How Long Should A Workout Be?

How Long Should A Workout Be?

Have you ever said to yourself that you are short on time, and wonder if it’s worth the effort to sneak in a workout? Or have you wondered how long is the optimal amount of time to get your heart rate raised for cardiovascular benefits? To answer the question of how long your workout should be, you need to determine some other things first.

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that people workout for at least 150 minutes each week. If you plan to workout four days a week, that is roughly 38 minutes each time. When you break it down like that it sure sounds achievable!

What is Your Fitness Level?

If you are a beginner, keep it to 30 minutes or less. There are a lot of reasons for this. First, if you’re just getting back on the horse you shouldn’t spend too much time in the saddle to start out. Taking on too vigorous of a workout when you are just starting out can result in soreness or injury. Also, you could end up frustrated if you can’t complete the entire workout as planned.

Whether you are looking online for workout videos or signing up for a class at your local gym, you should be able to ascertain which workouts are geared toward beginners. Another tactic is to take a class with someone who offers modified moves. When modifications are offered, you know what to do if you’re struggling. With modifications verbalized, it feels like a viable option. If you have to figure it out on your own, it feels like a failure.

So, beginners: 30 minutes or less. Check!

Others? It depends on what you are trying to accomplish with the workout.

What Is The Goal of the Workout?

This is where things get a little complicated. What’s your intention? What are you trying to accomplish? Of course, you still should consider your fitness level. However, also look at what your goal is.

 Weight Loss

If you are trying to lose weight, you still need to ask yourself what your fitness level is. If you’re in pretty decent shape and don’t have a lot of weight to lose, you may find yourself stretching out your cardio to allow for a bigger impact.

According to the American College of Sports Medicine, between 150 and 250 minutes of exercise a week is ideal for weight loss. Sure, you could divide that into however many days you plan to workout each week and schlep along on the elliptical, but that probably will have you hit a plateau.  So what do you do?

Truthfully? The key seems to be varying your workout. The human body is a miraculous machine. The machine gets accustomed to things, however, If you want to see results faster, vary your workouts.

To get your average of 200 minutes, divide up your week. One day, take an hour brisk walk. Another day do a 40-minute online cardio class. Try HIIT training for 30 minutes. Maybe if your body is sore, bike for an hour then do 15 minutes of core work.

If you are mixing up your workouts, your body is more likely to respond.

 Sustained Cardio

If you are an endurance athlete and looking for something to replicate that, you need a longer workout. For example, someone gearing up for a marathon but trying not to run as much due to injury may need to sneak a couple of hours on the stationary bicycle, with quick reps to keep up the heart rate.

Remember: your heart and lungs don’t know what you’re doing. They just need to be taxed.

Sure, it’s important to pound the pavement to get used to the time on feet; but if you have accomplished that on other days, it’s okay to mix things up.

Maybe you’re just trying to get in your exercise minutes for the week and the plan calls for a longer workout. Or you want to get in an LSD run. If your average weekly runs are 3-5 miles, your longer run of 7-9 miles will have you working out longer.


If you are targeting particular parts of the body, those workouts may vary in length. If you are looking for core work, for example, you will find a lot of workouts ranging from five to thirty minutes long. No, 5 minutes won’t get you ripped, six-pack abs; but jumping into something too quickly will end with you injured or frustrated.

And if you are doing other things to stay fit, 10 to 15 minutes of ab work a few days a week is probably just what you need!

 Strength Training

People serious about strength training will tell you what you are doing and your focus is far more important than how long you are in the gym. If you visit a neighborhood gym you will notice people who seem to spend a lot of time there but accomplish little.

If you wander from machine to machine talking and accomplishing very little, what’s the point of spending 60-90 minutes there? There is none.

You are far better off entering the gym with a plan, working out for 30-45 minutes then leaving.

Type of Workout

Next you need to consider what type of workout it is. High-intensity interval training is typically 20-30 minutes long. Why? Because your body can’t sustain that type of effort over the long haul.

Core work focused classes tend to be shorter in length because your focus is on a relatively small portion of the body. On the other hand, if you only lift weights twice each week and try to hit every muscle group in that time, you may need 60 minutes to get them all. This is where pre-planning comes in handy.

Many classes you will find are 30-60 minutes long. You can take a cue from this example!

Recent and Upcoming Workouts

It pays to look at the big picture when planning your workouts. If you’re training for a big race and do your long runs on Sundays, Monday would be a great day for a long, slow swim or bike ride. Why? Because those things are zero impact and excellent recovery!

You should also plan your workouts around other hard efforts you know are upcoming. If you have a 45-minute intense track workout on Tuesday, save hard weights for another day.  You should also be strategic about the placement of workouts based on your goal.

Since you often are finishing a race tired, it’s not a bad idea to do weights before your run sometimes to replicate that fatigue. Other days, you should run first and lift later.

Time Constraints

Lastly, you need to take your own life into consideration. If you know you have a busy day and the only window of opportunity you have is your lunchtime, is it worth it? If you have at least 45 minutes, you bet it is. You can quickly change, hammer out a couple of quick miles, clean up with wipes and body spray and be back at your desk before anyone misses you.

Becoming efficient at making the most out of the time you have is often crucial to busy people. However, if you make it a priority you can fit it in.

When Can I Expect To See Results?

Within two weeks you will see small results: improved posture, better sleep, even more energy.  Your first cues that you are accomplishing something will be that you can go a little bit further or longer without fatigue. Another sign is that you find yourself looking forward to the workout.

Your blood pressure can improve in as little as a couple of weeks. Many people also see weight loss within a few weeks, but only if they are also making dietary changes. However don’t just focus on the number on the scale because if you are lifting weights, often the number does not budge much but you are taking off inches as you tone!

Mental health improvements are noticeable very quickly in many people!

If It Sounds Personal, It’s Because It IS!

When asking the question of how long should a workout be, on what you should focus and how long it will take to see results, you’ve probably figured it that it depends on the individual. Just like it is your personal fitness journey, the timeline is also yours!


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