Who told you that your exercise routine must be an hour?

Could it have been the first time you went to a gym and had an exercise program?
Firstly, there’s nothing wrong with physical activity for that length of time or even longer. From personal experience the feeling of completing a thorough hour of exercise can be one of accomplishment and pride. Occasionally well earned smugness too.

Like many fitness professionals, I’ve written exercise programs that weigh in at an hour – sometimes as part of the client’s initial request. In the past, a typical introductory program would begin with a sufficient warm up – usually ‘cardio’ based – to prepare the body for incremental increases in exercise intensity and minimise the risk of injury. The program would then add resistance / weight training for strength, cardiovascular exercise for stamina (heart & lung health), a cool-down of  ‘core’ focused exercises with a few stretches at the end. In summary the premise was to provide a full, complete exercise session for health with a few adaptations dependant on the individual.
Cramming all that into an hour was standard. For someone turning up to a gym, presented with this 1hour+ protocol  was the norm, and yet ironically one of the biggest obstacles to exercise is the perception of not having enough time. The ‘I need an hour’ philosophy, is perhaps a packaged interpretation of late 90s research (ACSM guidelines) which became a less dominant influence on fitness prescription in the UK with  NHS guidelines suggesting a 5 x30 mins option  of moderate-vigorous regular  exercise. The introduction of shorter more compact training methods such as HIIT and CrossFit have increased in popularity – both fine methods for the highly motivated or experienced. However, the golden, fat-burning, get-it-all-done-1-hour-workout along with 1 hour Personal Training sessions remain.

Again, as I mentioned in the introduction, I’m not slating 60mins or about to elevate HIIT as superior. The point I want to highlight is more for those who see the hour as a significant obstacle, a long-winded chore of changing clothes and travel before their ‘workout’ even begins. In addition there may well be that sinking feeling that if ‘I’m not fit enough for HIIT and if I can’t maintain or reach close to 60 minutes then what I’m doing isn’t really worthwhile  – a fail. May seem trivial or a collection of excuses but this way of thinking really does prevent many from starting or continuing with regular exercise.

So What do I recommend?  ‘What works for you’ sounds vague as does ‘everyone is an individual’  both true but meaningless in some ways.
I revert back to a my mantra of maintaining  a healthy habit, healthy lifestyle choice. So if a person can maintain that golden hour I applaud them. However, today’s session was just – 20mins – with highlights shown below.


Time, within a busy schedule, was as always a key factor but not my main reason for suggesting such a short duration. In this instance,  returning back to exercise after a break of a few months and with a lower fitness level also required the following;

  • a sense that a shorter workout would be achievable
  • positive feeling of achievement on completion
  • safely working with muscular discrepancies to avoid injury

A longer session may have achieved all of the above however the benefit & feel good factor from a short bout of exercise has done wonders for restarting and maintaining a regular exercise habit. Much more important than an hour ticked off the checklist.


NHS Exercise guidelines –