Why The 60-Minute Workout Is Dead

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The hour-long workout has long been cited as the gold-standard in the fitness world. From 60-minute workout DVDs, classes on fitness schedules, workouts created in apps, and training sessions led by personal trainers, it’s been the most common—and often discouraging—amount of time needed per workout to see results. But times have changed. These days, shorter is better for a lot of people. And any amount of activity is truly better than none. So it’s time to drop the busy excuse once and for all, and forget about this big hurdle. Finding an hour to work out is no longer necessary! Instead, focus on these guidelines that combat the hour myth for realistic long-term results.

Regular Exercise is Essential

According to ACSM, adults should participate in a total of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. But nowhere in the recommendations does it say exercise must be in 60-minute increments. ACSM breaks it down and states the total time can be met through 30-60 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, 5 days per week, or 20-60 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise, three days per week. The most important determinant in the length of the workout is how frequently you can exercise and what intensity you choose.

Must Move More, Daily

Beyond ACSM’s exercise prescription, moving more to offset sedentary behavior is highlighted in their recommendation these days. Sedentary behavior, described as sitting for long periods of time, is distinct from the physical activity of a workout or sport. The health risk of continuing to be sedentary is worse than originally thought, and much to our disbelief, meeting the guidelines for physical activity does not make up for a sedentary lifestyle. And, chances are, if finding the time for an hour sweat session is tough for you, or if a long workout is more tiring than it is invigorating, you may find yourself moving even less throughout the day to make up for it! And that is exactly the opposite of what we need.

More May Not Be Better

Let’s face it: When you focus more on clocking the minutes and less on what you’re doing with those minutes, you may come out on the losing end of the equation. If you’re working out for an hour, your average intensity may be lower, or you may take more recovery time than you would in a shorter workout. If either of these occur, your caloric burn may be less. Ultimately, when you continue to add length to your workouts and fail to see the results you’re after, you run the risk of abandoning your workout routine all together, which definitely isn’t good!

Reduction Rules

If you’re ready to give shorter workouts a try, here’s what needs to happen:

1. Increase the intensity, but don’t ditch the warm-up.

Warm-ups are essential for safety and effectiveness. If you’re going to drop to 30-minute workouts, spend at least 5 minutes of your time slowly ramping up your heart rate and core temperature. Then, in the 20 to 25 minutes you have left, aim to be uncomfortable. Try HIIT intervals.

2. Add frequency, but don’t forget your active recovery days.

You still want to aim for 150 minutes of total exercise each week for good health and well being. Review the ACSM guidelines from above. But, you’ll still need to include active recovery days to stay injury-free and side-step burnout. Try a few days a week of high(er) intensity exercise mixed with days of yoga, walking, paddle boarding, or leisurely bike riding.

3. Move more, but don’t rely on pedometers.

Even if you are doing everything we’ve mentioned, workouts are only part of the equation. We’re learning, every day, how detrimental sitting is to our health. The ‘move more’ mantra has been out there for a while now, but we’re relying on the number of steps we take to give us a virtual thumbs up. Movement actually means changing positions and doing so frequently. So, set a timer and make sure you move around at least one-minute each hour as often as you can!

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Shannon Fable, 2013 IDEA and 2006 ACE Instructor of the Year, is a fitness business and programming consultant who has helped impressive brands such as Anytime Fitness, Schwinn®, Power Systems, ACE, and BOSU® over the last 20 years. As an experienced educator and certified Book Yourself Solid® Business Coach, she helps fitness entrepreneurs navigate the industry and make more money. Fable, a member of the ACE Board of Directors, is the owner of GroupEx PRO®, a cloud-based group fitness management tool, and Balletone®.