Does the prospect of a mammoth workout make you cringe and act as an instant put off from even considering structured exercise?
I agree. I would be put off too. Especially by my vague answer… 😉
The thing is a vague answer is the only answer to this type of question if asked in these terms. And it’s a question that the majority of prospective new clients ask me when we first meet because there is a lot of confusion around this subject.
Here’s the thing…
If you have been reading my blogs for a while (thank you) you know that I do my research before writing a new post. I could regurgitate things that I heard or read here and there but I prefer to look for the latest scientific studies to see how our understanding of human physiology is evolving over time with new discoveries and what these mean for myself as a coach and for my clients. When I looked for research papers on “the ideal length of workouts” I couldn’t find anything specific that gave me a definitive answer. I then looked up other blogs from people with a different experience from my own and found that they more or less fall into 2 categories: those who base their opinion on a study conducted in Eastern Europe on Olympic athletes and those who say the results of that study are rubbish.
So I decided that, on this occasion, I will answer this question from my own experience both as an athlete and as a trainer and ignore the science. Here we go!
How long should I workout every day in order to lose weight?
It really depends on you, your preferences, your likes and dislikes, your likelihood to stick with your exercise program, your physiology, your lifestyle, your patience, your enthusiasm, your willingness to push boundaries, your habits, your determination to see results, your desired timescale to produce those results in. And so on…
Let’s start with the mindset
In my experience it’s impossible to decide how long you should workout for until a clear goal has been set. This includes knowing what you want to achieve and when you want to achieve it by. The next step is establishing how badly you want it and whether you are prepared to do whatever it takes to achieve it or not. There are different styles of workouts: some are more intense than others and will produce results at different rates. Knowing how far you are prepared to go will point you in the right direction.
Next you need to take a look at your lifestyle: how much time do you think you have to exercise vs. how much time do you actually have vs. how much time you are honestly willing to spend exercising. The keywords here are “honestly willing” and it’s usually this amount of time that I take into account when I design exercise programs for my clients who want to lose weight or sculpt their bodies. I say usually because if the answer is 30 seconds we are moving into Harry Potter territory to get a full on body transformation. I don’t do that.
The majority of clients I worked with over the years have come to me as reluctant exercisers who needed a hand in finding the motivation to get started and then to keep going. In these instances it’s necessary for me as a coach to devise exercise programs that have the correct intensity and duration for the individual. First of all I want my clients to get results in a timely manner but most importantly I want them to be relaxed about the idea of working out otherwise they will never stick with it. On a number of occasions even the clients who were against exercising to begin with learned to enjoy it and went on to take up a sport or signed up for classes to make the most of their newfound vitality.
Now let’s look at the physical stuff
Once you have established goals and mental attitude towards working out you need to start making considerations about your physical aptitude. Assuming there are no injuries or medical conditions to take into account it goes like this:
How fit are you at this moment in time? Regardless of your goals acknowledging your current fitness level is the primary factor in deciding how long you are going to be working out for. If you are new to structured exercise or haven’t done it in a while you may want to consider starting off with a few minutes at the time focusing on learning the techniques rather than going for it. It’s the same idea behind gradually building up to running 5 km from couch potato: you do it very gradually but progressively.
How quickly can you improve your fitness levels? Depending on your natural predisposition you might be one of those people that can increase their fitness levels quickly or you may not. You would adjust the time spent working out accordingly, I am not going to discuss intensity or volume here, but it goes without saying that these need to be increased gradually too.
How long does it take to reach your peak performance window during a workout? Another factor that’s very important in my opinion is how long it takes to reach what I call the “peak performance window” by which I mean the length of time that you can workout with correct form after the warm up and before exhaustion sets in. It’s different for everyone and because of it sometimes a good workout needs to be cut short to prevent an injury.
That’s great info but how do I put it into practice?
In my experience the best way to put all this into practice is this:
- Choose a length of time that you are willing to dedicate to exercising on a regular basis throughout the week. For me, at this moment in time, is 30 min 3 times per week at home including warm up, working out and a cool down. I find this length of time easy to manage most weeks so I can stick with it no matter what. If I want to crank it up to get more dramatic results I will head to the gym and add a 20 min HIIT cardio session at the end of the workout before the cool down. Somehow I always end up spending a lot of time at the gym plus the time it takes me to get there and back so for me it’s not always easy or practical to maintain this schedule.
- Choose which muscle groups you are going to focus on with each workout. If you know that you struggle with keeping your schedule it will be best for you to focus on full body workouts every time, at least you know that most muscle groups will be targeted at least once. If you are in a position where sticking to your schedule is easy then it might be best to target different muscle groups in each workout so that you can hit them harder and then rest them longer.
- Incorporate periods of rest within your workouts. This will allow you to work in accordance with your current fitness levels while giving you room to increase the volume and intensity further on. For example: if you are very unfit you might run out of steam after a few reps of each exercise. That’s fine. Just take all the rest you need to be able to get back to your exercise with splendid form. You are not racing against anyone and you are building a different body one rep at the time. Make each one of them count.
- Always listen to your body. There is no prize to be won by completing your workout when every cell in your body is begging you to stop. We all have days in which the strength is just not there, nor the interest, nor the inspiration. Applaud yourself for being disciplined enough to sticking to your schedule and showing up but don’t be afraid to walk away if it means preventing an injury. You will soon be back to top form and ready to go again.
- Get plenty of rest after each workout. Again, it might seem like an obvious thing to say but… do make sure that you rest until fully recovered after each workout. You can speed this process up with accurate nutrition timing but please don’t overlook this aspect of a good exercise schedule. Changes to your body happen while you rest so no skipping this!
So there you have it. As always, do what works best for you. As long as you are consistent and persistent the results will come. If you need help with this give us a holler via the popup bottom right of the screen.