How Long Do You Really Need to Work Out?
How Long Do You Really Need to Work Out?

You know it’s important to prioritize fitness — but life happens, and some days you just can’t allot an hour for exercise.

But if you can only spare 10 minutes, is it even worth doing? Can you get results from quick workouts? How long should you work out if you want to lose weight and/or build muscle?

Here’s what you need to know to determine your “optimal dose” of exercise.

 

How Much Exercise Do You Need Each Day?

According to the American Heart Association, the baseline to keep your heart and body healthy is 150 minutes per week of moderate activity, or 75 minutes per week of vigorous activity. We’ll save you the math: that averages out to about 30 to 50 minutes of moderate, steady-state exercise three to five days a week, or about 25 minutes of high-intensity work three days a week.

That’s the basic guideline for staying healthy, but what if you’re looking to lose weight or build muscle?

One option is to increase the duration and frequency of your workouts, but it’s not the only one. “You don’t need to spend hours a day exhausting yourself in pursuit of a leaner, fitter, more defined body,” says Trevor Thieme, C.S.C.S., Openfit’s senior manager of fitness and nutrition content. “You don’t even need to work out 25 minutes a day to see results. But the shorter your workouts are, the more intense they’ll need to be.”

Your current fitness level will be a key factor in determining your workout intensity and duration. If you’re 100 pounds overweight, you might need to start off spending 50 minutes a day working out, because your body can only handle moderate-intensity exercise. But if you’re an athlete, you might be able to crush a 20-minute, super high-intensity workout with energy to spare.

That’s why there’s no “perfect” workout length — every body is different, and your fitness level will determine how hard and long you can go. “If you feel like you were challenged, but also feel energized, you nailed it,” says Thieme. “If a workout leaves you completely spent and exhausted, however, you likely exercised to excess.”

 

How Much Exercise Is Too Much?

Again, there’s no single answer that applies to everyone. But rest days and recovery days are important for helping your body repair and strengthen itself, so be sure to take at least one or two per week. If you try to go full throttle seven days a week, it can backfire.

“Exercising too hard or too often (or both) can actually be counterproductive, sabotaging instead of maximizing your results by overwhelming your body,” Thieme says. “Adaptations like muscle growth, strength gains, and fat loss happen between workouts, not during them — so prioritize your recovery as much as you do working out.”

 

What If I Only Have 10 Minutes?

You can still get a solid workout in, as long as you’re prepared to push yourself and you’re fit enough to handle the intensity.

“Ten minutes is more than enough time to get in an effective workout — but they’re going to be a brutal 10 minutes, because as you reduce workout time, you need to increase workout density and intensity,” Thieme says. “Workout density is more important than workout duration when it comes to many fitness goals.”

Plus, if you struggle to stay motivated, it can be a lot easier to commit to a 10-minute workout than to an hour-long workout — and a lot harder to find excuses to skip it.

If you do only have 10 minutes, consider trying 600 Secs! It’s a series of 10-minute workouts that span multiple muscle groups and disciplines, and it’s easy to fit into your busy schedule.

So How Long Should You Work Out?

Regardless of whether your goal is greater strength, more endurance, or a smaller waist circumference, the bottom line is that you really shouldn’t stress about how long your workout should be. Instead, focus on pushing yourself during whatever minutes you can spare for a workout.

“The key is to find the right balance for your body, fitness level, and goals,” Thieme says. “You need to challenge your muscles, heart, lungs, and circulatory system — and to challenge them just enough each workout to trigger adaptation. That’s going to change as you become fitter, so just listen to your body, and exercise accordingly.”

About

Kara Wahlgren is a freelance writer, editor, and producer specializing in health and fitness. She may or may not be eating green tea ice cream as she's writing this.