Time is a precious thing, and for many, it seems like there is never enough.
This can be especially true for those who want to exercise regularly. Even if you only have limited time available to work out, naturally you still want to reap the benefits of your hard work.
Some people don’t mind spending some extra time exercising — especially if it’s a social outlet.
However, if you also have to juggle things like work, kids, or social obligations, knowing the minimum amount of time you need to devote to exercise to see the benefits can be useful.
Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all approach, and how long you should exercise per session and per week depends on many factors. Specifically, your goals and objectives will determine how long and how often you should train.
For example, how much time a powerlifter spends exercising is largely different from an ultramarathoner. Similarly, a person looking to get fit will have different objectives and workout plans than someone aiming to win a competition like a triathlon.
Those competing in athletic events are trying to be among the very best at their chosen sport. Whether it’s running, bodybuilding, cycling, or something else, the time devoted often increases with the length of the event and with what you want to achieve.
Meanwhile, if you’re a recreational exerciser who simply wants to improve your physique or fitness, there’s a minimal and sometimes a maximal amount of time you should spend working out to optimize your results. This article explores just that.
The goal of weightlifting is generally to increase muscular strength, endurance, and/or size. The idea is to gradually overload your body to be able to move higher weights or push a certain weight for longer.
Weightlifting improvements are dictated by multiple factors, including:
- training intensity, often stated as the percentage of your 1 rep max
- number of sets
- number of repetitions
- frequency per week
- rest between sets
- training experience
In addition to these factors, your goals will dictate how much time you spend in the gym. For instance, if you’re looking for appreciable improvements in strength and muscle size, you may be willing to devote more time to your workouts.
Generally, a young adult looking to gain muscle size and strength may wish to allocate more time to working out than an older adult looking to maintain fitness and overall health.
Nevertheless, research has given some credence to how much you should exercise to improve strength.
For example, a 2020 study of the minimum effective dose showed good strength improvements when participants performed just 1 set of 6–12 repetitions per exercise (
It’s also important to consider the length of rest periods between sets. To make things more confusing, current recommendations for rest between sets vary, generally depending on your goals.
For example, a recent review recommended 2–5 minutes of rest between sets for strength gain. Another review recommended 60–90 seconds to increase hypertrophy, or increased muscle size, while 20–120 seconds was recommended for muscular endurance (
Thus, a weightlifting session featuring 7–9 exercises can take anywhere from 20–60 minutes to complete.
Some studies have assessed the appropriate duration of a strength training session for different groups of people.
For example, a review found that children and adolescents may gain the greatest benefit from weightlifting sessions lasting less than 60 minutes. Another study in people with intellectual disabilities found that sessions of 45–60 minutes were preferable (
If you get easily bored in a gym, keeping your workouts efficient can be the best approach — for example, by using a more advanced training strategy like cluster sets. These involve switching directly from one exercise to another, like going from a bench press to a lunge (
By pairing two or more exercises together, you can decrease your overall fatigue and cut down rest periods between exercises. Thus, you may be able to reduce the duration of a multiple-set workout significantly, potentially to less than 30 minutes.
Another time-efficient option is to train your upper body one day and your lower body another in a split workout training routine. While this can increase the frequency of lifting sessions, it can also decrease the duration of each workout.
Weightlifting sessions typically last 30–60 minutes. The exact duration will vary depending on the number of sets performed and the rest intervals between sets.
This is another workout category where the duration will vary depending on your goals.
For instance, if you’re a triathlete or an ultramarathoner, you will likely spend much more time exercising compared with the average exerciser who’s trying to lose a few pounds or improve their overall health.
If you’re looking to improve your general cardiovascular fitness to manage or prevent conditions like elevated blood pressure or heart failure, there are guidelines you can use as a starting point.
The current recommendation for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is to get at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week, like walking at a >3.5 mph (>5.6 kph) pace. Or, try to get 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week, like running at a >6 mph (>9.7 kph) pace (
As an example, you can accomplish this by walking briskly for 30 minutes 5 times per week or completing three 25-minute runs. Keep in mind that these are the minimum recommendations and that any additional exercise will be helpful, too.
