When you are putting together your training program, you not only need to consider the type of workouts you will do and how frequently you train but also the ideal workout duration.
So, how long should workouts be based on your fitness goal and the type of activity you are doing? How long should a weightlifting workout last? How long is a good workout?
In this article, we will discuss the most important factors to consider to help you answer the question, “How long should a workout be?” and give you general guidelines for how long to work out based on these factors.
We will cover the following:
- How Long Should A Workout Be?
- How Long Should Weightlifting Workouts Be?
Let’s dive in!
How Long Should A Workout Be?
If you are designing your own fitness program or trying to choose a workout from a fitness app, one of the first questions you need to answer is, “How long should your workout be?”
Knowing the ideal workout duration will help ensure that you’re working out long enough to meet your goals without wasting time doing unnecessary work or, worse, overdoing it and risking injuries or overtraining.
Unfortunately, there are no one-size-fits-all guidelines for how long a good workout should be, as there are several factors to consider.
Here are some of the most important factors to consider when determining how long a workout should be:
#1: Fitness Level Experience
When considering a decision tree that will help you answer the question, “How long should your workout be or how long is a good workout?” one of the first considerations—or forks in the decision tree—is your current fitness level.
This is closely tied to your experience level, but there are nuanced differences between these two factors that will affect how long your workout should be.
Let’s start with your current fitness level.
As can likely be surmised, beginners are typically unable to exercise for as long as fit individuals who have been training consistently for a long time.
Moreover, even if a beginner could theoretically match the workout duration of an advanced or fit athlete, the ideal workout length for a beginner is inherently going to be shorter than for someone who is in better physical shape when all other things are equal (same type of exercise, same relative intensity, similar frequency of training, etc.).
Depending on the type of exercise that you are doing, choosing the right workout length isn’t just a matter of developing the necessary cardiovascular stamina and endurance to last through a longer workout session but also muscular endurance, metabolic efficiency, and musculoskeletal strength and fortitude.
For example, when considering a high-impact activity such as running, aerobic endurance actually tends to progress faster than the physical strength of your muscles, tendons, joints, bones, and ligaments for the impact stress of running.
These structures physiologically adapt in accordance with the stressors placed upon them, but it takes a lot of time for the adaptations to occur.
Therefore, when you first begin a running program, you may feel like you can ramp up your mileage or training volume quickly by doing longer runs than your training schedule may dictate because your aerobic fitness is improving so well.
However, on the microscopic level, what you can’t see is that your bones and joints need time to strengthen to improve the tolerance for repetitive loading through running.
Even when you are wondering, “How long should a weightlifting workout be?” similar principles apply. Your central nervous system plays a key role in coordinating the muscle contraction and joint movements necessary to perform different strength training exercises.
Even if your muscular strength is progressing fairly quickly when you start a new strength training program, you may reach central nervous system fatigue in a longer workout.
Therefore, beginners should start with shorter workouts and gradually progress workout duration over the course of several weeks to several months.
Depending on your overall health and fitness level and the type of exercise that you are doing, start with 15 to 20 minutes. You may be able to increase by about five minutes per week, making sure to listen to your body and adjust or back off the progression rate accordingly.
#2: Experience Level
Your experience level has to do with your experience in the type of workout that you are doing.
For example, you might be in very good shape from doing running or cycling workouts on a consistent basis, but if you are starting to incorporate weightlifting into your fitness plan, you are essentially a beginner with strength training and should follow guidelines for the best workout length for beginners.
The same can be said when adding a new type of cardio training or even strength training into your workout routine when you haven’t been doing that type of exercise.
Particularly if the activity that you are adding is a high-impact exercise, such as running for cardio or plyometrics for strength training workouts, you should start with short workouts with this new type of exercise even if your overall fitness and strength would permit longer workouts right off the bat.
As your body gets accustomed to the new physical stresses placed upon it by the different types of movement or impact, you can gradually increase the length of your workouts.
