As a Beginner, How Long Should I Work Out?

man on treadmill in Planet Fitness
No matter what the duration of your workout is, you should be proud that you did it at all.

by Mary Lambkin

How long should I work out? This is one of the most common questions first-time gym-goers have. Of course, the answer is: it depends!

There's no single workout type (or duration) that is perfectly suited for every adult. But it is possible to determine how long you should spend in the gym. Here are five factors to consider before you schedule your next sweat session.

1. Fitness Level

The first and most important thing to consider when you ask yourself "How long should I work out?" is your overall fitness level. If you're new to working out, spending an hour in the gym every single day might pose a greater risk than reward. You don't want to injure yourself or burnout by pushing your body past its limit before you find a comfortable rhythm. Try starting with short workouts that are 30 minutes or less. As you feel your strength building, add a couple more minutes every week.

The American Heart Association recommends 75-150 minutes of aerobic activity, as well as two strength-training sessions, per week. Assuming the strength training sessions last roughly 20 minutes each, that breaks down to about three hours of exercise a week. According to these recommendations, beginner exercisers should work up to three to four 40-minute gym sessions per week. If that doesn't seem realistic, remember, completing a 15-minute workout is better than skipping a 40-minute workout entirely.

2. Type of Workout

Of course, how long you work out for isn't the only thing to consider! How hard are you pushing yourself? The duration of your workout should depend on the intensity of the exercises.Maintaining a brisk walk on the treadmill for 40 minutes is appropriate; maintaining a full sprint on the treadmill for 40 minutes is impossible!

Before you commit to a lengthy gym session, think about the types of exercises you'll complete while you're there. Many gym-goers schedule their higher-intensity, short workouts for the weekdays when they have less time. On the weekends, they hit the gym for longer, low-intensity workouts.

3. Recent and Upcoming Workouts

Health and exercise experts recommend changing up the type, intensity and duration of your workouts. "Mixing up your workout routine is the best way to make sure ... you continue to see results from all the hard work you're putting in," trainer Greer Rothermel tells Elite Daily. Regularly changing things up can help you avoid injury and strengthen all of your body's muscle groups. Not to mention, it can keep you from getting bored with your same old routine (or burning out). No one wants that!

At the start of the week, choose a few days to alternate between longer and shorter workouts. For example, you might alternate between 40-minute and 20-minute gym sessions, with at leastone rest day scheduled per week. Remember, you don't have to maintain the same intensity during every session. One day might be spent simply walking on the treadmill.

4. Amount of Rest Time

You know those people at the gym that look like they are standing around, doing nothing? They are actually resting between sets! As they should be. Many strength-training exercises — especially weightlifting — require extra downtime for preparation, rest and recovery. This means that a 40-minute weightlifting session might only involve 20 minutes of actual exercise.

If you plan on going to the gym for a workout that involves multiple strength-training (or weightlifting) exercises and various pieces of equipment, add at least 10 minutes to your scheduled workout period. This extra time allows you to stretch, rest and recover between sets, as well as maintain the equipment required for your workout; collecting, assembling, adjusting, sanitizing, disassembling and returning everything to its proper place.

5. Other Commitments

Ultimately, making time for exercise matters. While everyone has commitments outside of the gym, it's equally important to invest in your health. It's totally understandable that your family and career come first — so if you have to cut your workout a few minutes short in order to scoot to another commitment, that's fine! As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention note, even 10-minute workouts can help improve your health.

No matter what the duration of your workout is, you should just be proud of what you accomplished.

As always, please consult with a physician prior to beginning any exercise program. See full medical disclaimer here.