Consider these important factors when determining what the best length for your cardio workouts should be.
Work out based on your goal
I know that as a busy mom you are trying to workout as efficiently as possible. You may feel like you need to spend at least X amount of time working out to get results. Or maybe you feel like you need to work at maximum capacity otherwise the workout wasn’t effective. Yes and no. I’m sure you love that answer LOL. So how hard or how long your workouts need to be are totally dependent on your goals! Are you trying to lose weight? Are you trying to lose fat? Do you want to maintain your muscule mass or build more? Are you trying to increase your strength or conditioning? Maybe you are looking to maintain your current fitness level or just want to get four to five cardio sessions in per week.
Regardless of your answer, duration and intensity are inversley related. The duration of your workouts will be determined on the intensity of that cardio workout. You can’t perform at maximum effort for an hour but a 15 minute walk probably won’t serve you many benefits. So if you are going to do a high intensity cardio workout you will be limited in length to maintain that intensity and gain the benefits. And if you are going to workout at a moderate to low intensity, you will want to train for a longer duration to improve endurance and burn enough fat and calories.
Cardio workouts for weight loss
If you are looking to lose weight, you need to establish what that exactly means. Are you trying to lose actual fat but maintain your muscle? Do you just need to lose some pounds because the doctor said so? Maybe both? As far as losing weight goes, (in my NON-dietitian/physician opinion) it comes down to burning more calories than consumed at the very end of the day. Again, I am not a dietitian nor a doctor and you should always clear nutrtion and diet concerns with them first.
Exercise burns calories, or stored energy. But the intensity of the exercise changes what energy system is used. So if we are working at a very high intensity that we cannot maintain for more than short bursts (around 2 minutes or less), then we are mostly burning carbs for fuel. And we can only work at a intensity like that for so long before our conditioning fatigues, our intensity drops, and we are now shifting in energy use. Low intensity exercise that is sustained for long bouts uses mostly fats for fuel. Keep in mind though, we are never burning JUST carbs or JUST fats.
Now you may think that because you want to lose fat, you should do low intensity and long duration. That is correct. HOWEVER! Those high intensity workouts burn more calories at a time. So remember when I said calories burned over consumed gets you weight loss? Well if fat results from too many calories (stored energy), doesn’t it make sense that we want to burn more calories? YES. And if you are looking for weight loss you want to be able to stay consistent. High intensity workouts are great for burning calories, but also harder to maintain at a regular frequency. So if you are looking for EITHER KIND of weight loss, both methods are effective. But what if your fitness goals go deeper than that or you aren’t looking to lose weight at all?
Length of cardio workouts for endurance
Regardless if you are looking to lose, maintain, or gain weight, let’s discuss what type of conditioning you are looking for. If you want to improve your endurance, moderate to low intensity workouts that last longer (30 minutes or more) are going to consist of a majority of your fintess. However, to improve your endurance you will still want to incorporate high intensity training.
These types of workouts will improve your maximum oxygen consumption. Basically, that is the amount of oxygen you breathe in for use during exercise. The higher your consumption threshold is, the higher your work capacity is. Therefore, high intensity workouts are effective at making your body more efficient at working for endurance.
Length of cardio workouts for strength and conditioning
If you are trying to improve your strength and/or conditioning (i.e. higher intensity training or athletic training) you will most definitely be adding in those shorter cardio workouts. Typically, HIIT style. Of course because how will you increase your aerobic capacity? But, I also want you to consider something else. When you are trying to improve your strength, power, or conditioning you need to give your body ample recovery. And those long duration (think over 30 minutes), low intensity cardio workouts are great for active recovery. They are effective at improving aerobic capacity without putting your body under high stress. Helping you to avoid burnout.
Even workouts that are steady state moderate intensity and a little shorter (think 20-30 minutes) condition your muscles to work while fatigued without breaking down in mechanics and form. Making them another effective antagonist to your high intensity workouts.
How long should your workouts be?
If you have made it this far you should realize that there is no “one size fits all” to your length of workout. There is no set time that your body says, “Okay, 33 minutes! I have worked long enough to burn belly fat.” It is totally dependent on you, your goal, and your intensity. But if you want the most EFFECTIVE workouts, you need to mix it up!!!! Give yourself a variety of long, medium, and short duration workouts for the best results. But here are the general guidelines based on intensity:
High intensity (typically HIIT* style) – under 20 minutes
Moderate intensity (about 75% effort**) – 20 to 30 minutes
Low intensity (50% effort or endurance workouts) – 30 minutes or more
*work intervals should be 30 seconds max with a minimum of 1:1 work:rest ratio
**work intervals should be 3 minutes max
***steady state, continuous work time or over 3 minutes of work
Here is a high impact HIIT workout that I made for my fit mamas that are looking for a challenge. Lots of jumping and change of direction, so I recommend it for my intermediate to advanced levels! And only 15 minutes. But trust me, you will hit your maximum capacity 😉