by Sean Nalewanyj
Ideal Workout Length: How Long Should My Workout Be?
What is the optimal time frame for an effective workout session from the time you begin your first set up until you complete your last one? 45 minutes? An hour and 15? 2 hours?
The truth is that there really is no single “best” answer here.
The simple guideline I would give is that your workout can last as long as you need it to as long as your overall training intensity, energy and focus has not significantly declined.
When your workout length begins drifting into the upper ranges, your mental drive and physical performance will begin to steadily decrease, and this has two main consequences…
First off, the specific exercises you perform towards the end of the workout will not be executed with optimal focus and intensity, and this will negatively affect the stimulation of whichever muscles you’re attempting to train.
Secondly, because your overall focus has dropped, you may also be increasing your chances of injury due to less than perfect form as you become increasingly fatigued.
It’s impossible to put an exact time frame on when this will become an actual concern, as it will be affected by several factors…
Workout Type – An all-out leg workout consisting of squats, leg presses and romanian deadlifts is going to take a lot more out of you than a moderate intensity bicep and tricep workout.
The specific muscles you’re training and the exercises you’re performing will play a huge role in how long you can effectively sustain your strength and energy levels.
Nutrition – The consistency of your diet in the 12-24 hour period prior to your workout can have quite a measurable impact as well. If you ate poorly the previous day and in the hours leading up to your session, expect a drop in your overall performance, and vice versa.
Individual Fitness Level – Some people are simply more well-adapted to intense weight training due to their experience level and genetics, and this affects how long and hard they’re able to train.
Mood And Motivation – The mind plays a huge role in the outcome of our workouts (and in pretty much everything else we do), and if for whatever reason you’re feeling particularly pumped up and motivated to lift on any given day, you’ll likely be able to train effectively for longer periods of time.
Supplementation – When taken 30-45 minutes before your session, a select few pre-workout supplements can give you the extra mental focus and strength needed to continue your workout for an extended period of time if necessary. (Get my no B.S supplementation guide here)
Because of all the potential factors that can come into play, there’s really no necessity to put a specific time frame on your workout in terms of minimum and maximum length.
For most people in most situations, you’re probably looking at a workout lasting in the range of 45-90 minutes from the time you perform your first working set until the completion of your final working set (this excludes warmups). This is just an estimate, however.
In any case, don’t obsess over the specific time frame of your workouts.
Just make sure that…
A) You’re getting all of the necessary work done.
B) You’re not taking any more rest between sets than is necessary.
C) You’re able to maintain a high level of focus, strength and intensity all the way through in order to effectively stimulate your muscles and maintain proper form at all times.
How Many Workouts Per Week For Muscle Gain?
What is the ideal number of workouts to perform each week if your goal is to maximize muscle hypertrophy and growth?
3 sessions? 5? Training every single day?
As with most questions on the issues of optimal training and nutrition, the answer here is not black and white.
It will depend on things like your individual genetic capacity to recover between workouts… how tightly nailed down your nutrition plan is… your sleeping habits… supplementation… as well as many other smaller factors that come into play.
First off, let’s establish what your ultimate goal in the gym is assuming that you’re trying to pack on the greatest amount of muscle in the shortest amount of time…
It’s to train each muscle group as often as possible while still fully recovering in between workouts.
Remember, your muscles don’t grow in the gym. The work that you perform in the gym is simply designed to break down your muscle fibers and set the muscle building process into motion.
The real growth happens while you’re out of the gym eating and resting.
So if you want to gain muscle at the fastest rate possible, your overall aim should be to train a given muscle, and as soon as it has fully recovered, train it again.
This will result in the greatest number of total “growth periods” throughout the year, and thus the fastest gains. (If you train a given muscle, it has fully recovered, but you still wait several days to train it again, those few days are basically a wasted opportunity where you could have stimulated new growth)
We now know that protein synthesis remains elevated in a given muscle for about 72 hours after a hard training session, which would place the optimal training frequency for a given muscle group at roughly 2 times per week. This is just an estimation though, and it will be slightly higher or lower depending on the individual.
Given this information, you might think that the best plan is to simply get yourself into the gym as often as you possibly can and hammer each muscle with maximum intensity every time. And while this can work in some cases, we also have to take a few other factors into account.
* Higher training frequencies can increase the chances of burning out and ultimately overtraining yourself. It’s not just your muscles that need recovery, but your entire central nervous system as well.
* Intense workouts place your joints and connective tissues under a lot of stress too, and if you don’t give these areas adequate recovery time you could easily end up with an injury that halts your entire training plan.
* Having a slightly more “practical” training frequency (rather than being in the gym almost every day) will likely increase your overall enjoyment and adherence to the workout routine in the long run, especially if you have a lot of other things going on in your life. Someone who trains 4 days per week but looks forward to every single workout has a much higher chance of overall success than someone who trains 6 days a week but feels mentally exhausted and dreads going to the gym.
Taking all of these factors into consideration, most average natural trainees would probably be best off performing 4-5 total weight training workouts per week.
This is a high enough frequency to allow you to hit each individual muscle group with sufficient intensity around twice a week or so, while preventing burn out and excessive joint stress, and while keeping your time in the gym at a practical level.
My recommendation is to either use an upper/lower split and alternate back and forth between the two workouts, or to use a legs/push/pull structure (legs on day 1, chest/shoulders/triceps on day 2, back/biceps on day 3) and simply rotate through the workouts throughout the week.
I did say that this wasn’t a black and white issue, though, and I do want to clarify that this 4/5 day frequency assumes that your goal is to maximize hypertrophy and achieve the very best gains in the shortest time frame.
Performing an upper/lower split or legs/push/pull split 3 days per week is also a perfectly viable option (even 2 days per week can work) that will allow you to make consistent, significant gains in muscle size and strength over time. The only difference is that your overall gains will likely come at a slightly slower pace, since you’ll have fewer total “growth periods” throughout the year for each given muscle.
But if your goal is not necessarily to get as big/strong as possible in the shortest time, or if it just suits your schedule/general preference better, 3 days of weight training per week will still be very effective. And again, as long as you have the right structure in place, even 2 days can work as well.
About the Author:
Once an awkward, out-of-shape “social outcast”, Sean Nalewanyj is now a renowned fat loss and muscle building expert, best-selling fitness author and success coach. Through his mega-popular websites and his information-packed online email lessons, Sean has helped tens of thousands of average, everyday people from all over the world burn fat, build muscle and get into the best shape of their lives. Sean is a lifetime natural bodybuilder, has written articles for dozens of the top muscle-building and fat loss websites across the Internet and is recognized as an expert authority on the subjects of building muscle and burning fat fast.