The 60-Minute Myth

By Joe Wuebben

How long does a workout take? Most people would say give or take an hour. Maybe the workout itself doesn’t actually take an hour, but by the time you get your gym clothes on, drive to the gym, get your workout in, drive back home, get out of your gym clothes and move on with your day, it’s probably at least an hour, if not more.

The point is, yes, a formal exercise session often takes around an hour – but it doesn’t have to. A workout can be 45 minutes, or 30 minutes, or 15 minutes, or 13 minutes. Or, hell, even 4 minutes – just ask Dr. Tabata.

Which leads me to the 60-Minute Myth, which can be summed up in the following internal dialogue that I’m sure millions of people have with themselves on a daily basis:

I don’t have an hour to work out, so I can’t work out.        

This could very well be called the 30-Minute Myth, except that, in my opinion, one hour is more commonly associated with ample workout time. But let’s just say it was the 30-Minute Myth. Here’s how that internal dialogue would go:

I don’t have 30 minutes to work out, so I can’t work out.

And that’s the myth: That if you don’t have X amount of time to get in a workout, then you might as well skip it altogether.

Again, back to the internal dialogue: “It typically takes me around an hour to exercise, but I only have about 30 minutes to spare today, if that. Well then, I’ll just skip the gym today and do it tomorrow when I have more time.”

That’s the wrong mindset. Sure, do it tomorrow when you have more time, but do it today, too.

Jim’s been harping on this message a lot recently. He’s actually working on a new program right now (tentatively titled the “No Fail Program”) that’s fully customizable. He’s still ironing out the details, but it goes something along lines of: If you have ample time to train, do 4-5 sets of each exercise (one exercise per muscle group). If you only have a half-hour or so, only do 2-3 sets of each. If you only have 10-15 minutes, just do one set of each exercise.

He also offers a slew of 15-Minute Workouts on JimStoppani.com, as well as troubleshooting content aimed at people who are short on time and a series of “no excuses” training articles. Jim knows your struggles, and he’s happy to write shorter workouts when you need them.

Get it out of your head that a workout needs to last 60 minutes, or even 30 minutes, to be considered a workout. It doesn’t. A workout can last 14 minutes or 41 minutes or 6 minutes.

Generally speaking, will a 30-minute workout be more productive and beneficial than a 15-minute workout? For most people, yes. All things being equal, perhaps you would get twice as much work done in a 30-minute workout than a 15-minute one. (Of course, there are ways to get more work done in a shorter time span – namely, cutting down rest periods – but that’s not the point.) Even if this is true, the fact is this: a 15-minute workout is infinitely more productive than no workout (zero minutes). Because what’s 15 divided by zero? It’s not 15. It’s zero. As in zero sum. That’s what you get when you skip workouts.

Keep in mind, I’m only using 15 minutes as an example. It’s an arbritrary amount of time. The point is that 15 minutes is probably less time than you’d like to have for your workout. But it’s way better than no workout.

Fifteen minutes may not sound like much when you think about it as just one workout. But imagine, let’s say, three weekly 15-minute workouts. That’s a very manageable number, right? If you can honestly say that you don’t have 15 minutes available to exercise three times a week, you need to manage your time better.

So, 15 minutes, three days a week. Over the course of a year, that’s over 2,300 minutes (39 hours) of exercise. That’s 156 workouts. Now how much more productive does that sound than 0 hours of exercise and 0 workouts for the year?

You can do a lot worse than 39 hours of exercise in a year. In fact, a vast majority of Americans do way worse than that every year.

Again, three days a week for 15 minutes is very manageable. It’s so manageable that if you were to make that a habit, you’d almost surely start doing more than 15 minutes per workout, more than three days a week, or both. Why? Because you’d start to feel better, which would make you want to do more of it.

The most important thing is the habit. Create it. That’s your starting point. If you look at your schedule and decide that you only have 20 minutes to spare for a workout, but then realize that 10 of those minutes would be spent getting ready for the workout and five minutes would be spent getting back to your day, that leaves only five minutes. Okay, fine. Do a five-minute workout then. If anyone gives you shit – like, “Oh, a five-minute workout? What’s the point?” – ignore them. Because a five-minute workout may only be half as productive as a 10-minute workout, but a five-minute workout will be infinitely more productive than no workout. That’s the mindset you need to have.

Also, remember this: That five-minute workout further enforces the habit of exercise. That’s a big thing.

Before you can create an exercise habit, you have to commit to one. And feel free to commit to an absolute bare minimum amount. Let’s say, three days a week for 10 minutes. We can call that a bare minimum. Okay, commit to that. The goal every week is to exercise at least three days, where each workout lasts at least 10 minutes. If you want to do more, that’s fine. Just make sure you hit that minimum amount at the very least.

Set yourself up for success. If five days a week for 60 minutes is a tall order for you right now, don’t commit to that yet. Save that for when it’s more realistic.

It’s your life, it’s your body, it’s your workout, it’s your game. You make the rules.