60 seconds or less: How much time should workouts take?

Posted on December 4, 2019

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(Last Updated On: December 4, 2019)

This is part of the Real Talk With Client Series. Click here for the rules. Go here to see other topics.

How long should a workout be?

(another variant of this question is “How much should I do at the gym?”)

Brand new to the gym

Don’t worry about how long you’re at the gym. Worry about showing up.

Initially everyone is gung-ho. You’re going to have this idea in your head of “I’m going to the gym 5-6 days a week, an hour each time.”

That sounds great.

Then after the first session you’re going to be so sore you start nicknaming your local gym Guantanamo.

Then next week your friend is going to ask you about going to a coffee shop, which will sound a hell of lot better than working out.

Then your kid is going to need a ride later than usual, disrupting your workout time.

Then your lower back is going to be aching, and you’re going to take a few days off.

Just show up to the gym 2-3 days a week to start. Do that consistently. Like 3-6 months consistently. The mere fact you’re actually at the gym, it almost doesn’t matter what you do. You’re going to make some progress.

The biggest thing in the beginning is getting on a path where you’ll still be working out a month, year, years, from now. After all, that’s the only way any of this is worthwhile. Workout for only six months? Twelve months from now nothing is going to be different.

“Don’t I need to workout for like two hours at a time, or ten hours a week, or six days a week, to make progress?”

No.

This can be a way people set themselves up for accepted failure. Many of us make being fit all or nothing. We’re either doing triathlons or we’re doing nothing.

It’s a convenient way to set yourself up so you’re either has-no-life Bob because you’re at the gym so much, or you’re stable-Jane who is “accepting of my body.” You’re either sacrificing huge chunks of your life just to be in-shape, or you’re living a fulfilling life of self-acceptance while you hyperventilate taking the stairs.

Thirty minutes of exercise done a few days per week will transform most people. But it borders on delusional to say you can’t find 30 minutes here and there to exercise. That you don’t have time to jog around your neighborhood and do some push-ups once in a while. It’s an amount of time so little, if you merely decide “I’m going to exercise today,” you’re likely to exercise for at least that long.

So instead we say “I can’t find two hours a day.” Who the hell can, right? And if you can’t exercise for hours at a time, and (in more mentally soothing land) anything less than that is pointless, let’s just not do it at all then.

More advanced person e.g. been going to the gym consistently for 6+ months

Go to the gym enough to meet your goals.

The more extreme your goals? The more you end up at the gym.

Professional athletes, high level bodybuilders, they workout more than anybody, because their goals are more extreme than everybody’s.

Furthermore, what it takes for you to reach your goals will be different than what it takes another person to reach theirs.

For some, bench pressing 300 lbs requires all-consuming time and effort. For others (like the very gifted), it’ll be their third time doing the exercise.

You want to run a mile? That won’t take much workout time. A marathon? Life-altering undertaking.

Just want to maintain a healthy weight? Gym two days a week? Could be plenty…if you’re quite good with your eating. You want have frequent flyer miles at McDonald’s? Maybe you’ll need five days per week.

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