determine how long your workout should be. I’ll also review some of the research behind different workout durations and the effects shorter or longer workouts can have on your body.
Regardless of how much time you have to work out, Fitbod can help you devise a workout routine that fits your schedule. Check out the Fitbod app and get your first three workouts for free!
Things to Consider When Determining the Length of Your Workouts
The duration of a workout is highly individual, as no single time frame will work for everyone. Below are six things to think about when trying to figure out how long your workout should be.
1. Your goals
When trying to figure out how long your workouts will last, you should first think about your goals. Someone who plans to compete in powerlifting or run a marathon will need to work out longer than someone who is exercising for general health.
For example, a competitive powerlifter may work out for 1.5-2 hours. A marathon runner may have training runs that last that long as well. But if you just like to run or lift weights for fun, you can get an effective workout in at least half that time.
Having goals such as weight loss or building muscle can also affect the length of your workouts. Diet will be the most important factor in how successful you are with either goal, but you may find that shorter or longer workouts will best help you get the results you want.
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2. Your lifestyle and schedule
Other important factors to consider are your schedule and everything else you do outside of the gym. Parents with young children who are involved in extracurricular activities, people who work 10 or 12 hours a day and have long commutes, or shift workers may only have time for 20- or 30-minute workouts.
Other physical activities and how well you recover outside of the gym can also affect how long your workouts are. If you have a physical labor job, you’re on your feet all day, or you don’t have a consistent eating schedule, you may dread the thought of having to work out for an hour or more each day.
The same is true if, say, you have a newborn who keeps you up all night and you don’t get much sleep. Lifting weights for an hour and a half can seem like an impossible task, but a 15-minute walk around the neighborhood may sound more doable.
Related Article: The Best Workout Schedule for Busy Moms (Sample Program)
3. The type of training you do
Circuit training, HIIT workouts, and some CrossFit metcons can be done in as little as 20 minutes. You could also complete a full-body stretching routine or an easy recovery run in under a half-hour.
But if you’re doing something like a full-body strength training routine, it would be difficult to get an effective workout done quickly. It takes me at least 10 minutes just to warm up for my lifting workouts!
If you really needed to, you can get at least a few sets of some compound lifts done within 30 minutes by keeping your rest periods short or supersetting your exercises (i.e. doing two movements back to back without any rest in between). However, a good lifting routine in which you do 4-5 different lifts will likely take 45 minutes at a minimum to get through.
Related Article: Supersets Vs Circuits: Differences, Pros, Cons
4. How many days per week you work out
How often you work out can also dictate the length of each training session, though it also goes hand-in-hand with my previous point regarding what kinds of workouts you do.
For example, if you strength train 2 or 3 or even 4 days per week, you’re likely following a full-body routine. Each training session could take an hour or more since you have to do both upper and lower body movements. It not only takes longer to complete all of your lifts in general but you may have to spend more time warming up.
Related Article: Best 4 Day Full Body Workout Split For Mass (Complete Guide)
5. How intense your workouts are
Workout intensity and workout duration are often related. An intense workout doesn’t need to be long to be effective — and you likely wouldn’t be able to keep it up for very long, anyway.
If you’re doing a HIIT workout and really pushing yourself during your active intervals, you may not be able to sustain that activity for longer than 20 minutes. But if you’re going out for a walk or doing steady-state cardio, you may be able to keep going for at least an hour.
Related Article: 3 Differences Between LISS Cardio and HIIT (#3 Is Cool)
6. Your experience level
It’s common for people new to exercise to jump right into lengthy workouts, but it can quickly lead to demotivation or injury.
When you’re new to fitness, it’s best to err on the side of caution and keep your workouts shorter. You may want to start with an easy 15-minute walk/run interval workout or a 30-minute, lightweight circuit training workout before attempting longer runs or starting an hour-long lifting routine.
This is also true if you’ve taken a long break from the gym. And if you do want to work out for a longer period of time (because you’re taking a group fitness class, for example), make sure you go slow and take breaks whenever you need to.
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How Long Should a Workout Be: What the Science Says
For Weight Loss
Before we get into how long your workout should be if you want to lose weight, it’s important to note that nutrition is key. Slaving away on the treadmill won’t do much good if you’re not in a calorie deficit (eating fewer calories than you burn each day).
With that said, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends at least 200 minutes of physical activity per week for individuals who want to lose weight. This equates to about 30 minutes of exercise every day or 40 minutes of exercise 5 days per week.
However, if you’re trying to lose weight and only have time for short workouts, HIIT may be your best bet for burning more calories. Studies have shown that brief HIIT sessions can burn 12 calories per minute. On the other hand, lifting weights, running on a treadmill, or riding a bike at a steady pace burn less than 10 calories per minute.
Related Article: 10 Types Of Cardio Workouts For Fat Loss (That Actually Work)
For Gaining Muscle
When it comes to gaining muscle, it’s generally more important to make sure you’re doing enough volume (the total amount of sets, reps, and exercises you do) than it is to hit a certain time domain.
Of course, if you have a strict schedule and absolutely can’t stay at the gym for longer than 45-60 minutes, you can formulate your workout routine to fit your time constraints. But making sure you’re hitting each muscle group effectively will matter more than trying to hit a certain time minimum if you want to build muscle.
According to researchers from Tokyo, doing anywhere from 28-36 reps per muscle group is ideal for building muscle. Whether you choose to do lots of low-volume sets or fewer high-volume sets doesn’t make much of a difference for hypertrophy. You can spread those sets out across several days if you need to as long as you’re aiming for those totals each week.
