For most people who start a new fitness journey, trying to figure out just how long you need to work out to achieve results can be a loaded question. As a personal trainer and fitness instructor, I can tell you that the answer to “how long should my workout be?” will vary based on several factors. One factor, and probably the most obvious one, is dependent on what your goals are. But one not-so-obvious factor, that is just as important (if not more so!), is what your lifestyle is. For example, if you’re someone who works 60 plus hours a week with a demanding job, the chances of you hitting the gym for an hour every day probably isn’t realistic. And while you may have good intentions and start with a gung-ho attitude, overtime, you’ll probably find yourself a little worn.
Aside from lifestyle and goals, you also need to take into consideration the type of training you’re doing. High intensity interval training (HIIT) is one of the most efficient styles of training to incorporate into your routine if you’re someone who’s short on time and commitment. But you might find an hour of Pilates much more enjoyable. There’s always a trade off.
According to the American Heart Association, adults should aim to get 150 minutes of moderately vigorous aerobic activity per week or 75 minutes of vigorous activity. And you’ll start to reap more benefits of exercise if you can aim for five hours of activity per week. But what does that actually look like? And what sort of workouts should you plan for to get your activity in? Here’s a breakdown of how you should spend your time in the gym:
The most important thing I preach to any of my clients is finding a routine that makes you feel good and encourages you to stay consistent. If you hate a certain type of exercise, you probably won’t stick with it. Even if you have the best intentions to “push through” and become a runner, yogi, or something entirely different, time spent participating in a workout you actually enjoy is a better use of your time.
Finding a type of movement that makes you happy will help you stop counting down the minutes until it’s over and actually enjoy the time you spend moving. Sometimes it can take a little time to go down that journey of self-discovery. But it’s worth it. If you haven’t found something that makes you look forward to rolling out your mat, tying up your shoelaces, or clipping into your bike...keep searching!
HIIT workouts can be a great choice if you have a limited schedule and want to get in and get out. HIIT workouts have become so popular, often with the promise that they’ll boost your metabolism or burn more calories than steady state cardio. Effective interval training can be done in 20-30 minutes, but your effort during each interval has to be specific. Aim for at least 70-100% of your all-out effort. This means during HIIT workouts it should be hard to talk, if barely possible at all. On your recoveries, focus on, well, recovering. The goal is to get your heart rate to its more average pace. Try to take deep breaths to soothe the nervous system and prepare for your next effort. You can calculate your target heart rate zones to help you get more specific during training.
Strength training can be intimidating! And while social media and hard core gym rats often give us the impression it requires hours and hours of pumping iron to achieve results, you can get a solid program done in 30-45 minutes. For most people, aiming for two to three strength training sessions a week can make a huge difference for our health, both mentally and physically. To help simplify things, I recommend a split routine — this means you’ll focus on a different area of the body each time you train. This helps you build endurance and stay focused during the workout.
In 30-45 minutes, you should be able to aim for six to 10 exercises, with a warm up and a cool down. Remember, during strength training it’s not about speed or breezing through the workout as fast as possible. You want to make sure you’re adequately recovering between sets and taking your time during each set.
Looking for a program to get you moving and grooving? FitGurl Mel’s “FitGurl Me” program is 10 weeks of 25-45 minute workouts you’ll love (and definitely feel working those muscles!).
Low-impact workouts are amazing for all bodies! But they are low impact for a reason. You probably won’t find your heart rate climbing into a vigorous state in most of these activities, but that’s not a bad thing.
Low-impact workouts are accessible and gentle, but still highly effective. Incorporating pilates and yoga, or even walking, in your movement routine can be a great way to simultaneously work on flexibility and aid in recovery. And they can be a great starting point if you’re new to regular movement.
The most important thing to remember is that there is not one size fits all for fitness — everyone has a different level of exertion and a different interpretation of intensity. Be proud of yourself for making it to the gym, period! And remember that enjoying what you’re doing will lead to more and more fitness gains.
About the author
Emi Gutgold is a PMA NCPT and NASM CPT based in New York City. Just like Elle Woods, she is also a gemini and vegan. When she's not teaching Pilates or lifting heavy weights, she's eating pita and hummus with her dog, Chickpea, and binging trash reality TV.