How Long Should I Work Out?


The most common question that we get in the gym is “how long do I need to work out for?”  And the generic answer is “It Depends.”  Really it does depend on many factors.  We just want the anwer spelled out in front of us so we know what kind of commitment we need to make.  But it’s not that simple.  There’s a common belief that there is this magic time in which there is success and any more or less, then there’s no point.  I wish the answer was a simple “X” amount of time.  But in reality it is largely going to be dependent on what your goals are, 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 if you break this down however you want, but the important part to remember is to make sure your training is tailored to you goals and also more importantly what you can afford time wise.

How long are your workouts now?  Are you making good use of your time?  Have you tried sequencing your exercises in supersets to save time?  Personally, sometimes my workouts are 30 minutes, sometimes they are 90 minutes. It depends on the goal of the overall program and of the day.  Recovery workouts usually take less time than say a heavy deadlift day. 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 in to how long a workout is going to last.

  • Are you a beginner? Or more advanced?
  • Are you strong? You may need more warmup sets to get to a working weight than someone with 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.

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 its 4 grueling, intense minutes (and 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.

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.


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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