No time to workout? How long does a workout need to be to be worth the time and effort?
Well that depends.
How long does a workout need to be to be effective? Some of this is determined by your goals, but in general to have a positive impact on your overall health and fitness, workouts as few as five or 10 minutes can have some benefits for you.
So let's debunk the myth that you have to be at the gym for hours just to make progress towards your goals. Here’s the benefits of shorter workouts:
As few as a 4-5 minute quick interval session can have benefits such as improving your cardiovascular system, and boosting mental energy and clarity. When you get your blood pumping, all of your body systems start to wake up a little bit. Also, moving in short bursts throughout the day, like getting up out of your chair to move for a few minutes every couple hours, can have the added benefit of preventing muscle deactivation and postural challenges from sitting all day. So that's a win!
Doing workout sessions of 10 minutes plus, you start to see metabolic benefits. There's a reason activity trackers like a Fitbit count any activity longer than 10 consecutive minutes toward your active minutes for the day! A short but intense workout that focuses on total body will have metabolic benefits that last after the workout is over, if you’ve challenged yourself at a high enough intensity, but you can also get specific strength benefits from doing short focused workouts on particular muscle groups if that's your goal as well. Believe me you can tire out certain muscle groups in that short a time if you're working with focus. So it's possible to reach fitness goals with shorter burst as well.
Now, if your goal is to improve endurance or athletic performance, and you’d like to compete in any kind of a race or event, workouts anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour or longer may be more appropriate a few days a week. This is why most running and triathlon training plans have long days in there. The bottom line is if you're going to train for an event like a half marathon, Iron Man or Spartan race where you know you're gonna be moving for an hour plus, you're going to want to have at least some training days where you're putting your body through a similar duration so it gets used to that constant energy expenditure.
The bottom line is you're going to have some benefits from moving even as few as four or five minutes on a regular basis. In terms of seeing results, achieving optimal health or fitness goals, most experts recommend 20 to 30 minutes of movement cumulative daily, so if you can get that 10 minute bursts of the few times then you're still winning! 30 minutes total building up to 5 to 6 days a week is substantial for most people to achieve their personal health and fitness goals.
That's why most of our workout sessions at our studio are maxed out at 30 minutes long. We'd rather see you more frequently and consistently because that's where the benefits start to happen.
So if you're just getting started, aim for short bursts of movement more frequently and then gradually build up time depending on your goals. You DO have time to work out, you just have to change how you think about it!