Fit Tip: Short Workouts or Long?

Posted On Oct 7, 2019 By Lisa Traugott

A woman using her fitness watch.

Is better to do a long workout or a short one? The answer depends on your fitness goals, what you eat and your current exercise routine. I have two main categories of clients – those wanting to lose weight and those wanting to do bikini and figure competitions.

My weight loss clients will typically do 3-5 days of exercise per week with their workouts comprised of 50% cardio and 50% strength training. Here’s an example:

Exercise Duration Intensity
Elliptical 5 minutes Level 5
Biceps curls 2 minutes 8-10 pound dumbbells
Elliptical 3 minutes Level 9
Modified push ups 1 minute Bodyweight only
Elliptical 7 minutes Level 7
Goblet squats 2 minutes 15 pound dumbbell
Elliptical 3 minutes Level 10
Lunges 2 minutes 8-10 pound dumbbells
Elliptical 5 minutes Level 5

When you are trying to lose weight, first and foremost you have to change your thinking. You have to make peace with eating whole, unprocessed foods with lots of vegetables and coming up with strategies for dealing with social situations that involve junk food or over-eating opportunities. You also have to realize that reading social media while barely peddling on a stationary bike for two hours is not the most effective strategy to sculpt your body. You can get more done in a shorter amount of time if you increase the intensity.

Cardio (walking, running, biking, elliptical, etc.) is important for weight loss, but is only half of the solution. Cardio will help you burn more calories per minute but resistance training (lifting weights) will continue burning calories even after you’ve left the gym. According to Christopher Wharton, Ph.D., a researcher with the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University, 10 pounds of muscle tissue burns 50 calories at rest while 10 pounds of fat only burns 20 calories. This is why it’s important to combine strength training with cardio.

If your goal is beyond maintaining a healthy weight and is instead to enter a competitive sport such as bodybuilding for the bikini and/or figure divisions, then that entails a completely different workout regimen.

A bodybuilder wants very low body fat coupled with muscle gains. That requires a very strict diet and two hour workouts, 5-6 days per week. (There is a reason why this is such a niche sport.) The duration of your cardio depends on how your muscles look. If you do too much cardio your body will start breaking down your muscles for energy, which means your muscles will look smaller, which is a bad thing in a bodybuilding competition. Assuming you are already fit and don’t have much fat to lose, you will typically do 30 minutes of cardio and 90 minutes of strength training. If you have to lose 20 pounds or more before your competition you will increase your cardio to 45-55 minutes and still do 50-90 minutes of lifting.

Your strength training will be divided by muscle groups called splits. A typical split for a bikini competitor would be Monday: Glutes, Tuesday: Back and Biceps, Wednesday: Legs, Thursday: Chest and Triceps, Friday: Full lower body workout, Saturday: Upper body and abs, Sunday: Rest.

Since most women don’t have two consecutive hours a day to dedicate to training, I have my clients split up their workouts doing their cardio in the morning before breakfast and their strength training in the afternoon or early evening. And if you have no interest standing on stage in a bikini having your muscle groups compared to the women standing next to you, then there is no need to train like a bikini competitor; a two hour workout is completely unnecessary. If your goal is to be fit and healthy, eat clean and exercise 30-50 minutes per day, 3-5 days per week.

Whatever your fitness goals, go for it with gusto.