How Long Do You Really Need to Work Out?

Updated: Feb 21

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 30 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 Long Should I Work Out?

Before we discuss individual workouts, let’s start with how much exercise you should get per week and narrow from there.

According to the American Heart Association, the baseline necessary 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. 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 30-minute, super high-intensity workout with energy to spare.

That’s why there’s no “perfect” workout length — everybody 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! 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. 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 30 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.

30 minutes is more than enough time to get in an effective workout — but it’s going to be a tough 1/2 hour because as you reduce workout time, you need to increase workout density and intensity. 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 30-minute workout than to an hour-long workout — and a lot harder to find excuses to skip it.