There are tons of misconceptions around fitness that can sabotage you before you even step foot into a gym, from believing your body needs to look a certain way to glorifying soreness as the mark of a successful session. But every January, there’s one myth that becomes especially prevalent: Your workouts need to be a certain length to “count.”
This all-or-nothing mindset may seem like the right approach if you want to get serious about fitness, but it can actually be a huge barrier to incorporating physical activity as a regular, sustainable, and enjoyable part of your life. As a personal trainer, I’ve had loads of clients come to me after burning out on plans stacked with way-too-long workouts. Then after trying the shorter sessions that I suggested—say, around the 10- to 20-minute mark—they ultimately see how much more approachable and rewarding a quick routine can be.
And rest assured, these short workouts are, indeed, “worth it”—both in the physical and mental benefits they bring. Whether you’re plagued by the aforementioned mentality or are just struggling to start an exercise routine, here are some legit reasons you should give shorter workouts a shot.
1. They cut down that intimidation factor.
The idea of going from little-to-no formal exercise to a full-on program can feel overwhelming. And rightly so—that’s a huge and drastic lifestyle change! Problem is, when we feel overwhelmed by something, we tend to avoid it completely, which is what I see happening often to people just starting out. For instance, thinking that an exercise routine has to be five days a week, 60 minutes a pop, might sound okay in theory, but when it’s time to actually do it, paralysis can set in: For example, when you see that hour-long workout staring at you from your calendar, it might seem insurmountable with the rest of your day-to-day weighing on you. So you just cross it off completely.
And even when you do show up for a long session or two, you may find you’re not able to sustain those routines over time: Cue the major blow to your self-esteem, a sense of crushing defeat, and the feeling that fitness just isn’t for you.
This is when I refocus my coaching; I take a step back with my client and we look at everything else going on in their day, and we do the math on how much time they can realistically set aside for exercise—factoring in things like how long it takes to and from the gym, to fit in a post-workout shower, and to eat that crucial snack afterward. More often than not, the new session will be much shorter than before. And seeing how that small chunk fits seamlessly into their schedule makes them feel more confident to take on that mini-workout right before or after work.
2. You’ll be able to dabble in a little of a lot, so you can find your niche
You’ll always be fighting a losing battle with exercise if you force yourself through workouts you hate, simply because it’s what you think you “should” be doing. This is where short routines are clutch: They help you nail down what kind of movement you actually enjoy.
Sessions that last 10 or 15 minutes can make it easier to try out different modalities in an easily digestible, not completely terrifying way. Take indoor cycling: If you jump right into a grueling, 60-minute spin class for the very first time, it’s going to seem hard, your butt’s going to be on fire, and you’re going to feel like you’ll never get that cadence down. I’ve seen plenty of people start too big here, and end up swearing off the bike forever. But a much shorter class provides a more manageable taste, so you can really figure out if it’s something you might enjoy more down the line.
I’ve done a similar thing with yoga: I’ve always wanted to try it, but the hour-long classes seemed like too much of a commitment. Rather than writing it off completely, I started slotting in a few poses into my post-workout cool-down—which took just a few minutes—and realized that, yep, it actually was something I wanted to continue with. The same principle applies to other modalities that have piqued your interest from afar, whether we’re talking barre, Pilates, lifting, or dance.
3. They can make you more consistent—and maybe even work out more.
Once you find a form of exercise you no longer dread, it’s not a huge stretch to think you’ll actually want to do more of it. And research supports that: According to a 2022 study in Frontiers in Psychology, the more that gym goers enjoyed their routines, the more likely they were to consider exercise a habit and say they plan to continue it in the future. They also logged more weekly workouts too.
Contrast that with the all-or-nothing exerciser, who tends to throw themselves into an intense, unrealistic workout regimen that doesn’t excite or motivate them. Like I’ve seen with my clients, that’s not sustainable for more than a few weeks at a time. And what comes next? A period of inactivity after that burnout. Cue the cycle of active and sedentary periods and the not-fun feeling like you’re starting from square one every single time you want to start moving again.