Several other factors can also contribute to how long a strength training workout will take. Having to wait for equipment to become available, taking shorter or longer rest periods, and whether you’re doing full-body routines or something like an upper/lower split can all affect the length of your workout.
But generally, an effective muscle-building resistance training routine will take at least an hour. You can keep your workouts shorter by cutting down on your rest periods, prioritizing compound movements, and supersetting exercises.
Related Article: Full-Body Workouts Every Day: Will You Get Better Results?
For Staying Healthy
Most studies advise at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week for overall health. Researchers recommend spreading it out throughout the course of the week and performing each session for at least 10 minutes.
Other studies suggest that 15 minutes of exercise per day is best for increasing your life expectancy and lowering your risk of disease.
Researchers from Taiwan and China, for example, discovered that 15 minutes of low-impact activity per day can increase life expectancy by 3 years. Each additional 15 minutes of exercise on top of that can decrease all-cause mortality by 4% and all-cancer mortality by 1%.
Related Article: Burning More Calories Than You Eat: How To Do It Properly
Tips for Long Workouts
If you have goals that you know will require longer workouts, or you know you’ll need to do longer workouts because you’re only training a couple of days per week, the below tips can help you get through them.
1. Add them to your calendar
If you have a busy schedule, add your long workouts to your calendar just like you would a doctor’s appointment, your child’s soccer game, or a dinner with friends.
Doing this makes your long workouts seem like more of a commitment that you can’t miss and will help you visualize how you can work your other responsibilities around them.
2. Save them for the weekends
Assuming you have a typical Monday-Friday, 9-5 job, try to save your longest workouts for the weekends. It’ll be easier for you to make sure your partner can stay home with the kids or that you don’t have work obligations that will interfere with your workout plans.
A longer workout on the weekends can also be easier to get through since you most likely have the opportunity to sleep a bit more.
3. Choose an activity you enjoy
If you’re going to work out for an hour or longer, you should choose an activity you enjoy. Carving out 60 minutes from your daily schedule will feel a lot easier if you’re doing a workout that’s fun for you.
4. Find other ways to be more active
You don’t have to worry if you don’t have 30, 45, or 60+ minute blocks in your day to get to the gym. You can get more active by doing things like taking the stairs in your office, parking your car further away from the entrance to your building, walking around while you’re on the phone, or doing chores around the house.
These types of activities are considered non-exercise activity thermogenesis, or NEAT. It’s a fancy way of referring to activities outside of a typical workout in which you’re still moving your body and getting your heart rate up.
Increasing your NEAT is an excellent way to stay active even on days that you can’t fit in an actual workout.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Is A 10-Minute Workout Enough?
A 10-minute workout is better than doing nothing. It could be enough if you break a longer workout up into smaller 10-minute increments or you push yourself hard in a HIIT workout. However, only doing 10-minute workouts may not be enough if you’re trying to get stronger or improve your endurance.
Is A15-Minute Workout Enough?
A 15-minute workout consisting of low-impact activity could be enough to realize health benefits such as reducing your risk of disease and increasing your life expectancy. But if you want to build a lot of muscle or improve your endurance, a 15-minute workout likely won’t be enough.
Is A 20-Minute Workout Enough?
Twenty-minute workouts can be enough for HIIT workouts or intense circuit-style training, but they’re not enough to help you gain a significant amount of muscle mass or run a marathon. They may or may not be enough to help you lose weight, but that depends on your diet and your activity levels outside of the gym.
Is A 30-Minute Workout Enough?
A 30-minute workout is enough for most people, assuming you’re getting your heart rate up and moving at least at a moderate pace. You can get in an effective cardio or HIIT session, a circuit-training workout, or a quick strength training session that prioritizes compound lifts within 30 minutes.
Is A 45-Minute Workout Enough?
A 45-minute workout is enough for most people to warm up, do some lifting or cardio, and cool down. Forty-five minutes is also well within the recommended range of 150-200 minutes of physical activity recommended by most experts for both weight loss and overall health.
Is A One-Hour Workout Enough?
A one-hour workout is definitely enough. You can do a warmup, a full workout, and a cool-down within that time. However, I’d only recommend 60 minutes of straight cardio for advanced individuals. And if you lift weights, be mindful of how long you rest in between your sets to keep your workout to within 60 minutes.
If you need help coming up with a workout routine to fit your schedule, try the Fitbod app. You can customize your workouts based on how much time you have available, what equipment you have access to, and how recovered you are from previous workouts. Download the Fitbod app today to get three free workouts!
How long your workout should be depends on your goals, the types of workouts you do, and how intense they are. If you want to improve your endurance or build a significant amount of muscle, you’ll likely need to work out for 45-60 minutes or longer. But if you’re working out for general health purposes, just 10 minutes of physical activity can be enough.
It’s also important to note that more doesn’t necessarily mean better. Trying to push through a long workout when you’re sleep-deprived, stressed out, or haven’t eaten well can feel like an impossible task. To determine how long you should be exercising each day, you’ll also need to consider your individual circumstances so you can get the most out of your workouts.
About The Author
Amanda Dvorak is a freelance writer and powerlifting enthusiast. Amanda played softball for 12 years and discovered her passion for fitness when she was in college. It wasn’t until she started CrossFit in 2015 that she became interested in powerlifting and realized how much she loves lifting heavy weights. In addition to powerlifting, Amanda also enjoys running and cycling.