How Long Should a Workout Last?

Posted On Jul 10, 2014 By Joe Vennare

How long should you workout?

That's kind of a silly question. Some exercise, any exercise, is better than no exercise at all. We should all be able to agree on that. Still, we run into trouble when trying to determine how much time is the right amount of time to be spending on our workout. Is it four minutes, 40 minutes or four hours? When is enough, enough, and when is it too much?

When we can't answer those questions, we error on the side of inactivity. We do nothing. Instead of acting on the assumption that something is in fact better than nothing, we resort to the tried and true excuse for skipping a workout — I don't have the time.

In reality, there is no perfect amount of time to work out. Beyond that, if we were to consider our personal fitness goals alongside our exercise ability and schedule, we'd find that we do in fact have time to work out. Getting to that place, the place where exercise becomes accessible and integral to our lifestyle, begins when we stop buying into two pieces of information holding us back.

1. The magic workout length

We assume that there's a perfect amount of time we should be working out. That someone, somewhere knows something we don't. That perhaps it takes precisely 32.15 minutes to get results in the gym. Unfortunately, you've been putting in 35 minutes. That must be the reason you're not seeing results.

Of course, this rationale is flawed. For starters, the intent shouldn't be deciphering what works for everyone else. The key to falling in love with exercise is to determine what it means to you, based on your goals. Which means that, for any individuals, determining how much time to work out is kind of a personal question.

To answer it, ask yourself two questions:

a.) How much time can you commit to exercise?

b.) How long do you want to spend exercising?

We're going to go ahead and mandate exercise, it's a non-negotiable. Which means you can't opt out. And, since the littlest bit of exercise is better than being sedentary, even five minutes is a solid start. So, to determine the perfect length of your workout, take the amount of time you have on hand and match it to the amount of time you're willing to put into this workout. Yes, that's really it. Now go exercise!

2. I don't have time

Ah, yes. The second piece of information, or excuse, we have to give up — that we're too busy to exercise. No one has time, but everyone can make time. It's simply a matter of prioritization. At the top of that list should be our health, which makes exercise pretty important. And, given the fact that there's no such thing as too little exercise, the time allotment doesn't have to be dramatic. Simply do what you can today, and every day from now on. Slowly but surely you'll be able to do more and more.

But there's a catch. It's actually good news. You can't exercise too little, but you can exercise too much. There's a point of diminishing returns. It comes about 45 minutes into a workout. That's the point when testosterone begins to decline and cortisol levels (a stress hormone) start to rise. Basically, your energy stores and hormone levels begin to work against you. Instead of exercising forever and ever, you'd be better served by capping your workouts around 45 minutes — if you have the time, or want to exercise that long in the first place.

Simple Solutions

Admittedly, this common sense approach to exercise is difficult to grasp at first. Given the amount of information out there about health and fitness, it's hard to determine which end is up. The trick is to keep things simple — which is easier said than done. Avoid overanalyzing every detail, like the precise time your workout should last. Instead, commit to exercise as a part of your life, and fit it in on a consistent basis. It's not the duration of a workout that matters, it's the frequency that will lead to meaningful change.