Man doing weighted lunge in gym

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How Long Should Your Workout Be?

Spoiler: A short workout is better than no workout at all.

By Karen AspUpdated December 18, 2023


Fitting consistent workouts into your jam-packed schedule is no small feat, regardless of whether you’re carving out 60 minutes for a Peloton Bike ride or cramming in a 10-minute yoga class. So if you’re tight on time (but determined to hit your fitness goals), you’ve probably asked yourself the age-old question: How long should a workout be? 

The truth is, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, and it’s okay to alternate between longer and shorter exercise sessions. Adding a variety of workout lengths to your routine can help stave off boredom. Plus, it allows you to work out at a range of intensities (the shorter the workout, the harder you can push yourself), and working in different heart rate zones can boost your overall fitness. So don’t count out an exercise class or gym session solely because of its duration.

Keep reading to learn more and get experts’ input about how long your workouts should really be.

Is There an Ideal Length for a Workout Session?

Not necessarily. The duration of each specific workout should depend on its intensity. For instance, if you’re doing HIIT, a 10- to 20-minute workout may suffice. But if you’re taking an indoor cycling class, you may opt for a 30- or 45-minute ride. 

Many people get stuck focusing on how long they think they should be exercising, clinging to one of the many misconceptions surrounding workout duration. One big myth? That you need at least 30 minutes for a workout.

When it comes to cardiovascular health benefits, studies have shown that 10-minute increments of exercise can be equally as effective as a 30-minute block. But that’s not all: “Accumulating three 10-minute increments during the day gives you the additional health benefits of lowering blood pressure (lowering low-density lipoprotein and raising high-density lipoprotein) and colon cancer risk and improving lipid profile and insulin sensitivity,” says Kristen Carter, MS, an exercise physiologist and nutrition coach in Golden, Colorado. 

That doesn’t mean you should limit yourself to 10-minute increments though. When you switch up the duration of your exercise sessions, the intensity and mode of your workout often change, too. “These changes allow different energy systems to be utilized,” says Dominic Matteo, partner education lead for Precision Nutrition and certified trainer in Cleveland, Ohio. As workout duration decreases, intensity can increase, and vice versa. 

Remember, the CDC recommends that adults exercise for a minimum of 150 minutes each week, so divide that number into however many individual workouts you want and choose durations that align with your goals and schedule. You can do 30 minutes, five days a week, but that’s not the only way to achieve this goal. Another option is to take a 60-minute indoor cycling class once a week, do 20 minutes of HIIT twice a week, go on a 30-minute jog, and mix in two 10-minute stair-climbing sessions—it all counts.

Woman doing knee up HIIT workout on bleachers

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The Benefits of Varying Workout Lengths

A workout of any length is better than no workout at all, but there are benefits that come from both longer and shorter workouts. Here are the advantages of each and expert tips on when you should do them.

Advantages of Shorter Workouts 

Shorter sessions are easier to fit into a busy schedule, and if you’re doing a more intense workout, such as a Tabata ride or a HIIT class, the quick bursts of energy will boost your anaerobic fitness. Shorter workouts are also beneficial for those just starting a fitness routine. Not only are these sessions more approachable from a mental perspective, but they can also help build your stamina and prepare you for longer workouts, Carter says. After all, doing too much too soon can be counterproductive and increase your risk for injury

You can also still challenge yourself during shorter workouts by cranking up the intensity. During HIIT Cardio classes, which range from 10 to 30 minutes on the Peloton App, you’re working out at above 80 percent of your maximum heart rate during short bouts of high-intensity movement, which can last anywhere from five seconds to eight minutes, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. Research shows that HIIT can improve your VO2 max (or the body’s ability to effectively use oxygen during a workout), blood pressure, and cardiovascular health.

Benefits of Longer Workouts for Aerobic Fitness

Longer workouts are the key to seeing improvements in aerobic fitness and can help improve longevity. That’s one of many reasons health experts recommend getting 30 to 60 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise on most days of the week.

Think of this way: You can build your base with longer, steady workouts and make additional cardiovascular gains through shorter, higher intensity workouts.

Matching Your Workout Length With Your Fitness Goals

A mix of short, high-intensity workouts and longer aerobic sessions work well together in a balanced fitness plan, but choosing specific workout lengths should really come down to your personal goals.

Shorter and longer workouts serve different purposes. Shorter, more intense workouts are considered anaerobic exercise, meaning your body can’t take in oxygen at the same rate that it’s using it to fuel your muscles. Doing anaerobic exercises helps build and strengthen your muscles, among other benefits.

If you’re training for a marathon or citywide bike tour, you’ll likely want to focus on endurance and do longer exercise sessions. Longer workouts that have a moderate aerobic intensity have other benefits, like helping your body burn fat and calories while strengthening your cardiovascular system.

Sometimes, the choice comes down to how you're feeling that day. If movement helps you decompress after a long day at work, a 60-minute yoga session may feel a lot more fulfilling than a 10-minute cardio class. Other times, you just need a quick HIIT class to rid yourself of frustrations or nerves. The bottom line is that you should do what works best for you. 

How to Strategically Adjust Your Workout Duration

When it comes to determining how long your workout should be, the number one factor is how much time you have to do it. Start by looking at your schedule and identifying blocks of 30 minutes or more (even if you’re doing a 20-minute class, you need to allow yourself a few extra minutes to get changed and throw on your sneakers). Then, slot in your weekly workouts.

Remind yourself that mixing and matching workout durations is a wonderful, effective way to exercise. For general health and fitness gains, Matteo suggests the following weekly plan. 

  • Two to three strength sessions of around 30 minutes

  • One to two longer cardio sessions of 30 to 60 minutes

  • One shorter high-intensity interval day

  • One to two active recovery sessions of 30 to 60 minutes, such as yoga, stretching, or other low-intensity movements

If you need to squeeze in shorter workouts, Matteo suggests alternating intensity rather than duration. And if the above lineup doesn’t fit with your interests or goals, you can find workouts of all different lengths and types on the App.

The Bottom Line On Workout Duration

When it comes to exercise, there’s no universal formula. Still, any type or length or exercise is better than no exercise at all. The length of your workouts depends on a number of factors: your schedule, how your body is feeling, and your personal goals. Some people may feel better doing short bouts of high-intensity exercise than working through longer sweat sessions. Others may be able to do hours of moderate-intensity cardio but feel prone to injury when they turn up the intensity during short workouts. Explore a variety of workout classes and lengths until you find a combination that makes sense for you.


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