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How Long Do You Need to Work Out for the Best Results?

A personal trainer weighs in on workout duration for optimal results.
FACT CHECKED BY Alexa Mellardo

Ever wonder how long you should work out to get the most bang for your buck? If so, join the club. While there's no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to your health and fitness, understanding how various workout durations impact your body can make or break your fitness goals. To get some expert guidance on how long you need to work out for best results, we spoke with Kyrie Furr, CPT, a certified personal trainer and performance coach with Barbend, who shares expert wisdom on how long you need to work out for optimal results, regardless of your fitness goals. Whether you prefer strength training, cardio, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), or low-impact activities, we'll help you figure out how long you should work out for the results you're looking for.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 60% of adults in the United States do not perform the recommended amount of physical activity. Busy schedules and lack of free time may be common culprits to blame. Sound familiar? If so, you may need to revisit your workout routine. Doing so can help you create efficiencies to deliver the same results without the added time. Whether you're a busy professional or simply looking to optimize your fitness routine, these expert insights can help you maximize your workouts.

Read on to learn more. Then, when you're done, check out the 10 Best Exercises To Stay Fit When You're Short on Time.

How long should you work out for the best results?

mature man lifting weights to slow down aging after 50

While individual preferences and goals can vary widely, the CDC's Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise, each week. This amount equates to roughly 30 minutes a day, five times a week, offering a balanced approach that aligns with overall health recommendations.

"When it comes to working out and figuring out a time domain, there's no one-size-fits-all answer. However, some general guidelines and individual factors can help you determine the optimal duration for your workouts," Furr explains. "Individual factors such as fitness level, goals, and time availability should be considered when determining the optimal duration of your workouts. It's essential to find a sustainable routine that fits into your lifestyle and allows for long-term adherence."

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These are the optimal time durations for different types of workouts.

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For cardio exercises like walking, running, cycling, and rowing, 30 to 60 minutes of moderate-intensity activity is often recommended. At the same time, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) sessions can be effective in shorter bursts, usually ranging from 15 to 30 minutes. Strength training sessions can last anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour.

"The optimal duration for different workouts can vary and depends on a person's fitness level," says Furr. "For aerobic exercises such as running or cycling, it's recommended to exercise for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. Strength training, on the other hand, typically requires a different approach. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends performing strength training exercises for all major muscle groups two or three days a week. The exact duration of each strength training session can vary depending on individual goals and fitness levels, but a common recommendation is to aim for 45 to 60 minutes per workout."

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Is there a "Goldilocks zone" for workout length?

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Not too long, not too short—but just right. Striking this balance helps you push yourself hard enough to progress your fitness without overdoing it. Aiming for consistent, manageable workout lengths that align with your fitness level and goals creates a sustainable approach to reaching your health and fitness goals.

Furr says, "There's a sweet spot in the 'Goldilocks zone' where you can maximize results without going overboard. It's hard to find that sweet spot since it will be different for everyone. It's not always better to work out more, as overtraining is a real problem. HIIT, for instance, has become increasingly popular in recent years. The HIIT method involves short bursts of intense exercise followed by brief recovery periods. This type of workout can be completed in as little as 20 minutes. Yet, studies have shown that it can produce similar, if not greater, improvements in cardiovascular fitness compared to longer, steady-state workouts."

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Does workout duration affect weight loss and body composition?

woman doing barbell overhead press

"Workout duration plays a role in weight loss and body composition, but it's not the only factor," Furr explains. "Although longer workouts burn more calories, paying attention to the quality of your exercise routine is important. HIIT has gained popularity due to its ability to provide an effective workout in less time. Weight loss also requires a well-balanced diet along with exercising."

While shorter, high-intensity sessions can contribute to calorie burn during and after exercise, longer workouts at a moderate intensity also increase daily energy expenditure. The key is consistency and sticking to a routine that works for you, regardless of the intensity or length. Finding a duration that fits within your schedule and lifestyle helps ensure you can maintain a sustainable exercise routine.

Adam Meyer, RHN
Adam is a health writer, certified holistic nutritionist, and 100% plant-based athlete. Read more about Adam
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