Do You Know How Long Your Workouts Should Last?

A man getting in one of his workouts at a 24 Hour Fitness center

A man getting in one of his workouts at a 24 Hour Fitness center | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Working out, for many people, is a chore. And the faster and more efficient a chore can be done, the better. Just as how we await the exact second we finish cleaning out the garage, we tend to do the same with our workouts; though there are some obvious differences.

For beginners, specifically, it can be hard to know how long you should be at the gym. You might do a few lifts or hop on the treadmill for a little while, then walk away satisfied that you worked out for 20 minutes or so. Hey, 20 minutes beats nothing at all, right? That’s true — but if you’re using time as your only unit of measure to determine whether your workout was a success or not, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

The truth is, there is no set amount of time you should work out for. It’s just not that simple. If you’re just getting started, it can be a good idea to plan on being at the gym for an hour or to spend 20 minutes running. That’s okay for a little bit.

But if you’re serious about losing weight, building muscle, or trying to get your body in shape for an event? It’s not about how much time you’re spending at the gym. It’s what you’re doing with that time that counts.

Duration depends on your destination

A dumbbell is seen at a man's feet

A dumbbell is seen at a man’s feet | iStock.com

Ultimately, what you need to focus on is your personal goals for working out. Are you exercising in order to lose weight? Are you lifting to get stronger and gain muscle mass? This is the foundation of why you’re actually at the gym in the first place, and it’s going to dictate what you’re doing there, and how long it takes.

There is no exact science here — if you want to lose weight, and you have a lot of weight to lose, you might be spending more time working out than someone with different goals.

Some people seemingly camp out at the gym all day — you may notice they always seem to be there, and rarely take a day off from their workouts. Or, you may see people who are constantly at the fitness center, but never seem to do much. They’re there, but not necessarily working out.

With that said, how much time you spend working out depends mostly on what you’re trying to accomplish, and whether or not you’re actually doing what you should be (or planned on) doing while you’re at the gym.

If you want to put a number on it, though, we can peg the ideal workout at around 45 minutes or so — depending on how often you exercise. According to The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), there are a few different ways to think about it. If you want to lose weight, you’ll need to exercise more, and thus work out longer. If you’re simply trying to maintain your current weight, you’ll exercise a little less.

A man on a stationary exercise bike

A man on a stationary exercise bike | iStock.com

In short, though, ACSM recommends at least 150 minutes of exercise per week. If you work out four days per week, that’s 37.5 minutes per workout. Add in a little bit of time for stretching and whatnot, and you should aim for being at the gym for roughly 45 minutes. If you want to work out five days per week, you can cut that down to half an hour.

As we mentioned earlier, things are a little different for those with a significant amount of weight to lose. “Overweight and obese individuals will most likely experience greater weight reduction and prevent weight regain with 250+ minutes/week of moderate-intensity physical activity,” ACSM explains.

So, it really depends on your specific situation. But this is a starting point. And what about if you’re trying to build muscle? It’s going to be a different set of obstacles, and time is going to be a little less of a factor. Completing your lifts can take as long as you want — a lot of the time you’re spending at the gym lifting is spent resting between sets, or just meandering around.

If you’re lifting, focus less on how much time you’re spending at the gym and more on making the most of the time you’re there.