You can adjust these numbers based on your schedule and needs. For example, you can go running for 60 minutes 3 days per week if that’s your preference.
How much cardiovascular exercise you should get depends on your goals. Ideally, aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity cardio exercise per week.
Calisthenics typically include bodyweight exercises like push-ups, jumping jacks, pull-ups, and crunches.
This exercise type is typically not solely focused on increasing strength, but rather on combining resistance and cardiovascular activities to promote overall health.
Calisthenic exercises can be used in high intensity interval training (HIIT), featuring continuous movement from one exercise to another with minimal rest in between. This challenges your body from both a resistance and cardiovascular standpoint.
HIIT workouts have been shown to improve body composition, metabolism, and VO2, which indicates how efficiently your body works (
In fact, it can be a more efficient workout than traditional weightlifting or traditional cardio. For example, a recent review found that just 40 minutes of HIIT twice per week can benefit your health (
Thus, HIIT calisthenics can be a great option for those looking to work out but have minimal time available.
Just two 40-minute HIIT calisthenic workouts per week may improve your health and overall fitness.
Bodyweight strength workouts tend to follow the same patterns as weightlifting workouts. They can involve bodyweight exercises like squats, push-ups, and lunges.
These movements can be tweaked to support strength building by adding weighted vests or resistance bands. If your goal is to increase muscular endurance, you can also incorporate more repetitions.
Just like with weightlifting, you can perform multiple sets per exercise. Because you don’t need any equipment or complicated setups, it can be quicker to transition from one exercise to another than if working out with weights.
Nevertheless, you still need rest between sets and exercises.
A recent study found that rest intervals of 2–5 minutes were optimal for improving both muscle strength and performance at any remaining sets, so this may be a good reference point (
Bodyweight workouts may last as long as weightlifting, though you may save some time by not having to change equipment in between exercises.
How long to rest between workouts doesn’t have a straightforward answer, as it differs based on the type of exercise and how hard the workout is.
Repeating the exact same workout multiple days in a row will likely not give your body enough time to recover, potentially causing excessive fatigue and soreness. In return, this can lead to diminished returns and injury (
Weightlifting involves overloading muscles to fatigue and damage them. After healing, the muscles will be able to produce more work, and you may get stronger. Generally, resting 1–2 days between sessions will be the most beneficial (
For general fitness, you can likely perform cardiovascular training most days per week. Still, make sure to give yourself adequate rest between hard workouts. For some people, this might equal 1–2 days of rest, and for others, it may be longer.
Remember that to prevent disease and promote health, you should try to get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of hard exercise per week.
After high intensity workouts like weightlifting, your body may benefit from 1–2 days of rest. Meanwhile, lower intensity workouts like brisk walking can be done on consecutive days.
Research has shown that lifting weights just once per week can lead to improvements. Still, for greater benefits, you may wish to increase your workouts to 2–3 times per week (
Generally, the improvements gained from weightlifting and bodyweight strength training may depend more on the total volume of training rather than the number of workouts (
How many benefits you’ll reap from cardiovascular workouts or HIIT may depend more on volume related to intensity. For instance, 3 days per week at a sufficiently hard volume may be just as beneficial as 5–6 days a week of moderate volume activity (
The main thing to consider if you’re new to exercising is to not add too much exercise too quickly. Going overboard before your body has adapted to the stimulus can lead to excessive fatigue, overtraining, and injury (
Weightlifting is generally best performed 2–3 times per week, while cardiovascular workouts can be performed 3–6 days per week. You can adjust the number of days per week based on the total volume of work performed at each session.
The ideal workout duration can vary significantly depending on the person, their goals, their preferences, and the exercise type.
For weightlifting and bodyweight strength training, 45–60 minutes per session may suffice.
Meanwhile, cardiovascular and calisthenic training may be better if performed for 30–60 minutes. That being said, you can also choose shorter or longer increments — with these exercises, how many benefits you’ll reap may depend more on the total weekly volume.
Ultimately, the ideal duration of a workout is not set in stone — unless you have other time commitments as a limiting factor. As long as you move towards your goals, stay consistent, and get healthier, how much time to spend on exercise is up to you.