How Long Should You Workout For? This is a question we all want to be answered as we start our health journey, desire to get stronger and faster, increase weight loss, and reach our fitness goals. At the same time, we also want to be efficient with our workout routine and not overdo or spend time exercising when the returns diminish. These are likely things you are thinking about as you start a consistent physical activity or look to optimize your resistance training and aerobic exercise.
What Do You Really Need?
Did you really think 2-hour workouts were necessary? This is likely only the case if you are a competitive athlete or professional. For the rest of us training at home, or your commercial gym for that matter, what do we really need?
You likely know by now that magic diet loss pills and 6-minute or even 7-minute abs just are not going to cut it. If you didn’t already know, well now you know. Also, supplements can certainly help but they are exactly that, supplements to a sound nutrition and exercise program. What you need to understand is that 90-95% of your results, muscle growth if you are weight training, will be based on; nutrition, consistency, and hard work. Sorry if you were expecting some revelation or magic sauce, you got the wrong blog, but this is what works. There is no easy way out.
Now that we got that settled and in the right state of mind, you likely still wonder how much time you really need. The good news is it’s not as much as you think but there is no “one size fits all” and seeing and feeling changes in your body will take time and are different for anyone. There are many variables that come into play like; nutrition, sleep, your goals, what you have access to and the list goes on from there. This is why it is difficult to advise an exact time, there are too many variables at play. However, if you stay consistent, I promise the results will come.
Come On, How Much Time Really?
Honestly, workout duration or workout length depends on your personal fitness goals. I know, boring answer right? However, an effective workout can last 30 minutes, 45 minutes, 90 minutes, or longer but it all depends on a number of factors, including:
- What are your specific goals
- How often do you plan to complete physical activity
- What type of training are you performing
- The amount of stimulation your muscle needs to grow
If your goal is to get in general health, then 3 to 4 sessions of 30 – 45 minutes of moderate-intensity strength training and/or cardio will get the job done. Again, which you perform depends on your goals. Are you training to race your first 5K or an Ironman? Are you primarily concerned with weight loss (you likely mean body fat) and gaining a couple of pounds of muscle? Or are you simply in need of some stress relief? Knowing the answers to these questions matters. If your goals are higher than this, then the amount of time you need will increase and so likely will the effort.
Losing Healthy Weight
In order to lose
weight body fat at a healthy and realistic rate (please do not compare yourself to a Biggest Loser episode) of one to two pounds per week, you need to burn about 500 to 1000 more calories than you consume each day. When you look at calories burned during exercise, this roughly equates to about three to 4 hours of moderate to high-intensity exercise each week. You can break this down any way you want, 3 – 4 one-hour sessions, 5 – 45 minute sessions. Again, this is all determined by your goals and also what calories you consume in a day. Please also keep in mind that the quality of exercise matters more than quantity. If you are lifting weights with a 3-pound dumbbell for 2 hours, did you really accomplish anything? I doubt it. You were likely not working hard enough to gain muscle and probably didn’t burn many calories either. So what you do and how hard you work matters.
What About Muscle
First, you want more muscle than you have at the moment, and you want to make sure you’re doing everything possible to maximize the speed at which that muscle is gained. Whether you plan on training for strength or hypertrophy or a little of both, is also important to consider when determining how much and how long to work out for. Your goals should dictate what training you do and the length of your workouts, not the other way around.
Like I mentioned above, a one-size-fits-all does not work as two people could do the exact same workout, but one chooses to do compound sets while the other tables long breaks and wants to be 100% before each and every set. These choices all have an impact on how long your workouts should take and again, the goal determines your time allotted for training. When you look at the examples above, the first person will get their workout done quicker than the second, even though the muscle-building stimulus will likely be roughly the same. Lastly, people do respond differently to different training programs and this is why you need a coach or an individualized program. Person 1 may need more work than person 2 to generate the same amount of muscle growth. Sorry, it does happen and unfortunately, these hard gainers will need to spend more time in the gym.
There is one caveat I would to add and that is for those who are just starting out or have had a long, several-year break. When you’re just starting out, or restarting, results are relatively easy to come by and are known as newbie gains. Your muscles are highly responsive to any new stimulus and do not require as much work or intensity to grow. As a result, you can often get away with shorter workouts. Over time, as your body adapts, gaining size and strength does become progressively more difficult and a new stimulus will be needed more often.
Is Cardio A Must?
Simply put, no, but depending on your situation, likes, and goals, it can help. Let’s face it, when most people talk about losing weight, their first inclination is cardiovascular exercise until you pass out. You can certainly do aerobic activity but it is not absolute. This is especially true if your goal is moderate fat loss and a body fat percentage, for men at 8% or higher, and women, 15% or higher. These are lean body fat percentages (you will see your abs), you can still eat fairly close to maintenance (it’s sustainable) and you would not have to do 1 minute of cardio. By now you probably think I am crazy but this is the truth. Again, if you enjoy cardio, you can do it. One thing to keep in mind is if you struggle with lower caloric intakes, just add some HIIT or moderate aerobic activity on top of your strength training workout and you should be able to add a few calories back in.
For those of you looking to preserve as much muscle as possible, limiting cardio and focusing more on nutrition is likely the better route. Why, well there is concurrent training to think about as well as preserving energy for strength gains or at a minimum, maintaining strength and muscle mass during a caloric deficit.
Do You Need To Limit the Length of Your Workouts to 45 Minutes or Less?
Now that you understand we are all unique and the time we need to reach our goals is individual to each of us, you will still see some people noting that there is an ideal workout length. In fact, you’ll often see the exercise and fitness police state you should never lift weights for more than 45 minutes. Along with this, you’ll hear that testosterone levels will fall, cortisol goes up and you’ll enter the never-ending catabolic state. Overtraining here we come! This is just ridiculous and the majority of individuals undertrain. But on the topic of hormones, here are some studies to check out.
- A study showing workouts over 90 minutes resulted in raised testosterone, for several hours after a completed workout https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2262468/ and
- In another study, data were collected from 56 participants who worked out in a 12-week strength training program and you can view those results here – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22105707/.
Will working out for more than 45 minutes crush your gains, not likely. Should you be punishing yourself for hours on end, probably not needed either.
So, how long should you work out? Well, that depends.