4. Your body can better adapt to exercise.
Your body needs time to adjust to the new physical stresses you’re putting on it; your bones, tendons, ligaments, joints, and muscles will all be feeling it after you start an exercise routine. And if you jump into too much too soon—say, super long workouts right out of the gate—you might not be able to keep up with those demands. In fact, according to a 2021 study in BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine, new exercisers are way more likely to get injured than those who have been at it for longer.
When workouts leave you hurt, aching, or physically fried, it can scare you off from exercising—no one wants to feel worse after doing something they should enjoy. Starting with shorter, fewer workouts and building up to longer, more frequent sessions (if that’s your thing) can be the gradual approach your body needs to safely adjust.
5. The health benefits of quick routines are legit.
You may be thinking, “Sure, those shorter workouts feel more fun, but do they actually do anything for me?” Rest assured: They bring a bunch of perks. That’s why when the US Department of Health and Human Services most recently updated its physical activity guidelines, it removed the 10-minute minimum duration for each bout of it—because any amount of exercise can be really beneficial.
According to a 2018 study in Frontiers in Physiology, performing a daily six-minute circuit workout for four weeks was enough to improve functional strength by as much as 20%—as well as boost the number of push-ups, burpees, and single-leg squats the participants could perform. What’s more, separate research has found that shorter spurts of exercise (say, 15 minutes or less), can help reduce your blood pressure, lower your triglycerides (a type of fat in the blood), increase your “good” cholesterol, and improve other risk factors for heart disease.
6. You dial in your routine and become more intentional with it.
New clients often tell me they spend way too much time aimlessly roaming the gym, unsure of what their plan is or what they want to accomplish—meaning a good chunk of their hour-long session is spent not working out but still taking their time away from other stuff. That’s another reason why short routines can be great: When your time is limited, you tend to go into it with a lot more focus and more intention.
After all, if you know you’ve only got 20 minutes, you’re going to make sure each and every one of them serves a purpose. Think five minutes for a dynamic warm-up, three rounds of a 30-second on/30-second off circuit, then a quick two-minute stretch to cap it all off. Basically, a lot less scrolling on your phone and more getting down to business. Shorter workouts make better use of your precious time and light a fire under your butt to get it done!
7. They can just make you feel better.
The mood-boosting and stress-busting benefits of exercise are pretty well-established by now—but what you may not realize is that you don’t need to run for five miles or take a 45-minute spin class to bring on that feel-good energy. Shorter bouts of movement can do it just as well: In fact, according to a 2016 study in the Journal of Sport Behavior, just 15 minutes of exercise improved a whole bunch of mood-related parameters, including reducing levels of depression and anger and increasing vigor. So the next time you’re in a funk, try adding in a little movement, and a brighter mood may be just a few minutes away.
8. Short workouts help you create balance in your life.
When you base your workout length on what feels good to you, it helps you become more intuitive with exercise. You’ll get more in sync with your body overall, which can help you better understand other stuff, like when you need to tweak a move that doesn’t feel good or if you should take an extra rest day.
This helps you work toward a better balance, one where you fit exercise into your life—not the other way around. Mainstream culture makes it very easy to become obsessed with fitness, to believe that it is the most important thing in life and needs to be priority #1 to be beneficial. But for most of us, living our happiest, healthiest lives means spending time doing many different things—socializing, prioritizing family, working on our careers, and enjoying hobbies and pursuing passions. Short workouts give us the freedom to tap into that.
Letting go of what constitutes a “good” workout, or one that’s “enough,” is empowering. It gives you the freedom to decide what your perfect workout duration and schedule look like—not what’s right for your friend, your yoga classmate, or the person on the treadmill next to you. Exercise is inherently personal and as unique as the people participating in it. We’re not all the same, so it makes sense that our workout routines shouldn’t all be, either!
The original article can be found on SELF US.