#3: Training Goal
Another key factor in the decision tree for determining how long should workouts be is your training goal.
For example, if you are training for a 5K, running workouts will not need to be as long as they would for marathon training.
With strength training if you are working on strength training for overall fitness, health, and disease reduction, the ideal workout length will also be shorter than it will need to be if you are training for a bodybuilding competition, competitive weightlifting, or an aggressive hypertrophy training program for body recomposition or weight loss.
When the goal is to exercise for health, you should aim to meet the guidelines for physical activity for adults set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the British Heart Foundation, which are to accumulate either 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity cardio exercise per week.
If your goal is weight loss or body composition, the recommendations are doubled (300 minutes and 150 minutes of moderate- and vigorous-intensity exercise, respectively).
Within strength training, the general goals are increasing strength, building muscle, or improving muscular endurance.
Each of these target goals comes with different recommendations for the number of sets, reps, and exercise per workout as well as how much rest you should be taking.
#4: Type of Exercise
The type of exercise that you are doing also factors into answering the question, “How long is a good workout?”
For example, answering how long should a weightlifting workout last will be different than how long should a cardio workout be.
As described above, there are guidelines for health and fitness in terms of the number of minutes you should be aiming to achieve with your aerobic workouts every week.
Weightlifting workouts typically last between 20 minutes and 90 minutes, again depending on your goals, fitness level, and how you structure your weightlifting workouts.
#5: The Intensity of Your Workout
Intensity is an often overlooked fork in the decision tree for determining the answer to “How long should I work out?”
With any type of exercise, the higher the intensity or effort level, the shorter the workout will need to be in order to achieve similar results.
For example, as can be seen in the guidelines for physical activity, if you perform vigorous aerobic exercise, you only need to accumulate 75 minutes of exercise per week versus 150 minutes if you are exercising at a moderate intensity.
With strength training, similar principles apply even though the guidelines for workout length are not as clearly spelled out.
#6: Training Frequency
As can likely be surmised, the more often you are training per week, the shorter your workouts can be if you are aiming for a similar goal.
For instance, if you are trying to break up the 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week into five days of training, you only need to work out for 30 minutes per day.
However, if you only have three days per week that you can or want to exercise, your workouts will need to be 50 minutes to meet those guidelines.
With a weightlifting workout, if you are doing body part splits, you will likely be training at least four days per week, although the push-pull-legs routine can be performed by working out three days a week.
But, as with cardio exercise, even if you are trying to increase strength or build muscle, if you are training six days per week in the gym lifting weights rather than just two or three days per week, your workouts don’t have to be as long.
With that said, if you are trying to maximize your gains, as long as you are listening to your body, fueling properly, resting when necessary, and providing the muscle groups that you work at least 48 hours of rest in between sessions, you can still train with 60-minute workouts (or more) if you’re working out six days per week.
Of course, it cannot be overstated enough that the risk of overtraining increases if you are doing long workouts, training frequently, and doing high-intensity workouts.
Unless you are an advanced athlete who has gradually built up to the volume of training that you are doing, a good general guideline is that you should keep weightlifting workouts shorter and focus on intensity and recovery if you’re training most days per week.
How Long Should Weightlifting Workouts Be?
Given the litany of factors that can affect how long your workouts should be, it’s not easy to provide definitive answers to the question: how long should strength training workouts be?
With that said, here are some rough approximations for target workout lengths for weightlifting:
- Beginners: 25-30 minutes and build up to 45 minutes
- Weight Loss: 45-60 minutes
- Bodybuilding or hypertrophy: 60-90 minutes
- Strength or Olympic weightlifting: 1-2 hours per workout
One of the primary factors that cause strength-based weightlifting workouts to be longer than bodybuilding or muscle-building workouts is the fact that the recommendations for rest intervals are longer with strength exercises because of the high intensity and near-maximal loads.
For more information about how to structure your fitness routine, check out our article on whether you should do strength training or cardio first when you are performing workouts back to back in the same session here.