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How Long You Should Work Out For

The best workout length for hypertrophy: 30, 45, 60, 90 minutes?

You've probably heard the saying "you should not work out for more than 45 minutes". It's not necessarily true and we will explain why. In this article we will also give you tips to adjust your workout duration according to your goals and lifestyle.

Workout length: what does it mean?

When someone says they train more than two hours, it doesn't mean they're exercising during that whole time.

There are many factors that need to be taken in consideration:

  • Warm up duration
  • Rest periods
  • Stretching
  • Going to the washroom
  • ...

However, I would not recommend you spend hours at the gym if you're not exercising during that time. It would a waste of your time.

Workout duration and hormones: testosterone and cortisol

The idea of keeping your workouts short has been around for years. Some people would say that if you train for more than 45 minutes, your testosterone levels (muscle building hormone) will drop and your cortisol levels (stress hormone) will raise and you will end up being a catabolic state (lose muscle).

However, research has shown that some long workouts (90 minutes+) would raise testosterone levels up to two hours after the training session. There's no evidence that cortisol would ruin your progress. In fact, the opposite seems to happen. Studies show that trainee who have the most cortisol grow more muscle.

Therefore, reducing workout duration to enhance hormonal response is unfounded.

Workout length and your schedule

There is no "optimal" workout length. There is only a realistic and sustainable workout duration that works for you and your schedule.

For example, your lunch break workout would probably not be as long as your weekend training session.

I've made the mistake of making my workouts the top priority over life priorities: being late to meetings, to work... Don't get me wrong, working out has to be a priority in your life, but I strongly think it should not have a negative impact on your life responsibilities.

So adjust your workouts according to your schedule. If you only have 30 minutes instead of 2 hours, use intensification techniques such as supersets/circuits/drop-sets instead of doing a single exercise at a time.

How long should your rest periods be?

How long you rest between each set will probably the variable that will affect your workout length the most. You've also heard about "the best rest period", which people think is between 1 to 2 minutes.

However, it's much simpler than you would think. You should rest until you feel ready for your next set. Studies have shown that short rest periods (1–2 minutes) would produce less muscle growth compared to long rest periods (3–5 minutes). Longer rest periods would help let your CNS (central nervous system) recover and you would end up doing more stimulating reps to failure.

Rest periods guidelines

Since we don't want to spend our lives at the gym, here are some rest periods guidelines:

  • Compound exercises: 2:30-3 minutes of rest (e.g. squat)
  • Isolation exercises: 1-1:30 minutes of rest (e.g. bicep curl)

How long should you work out for?

It all depends on your schedule, goals and type of training you're doing.

For example, a powerlifter who's aiming to lift heavy weights will be training longer someone who wants to exercise to be healthy.

So your workout length will vary depending the muscle group and the intensity you're aiming for. If your goal is to build muscle and gain strength you will spend more time training than when you want to keep your heart rate up and burn more fat.

Workout length guidelines

Let's define some guidelines that will help you structure your workouts accordingly:

  • High intensity workout (gain strength and muscle): 45-120 minutes
  • Moderate intensity workout (build muscle): 45-90 minutes
  • Light intensity workout (recovery day): 30-90 minutes
  • High intensity interval training (HIIT): 15-45 minutes
  • Low intensity steady state (LISS): 15-90 minutes

Once again, these are guidelines. Do what works best for you.

In summary

  • Workout length includes many factors such as: warming up, stretching...
  • You will not lose muscle if your workouts are longer than 45 minutes.
  • Adjust your workouts according to your schedule. Use intensification techniques to do so.
  • Rest until you feel ready for the next set.
  • Workouts that involve heavier loads will be longer than moderate intensity training sessions.
  • J Strength Cond Res. "Postexercise hypertrophic adaptations: a reexamination of the hormone hypothesis and its applicability to resistance training program design."
  • Eur J Appl Physiol. "Associations of exercise-induced hormone profiles and gains in strength and hypertrophy in a large cohort after weight training."
  • J Appl Physiol (1985). "Hormonal and growth factor responses to heavy resistance exercise protocols."
  • Christian Finn. "How Long Should Your Workout Last?"
  • Chris Beardsley. "Do short rest periods help or hinder muscle growth?"
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