How Long Should A Workout Be?

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Sweat

February 10, 2023

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Well, how long is a piece of string? 

Figuring out how long your workouts should be isn’t rocket science, we like to think of it more like a flow chart. Once you know how you like to move your body, what you want to get out of your training, where your fitness level currently sits and how much time you can realistically dedicate to fitness amidst your other commitments, the answer is going to become a whole lot clearer.

Let’s break it down.

Your lifestyle and schedule

Even if someone tells you the perfect workout duration is precisely 46 minutes and 27 seconds, that’s not particularly helpful if you’re juggling a busy job (or multiple jobs!) and a family of five and sometimes barely have time for a shower.

So before we get into everything you need to know about recommended workout lengths, the bottom line is your fitness routine needs to work for YOU. If you enjoy aiming for a daily step target and then manage to squeeze in a couple of short workouts each week - amazing! On the other hand, if your schedule allows you to spend over an hour in the gym and that’s something that fills your cup, we can’t argue with that either. 

Leading an active lifestyle isn’t one-size-fits-all, so if you’re clocking up 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 75-150 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity each week (as per World Health Organisation’s recommendations), you’re already doing incredibly well. Remember, these guidelines - and your personal approach to fitness - will change as you get older.

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Your preferred training style 

If you’ve got more time to dedicate to fitness, a big determining factor in the duration of your workouts is your preferred training style, as they each differ in intensity, warm-up, rest periods and structure. Some training styles should be kept to shorter bursts, while others can require a solid chunk of time in order to help you achieve your goals.

  • LISS (low-intensity steady state cardio): This involves working out between 57%–63% of your maximum heart rate for a steady and sustained period — typically for 30 minutes or more, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. Most Sweat programs (even the strength training ones!) include at least one day of LISS to ensure you reap the benefits of cardio training. 

  • HIIT (high-intensity interval training): Because high-intensity training is exactly that, your workouts should only be around 15-30 minutes. If you’re really pushing yourself, you shouldn’t be able to maintain the intensity for longer than this. Remember, quick workouts can be extremely effective if you want to see your cardio fitness improve!

  • Bodyweight strength training, barre and Pilates: Because these styles of training don't involve the same structure and rest periods as weight lifting, a great workout could last anywhere from 15-60 minutes depending on how much time you have to spare! If you’re opting for shorter workouts but want to see improvements in your strength, you’ll need to complete several sessions a week.

  • Weight lifting: A well-structured weight lifting program like BUILD or Strength & Sculpt will include a good warm-up and several sets of reps with rest periods in between that are long enough to allow your muscles time to recover. The rest period you’ll need if you’re lifting moderate weights and performing high reps might also be shorter than if you're lifting heavy weights and performing low reps. Because of this structure, a good weight lifting workout can take from 45-90 minutes to complete. If you’re limited on time, you could cut this down by performing a reduced number of sets, reps or exercises or having shorter rest periods.

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Your goals

Beyond your schedule and preferred training style, fitness goals play a big role in figuring out your ideal workout length. If you were training for a marathon, it wouldn’t make sense to only run for 10 minutes per week, would it? For event-specific training, it’s best to follow a program designed for your event and the amount of preparation time you have.

If you’re exercising to improve or maintain your general health and wellness, including a mixture of cardio, strength training and flexibility exercises in your routine is the way to go, while aiming to hit those weekly time recommendations however suits you best. (That’s 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 75-150 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity.)

Want to level up your strength and muscle gains? This one is going to require multiple workouts each week of at least 30 minutes, but sessions will often end up being closer to the 45 or 60-minute mark if you’re following a traditional strength training program. 

If working on your cardio fitness is your top priority, we recommend a mixture of LISS and HIIT. Your LISS sessions, such as a powerwalk or cycle, can last for 30 minutes or more, while HIIT sessions typically don’t take longer than 30 minutes.

Your fitness level

This is one last thing we can’t go without mentioning when it comes to working out your ideal workout duration. For someone who is a well-seasoned weight lifter or HIIT-lover, a typical week might include multiple lengthy workouts. But for someone who is just getting started? No way. That’s a recipe for injury or burnout.

When you’re a fitness beginner or are coming back from a break, it's best to gradually increase the intensity and duration of your workouts as your fitness, strength, confidence and recovery time all improve. Start small, listen to your body, and then increase when you feel ready for more of a challenge. 

Don’t worry if 15 minutes is all you can manage at the start, you’ll be smashing out longer workouts in no time and looking back on your journey thinking, heck yes. I did that.

If you’re at an advanced level, remember that challenging yourself and continuing to see progress doesn’t mean making your workouts longer every time. Try learning new exercises to challenge yourself or incorporate progressive overload by lifting heavier weights, increasing your reps or reducing your rest time.

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Ready for your first workout?

If there was one perfect answer to the question of how long a workout should be, everyone would be doing it. The trick is finding a program or routine that works with your lifestyle, makes you feel like the best version of yourself and gets you closer to your goals. Ready? You can check out all the Sweat programs here!

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A more empowered you starts with Sweat, and our editorial team is here to bring you the latest fitness tips, trainer recommendations, wellbeing news, nutritional advice, nourishing recipes and free workouts.

* Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. The above information should not be used to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet, sleep methods, daily activity, or fitness routine. Sweat assumes no responsibility for any personal injury or damage sustained by any recommendations, opinions, or advice given in this article.

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