When you ask most people how long they workout for, they typically sputter one hour without really giving much thought to it.This one hour workout theme has been rolling though the decades as the magical length of time to exercise and there is no sign that it will lose momentum anytime soon.
But has anyone ever stopped to think why 60 minutes has become the cornerstone of how long a workout should be?
I mean why such an arbitrary number?
Sure, it is a round number and easy to remember, but is that a good enough reason? Why not 105, or 37 minutes?
Government and doctor recommendations have certainly played a part in making 60 the number to shoot for, but there is little, if any, evidence to support the big 6-0. It seems that for those who are just starting out and aren’t necessarily sure what they should be doing for a workout, 60 minutes of moderate exercise would serve as a safe number to reach for.
So if 60 minutes isn’t the gold standard what is?
That seems to be the hardest question in the fitness industry to answer. Almost every gym still markets 60 minute personal training sessions, as well as the hour group exercise class. The problem isn’t with the one hour workout, but rather with the way that number is chosen.
You don’t walk into the gym and say I’m just going to keep doing stuff until I hit the 60 minute mark. Where’s the research or benefit to that? On the same note does one hour of bicep curls or walking on the treadmill equal one hour of squats or sprinting?
Like I said, there’s nothing wrong with an hour workout, but you have to know why you’re doing 60 minutes worth of work. For example, if your program calls for a 3 exercise warm-up followed up by a 6 exercise full-body workout and then a 5 set fat burning interval and you complete it in 40 minutes, does that mean you should just fill the remaining 20 minutes with stuff to make it an hour?
I would hope not, but that’s pretty much been the standard in the fitness industry.
Most trainers or fitness enthusiasts will just say “do more abs or cardio” if you have any grains of sand left in your 60 minute hour glass. The bottom line is if more abs or cardio is not part of your program, don’t do them. Your exercise program should be complete in itself and have no need for extras. You will do them on another day or not at all if they aren’t called for.
Think about this for moment: Most people do more abdominal sets and reps through crunches than they do for their legs! They feel that somehow by doing more abs they will spot reduce the body fat off of their belly. It just doesn’t work that way and to tell you the truth, you will burn belly fat faster by working your legs, which contain about 60% of the lean mass on your body and therefore act as the dominate force driving your metabolism.
Now let’s get back the original question of how long should your workouts be…
Your workouts should last as long as it takes to complete your workout program. That’s it. It may take you 42 minutes, while for others, such as elite athletes, it may be closer to115 minutes. Regardless, everyone should just concentrate on the volume of work that must be completed and then gauge their work vs. rest time appropriately. You will eventually find that the same workout will decrease in time as you get into better shape, since you will be able to complete more work in less time. This principle, known as Escalating Density Training, will actually allow you to complete a 60 minute workout in about 45 minutes!
Next week I will take you through a sample workout that we use at my studio to utilize those exact EDT principles that get clients amazing results.
Until then, work on disregarding the clock and concentrate more on what you need to accomplish for that day’s workout.
Committed to your success,
Stephen Cabral, CSCS, CPT, NS
Stephen Cabral is a national health correspondent with over 10 years of credentials. He holds national and international certifications in strength & conditioning, personal training, yoga and nutrition.
Steve's column, Trim, Tone & Tighten Thursdays, published every Thursday to Gather Essentials: Health
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