How long should you workout?

That’s a question we as fitness professionals hear on a daily basis.  People want to know how much and how long they should be working out for in order to see results.  Like there is a magic time to hit and success will follow. Any  more or less equals a waste of time and effort. I wish the answer was that simple. All us fitness professionals out there would just love to prescribe “X” amount of time.  But in reality it is largely going to be dependent on what your goals are, your starting point and what your program is going to look like.

According to ACSM, people should be getting at least 150 minutes of exercise per week which calls for a mix of cardiovascular, strength, and mobility training.  Now you can break this down however you want, but the important part to remember is to make sure your training is tailored to your goals and, critically, what you can afford time-wise.

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Everyone is different

Personally, my workouts take a little longer, near the 120 minute mark because I do straight sets on my lifts, my recovery between sets is towards the longer side and depending on the lift, it takes me a few warm-up sets to get to a proper working weight.

Now combine that with the fact that I can get easily distracted with things that need attention in running a business, and time just ticks away.  But that is just how my workouts are designed.  So I set aside time for that.  However, there are a myriad of other variables that go into how long a workout is going to last.

– Are you a beginner? Or more advanced?
– Are you strong?  You may need more warm-up sets to get to a working weight than someone a little weaker.  Take the deadlift – It’s going to take me longer to work my way up to 400lbs than someone going to 200lbs.
– Does your program call for more volume?  Then it may take a little longer to finish your workout than if the volume is down.
– Some people like to work in super sets as it’s a time saver, some like to individualize their lifts.
– Are you doing a full body workout? A body part split? Upper/Lower?
– What amount of time do you have to dedicate to your training?

Because in the end, that last variable is the most important.  If you can dedicate a lot of time, then you can get away with certain things.

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So what about you?

Now the above applies simply to weight lifting.  Doing cardiovascular workouts is a whole different ballgame with its own set of variables

– Are you doing intervals or HIIT training?  If so, what work to rest ratio are you using?
– Are you training for an endurance event like a half or full marathon?
– Are you sprinting?

Well that’s really it

Intervals and HIIT training are going to take significantly less time than if you were training for a marathon.  Intervals are going to be short bursts with a fair amount of rest in between, so these can take anywhere from 10-30 minutes depending on what you’re doing.

If you’re doing an intense Tabata style protocol, that’s only 4 minutes, but it’s 4 grueling, intense minutes. If it’s not, you’re doing it wrong.

Marathon training is intense in its own way.  It’s not one in which your heart rate will skyrocket and you’ll be out of breath constantly, it’s one that requires a great time commitment, think in the 60 minute plus area, especially on days where your program calls for a long run.

I remember when I was training for the NYC Marathon and my Sunday runs towards the later stages of my program would call for 15-20 miles, meaning if I was keeping a consistent 10 minute/mile pace, 150-200 minutes.  That’s 2 ½ hours – 3 hours 20 minutes.

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Sprints are going to be similar in time to interval training.  The actual amount of time spent exercising is going to be short, but overall time might be close to 60 minutes. Why? Because recovery time between sprints is going to be high.  If I’m looking to do speed work on a track, I know I need at least 60 minutes between doing drills, doing accelerations and then finally getting to my actual workout, which usually requires a full rest because I want to devote a ton of energy to each sprint “rep.”

So when you really start to look at how long your workout should be, are you looking at actual time spent exercising, are you accounting for warm-up time, are you including rest time, are you including re-racking weights, or waiting for equipment?  There are a lot of subjective things to look at when figuring out this “time” thing.

Takeaway

So the answer to the constant question of “how long should I work out for” is this:  However long it takes you to complete your workout for that day.  It’s not like you can pick a magic time limit, throw a bunch of stuff in to fill that time and magically expect results to follow.

Find a program that works for what you want to accomplish and do it.  Because as long as you are getting your work done, then it doesn’t matter how long it takes.

Time is all relative!

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