How Long Should Workouts Be?
Some people say workouts should never be more than an hour-long, or that it is just stupid if you train for 2 hours. Others say all you need is 15 minutes.
The people who make these very general recommendations are viewing training in a very narrow sense. In this article, I will explain why and how long workouts should ACTUALLY be.
Over An Hour:
Alrighty, let’s say someone is strength training and they have a lower body session that includes 5 sets of heavy squats, 2 accessory exercises, and volume work. Off the bat, the squats will take at least 20 minutes by the time you work up to the maximal weight, do the sets, and likely take at least 3 minutes between each set for rest.
Then the 2 accessory exercises will take another 20 minutes at a minimum. Then the volume work will likely take another 20.
This puts us easily over an hour. This does not include warm-up time, time to change the weights or the time to move between stations or the other minor time uses.
Maybe somebody just really enjoys being in the gym? Or maybe they only have 2 or 3 days a week to train so it makes sense for them to do longer sessions to get their training in. Who are you to tell them that they are training for too long?
While many will say that is not enough… what happens if that is all the time somebody has? Something is better than nothing. Personally, I believe everybody can create more than 15 minutes for a priority, but you get the point.
Or maybe their goal is to improve conditioning and their training only requires 3 to 5, 15 to 30-minute conditioning sessions per week to achieve this?
For the people who say 15 minutes is ALL you need, there is a decent chance they are trying to sell you their “workout program for busy people” course.
This is simply because many goals will not fundamentally allow this. If someone has the goal of muscle growth, there is a very unlikely chance that they will be able to get in the necessary volume in 15-minute sessions, even if they trained 7 days per week!
As you can tell, how long we work out is based primarily on the circumstance regarding the specific goal at hand and life commitments/schedules, not an arbitrary number.
Considerations That Matter:
Rather than saying thou shalt not workout for less than “x” amount of time or for more than “y” amount of time, what are some practical guidelines for us to implement?
The goal is to get the workload necessary for our goal accomplished. Whether this is 12 sets per muscle group per week on average for a goal of muscle growth, 5 heavy sets with 10 accessory exercise sets for each main lift for strength gain, obtaining 3, 20 minute HIIT sessions per week, etc.
Whatever training stimulus we want to achieve, our workout lengths should correlate well to that. Of course, an adequate training frequency (number of sessions in the week), is also important.
Can we train for longer than we need? Of course! Again, maybe we just really like training. Or we want to take some extra time at the end of our session to work on our core, or our mobility.
Is There Too Much or Not Enough?
If you are training for so long that it impedes your ability to recover and progress the fundamental training needed for your goals, that is when training time interferes too much. It does not make sense to train longer, at this point.
The same applies to not training long enough/not doing enough training.
Another way to train for too long is if you are training REALLY inefficiently. Maybe you are doing 5 isolation exercises at the end of your strength sessions. Maybe you are taking too long of rest times between sets. Maybe you are doing way too many warm-up sets. Maybe you are talking to people a ton during your workouts.
You could also be condensing training into too few sessions, making the work you do in the later part of these sessions less effective.
Some of those examples fall under overtraining. Others are just structural formats that can be easily fixed.
Basically, train frequently and long enough to get the work in that you need to get in. If you like training or have additional attributes you want to focus on, longer sessions are ok. If you are overtraining or making training really inefficient and it is taking away from your goals and or sucking a ton of your time, it makes sense to tighten things up. Of course, if you are not training enough, that should be addressed, too.
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