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Is 30 Minutes Enough for a Workout? Sorting Hype from Fact

Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

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The 30-minute workout - the buzz phrase in fitness centers in recent years - shows no signs of abating. Large fitness chains and small health clubs alike have been experimenting with the concept of a shorter workout.

There are two schools of practice on the 30-minute workout. Clubs such as Curves, Contours Express and Liberty Fitness for women and Cuts Fitness for Men specialize just in the 30-minute workout. They usually provide eight to 11 hydraulic exercise machines, and some clubs incorporate bouts of cardiovascular activity between stations.

In essence, they have retooled the circuit-training concept from the 80s and90s.

Larger health-club chains such as 24-Hour Fitness and Bally Total Fitness include 30-minute workouts as part of their many offerings. Their half-hour classes focus on one aspect of fitness, such as strength or cardiovascular activity or flexibility. In these clubs, you might take a 30-minute high-impact class, followed by a 30-minute yoga class or a 30-minute circuit-training session on the weight floor.

These options are undoubtedly an attractive way to entice a person who's short on time or wants a well-rounded workout without spending two hours on it.

But what's lost in the 30-minute hype is what kind of exercise meets government recommendations for good health. Should it be mostly strength training? Or should it be cardio? A combination of both?

And finally, is half an hour all we really need?

First, a recap of the government recommendations: The surgeon general's report states that some physical activity is better than none. We need a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate physical activity to improve health. We can get greater health benefits if we exercise more vigorously and for longer than half an hour.

Let's say you truly have no more than 30 minutes a day, every day, for exercise. Cedric Bryant, chief exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise, suggests spending two days for weight-training and devoting four days to five days for cardiovascular training. That's ideal.

That suggestion doesn't square with the popular 30-minute circuit-training programs, which tend to emphasize resistance training, with some cardio in the mix.

Programs offered at clubs are a good place for sedentary people to begin a workout program, Bryant said. "It's a nonintimidating environment, and the hydraulic resistance machines aren't going to result in much delayed-onset muscle soreness," he said.

Those programs also can be beneficial to those who like a structured regimen and don't mind doing the same exercises each day.

Some people will naturally not push themselves beyond the minimum requirement, Bryant said. "But given the poor activity habits of many Americans, I hesitate to chastise those people for not picking it up and getting more exercise. Some is a whole lot better than none," he said.

Bryant recommends that after about eight to 11 weeks of consistently using the circuit-training programs, it's a good idea to start experimenting with other ways to supplement your fitness regimen. Try adding 15 minutes of brisk walking, and slowly build up to 30 minutes - in addition to your existing workout, whether it be a Curves or at Cuts.

The reason is that the human body is built to adapt. Do the same thing over and over, and your body will become efficient at doing it, and you'll reach a point at which you're no longer improving. This is called a plateau.

As you become more fit, think about other aspects of fitness, including more cardio, flexibility and balance training. Your body will evolve and improve if you provide it with other challenges.


(Lisa Liddane is a health and fitness writer for The Orange County Register and an American Council on Exercise-certified group fitness instructor. Write to her at the Register, P.O. Box 11626, Santa Ana, Calif. 92711 or send e-mail to


(c) 2004, The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.). Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.


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