They say variety is the spice of life. The same mantra applies to fitness, especially when it comes to the length of your workouts. As Peloton Members know, classes in most categories range from five to 60 minutes, which begs an obvious question: What are the benefits of doing long workouts versus shorter ones, and how can you use each to your advantage?
Choosing a Workout Length
First, let’s set the record straight about two common myths:
Myth #1: You have to exercise for at least 10 minutes for calorie burning to start.
It’s true that it generally takes about 20 minutes for your body to switch from burning mostly carbohydrates to a combination of fat and carbs—but “calorie burn starts as soon as you start to move,” says Kristen Carter, M.S., exercise physiologist and nutrition coach in Golden, Colorado.
Myth #2: A workout has to be at least 30 minutes of activity.
Studies have shown that 10-minute increments of exercise are equally as effective as a 30-minute block for cardiovascular health benefits. But that’s not all: “Accumulating three 10-minute increments during the day gives you the additional health benefits of lowering blood pressure (lowering LDL and raising HDL) and colon cancer risk and improving lipid profile and insulin sensitivity,” Carter says.
That doesn’t mean you should always stick with 10-minute increments though. When you vary 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.
The Long and Short of It
There are, though, specific advantages to both kinds of workouts.
Shorter sessions are easier to fit into a busy schedule, and, if you’re doing a more intense workout, such as Tabata or high-intensity interval training, they can also offer a big boost to your anaerobic fitness (which requires quick bursts of energy). The HIIT Cardio classes on the Peloton App range from 10 to 20 minutes—and we promise you’ll see all sorts of challenging combinations to get you the biggest bang for your buck.
Shorter workouts are also beneficial if you’re just starting up with a fitness routine. Not only are they more approachable from a mental perspective, but they can also help you build up your stamina to prepare you for longer workouts, Carter says. After all, doing too much too soon can be counterproductive and runs the risk of injury.
While short and snappy workouts help increase your anaerobic capacity, longer workouts that last 30 minutes or more are key for seeing improvements in aerobic fitness. They may also improve longevity, as studies show that life expectancy goes up and mortality goes down when you exercise more, Carter says. This is one reason many health organizations recommend getting 30 to 60 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise on most days of the week, or at least 75 minutes a week of vigorous exercise (or a combination of the two).
You can remember it this way: The longer, steady-state workouts build your base, and you can make additional cardiovascular gains through shorter, higher-intensity workouts.
How to Mix It Up
Figuring out the right combination of long and short workouts is easier than you think, we promise. Simply look at your schedule, note how much time you have to exercise each day and then start plotting your workouts into those time slots.
For general health and fitness gains, Matteo suggests the following weekly plan. (If you need to squeeze in shorter workouts, alternate intensity rather than duration, he says.) You can find all of these workout types on the Peloton App:
Ready to tackle a 60-minute ride next? This guide will help you prepare.