How much time should you spend in the gym?

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This is a question that I hear a lot especially from the people that are very new to lifting weights and don’t know a whole lot about this stuff. I’ve been there and had the same issue when I first got into the gym.

Am I working out enough? Is one hour enough to get big? Do I need to be in the gym for 2 hours to look like that guy?

Read on and see how much time YOU need to put into working out.

Don’t make this mistake

You see, the problem is that all newbie’s are very enthusiastic about making progress fast and are anxious to get to the gym and kill it in there. And this is sometimes the reason for overtraining, which has exactly the opposite effect to what you probably expect.

You’ll feel drained all day and your muscles won’t seem to grow at the rate you would like them to because you are burning yourself off. In fact, I think this is the top reason why beginners give up lifting weights – it’s hard and it takes a whole bunch of time and effort to see some results.

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Start off easy and grow from there.

Don’t go full on right from the start because your body doesn’t need all that intensity and this training regimen will not be sustainable in the long run.

The structure of a workout

The time you spend in the gym is made up of what you’re actually doing inside the gym. This will vary a bit from a workout routine to another, but more or less, a typical muscle building training session is made up of:

  • Warm-up session – usually a couple of light weight sets
  • of exercises
  • of sets
  • of repetitions
  • Rest periods length
  • Cardio (if applicable)

That’s your typical weight lifting training structure. And that’s how you can easily estimate how much time you need to be in the gym in order to achieve your goals by doing the training regimen that is optimal for you.

And I need to emphasize the words training regimen that is optimal for you, depending on your goals and training experience.

This is super important and this will actually determine the amount of time you need to be in the gym for.

Everybody’s different and everybody needs a certain amount of time in the gym in order to have an effective workout that is supporting their goals. A beginner doesn’t need to be in the gym as long as a pro-bodybuilder.

You may have noticed Arnold saying in many of his interviews and videos that he used to train for 3 to 5 hours a day. That’s outrageous for any natural bodybuilder.

You don’t need to do that. Most likely you are not in Arnold’s position and you want get to be like him by simply applying what he was doing when he was Mr. Olympia.

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I am doing just fine with just 50 minutes to 1 hour, while Chris Jones which was 10 years of lifting experience behind may need to hit them muscles for 1 hour and 30 minutes to get a good pump.

You see what I’m saying?

Based on training experience

The general rule that applies in lifting weights is that the more advanced you are the more time (or volume) you need to put in your workouts.

If you are wondering what training volume and training intensity is head over to this article over here.

So if you are in your first 6 months of lifting weights, probably you are fine with spending as little as 40 minutes in the gym, maybe up that time to 50 minutes in your first year of training.

As a beginner, because your muscles are not used to lifting they require little volume to start adapting and grow.

The more advanced you get the more time you will need to spend in the gym. Once you muscles adapt to a certain workout volume you need to increase that volume and put the body under stress again until the muscles adapt (grow) again. And so on and so forth. Bodybuilding is a sport of repetition and constant adaptation.

It’s a constant game of stress and adaptation. Progressively overload your muscle with higher intensity workouts, higher volume and the muscles will constantly adapt to it.

Now, you see why Arnold (or other pro-bodybuilders) reach a level where they need to train for up to 5 hours each day?

When it comes to workout volume there is no one size fits all kind off formula, but here are some general guidelines based on training experience.

  • 6 months or less: 30-40 minutes
  • 6 months – 1 year: 50 minutes
  • 1-2 years: 60-70 minutes
  • 3-5 years: 90 minutes
  • 5+ years: 90-105 minutes

Please note I am talking about natural bodybuilding only, because we are keeping it all natural over here. The figures above apply for 4 day splits. If you hit the gym just 3 days a week you will probably need to increase those numbers.

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Of course if you are training 5 days a week you probably can make your workouts a little bit shorter.

The increased amount of time over years pretty much comes from 2 main things – increased intensity and increased volume.

Higher volume

Obviously you will need more time to fit in 5 sets than you need for just 3 sets or for 5 exercises instead of just 2 exercises per body part.

Higher intensity

If you want to make your workouts more intense by lifting heavier weights you need to allow your body a longer time to recover between sets. Resting periods of up to 2-3 minutes are not something uncommon when using weights higher than 85% of your 1 RPM and this type of training is actually beneficial for muscle growth.

Apart from these 2 main things that will determine the length of your workout there are others that can influence it a bit. Here I am referring to things such as slow negatives, or rest/pause reps and generally to any type of advanced training technique that has to do with the time you spend on one single repetition of your exercise.

Ways of making workouts shorter

Obviously not everybody has a whole bunch of time to invest in their weight lifting. So, when time is a problem you can do two things: you can say hey, this is all I can do at the moment and settle with what you get out of your workouts, or you can start applying some advanced training techniques that will optimize the time you have.

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Basically you will fit in more volume in the same amount of time.

So, instead of training the traditional way you can start including some of these training styles:

  • Super sets
    • Train different muscle groups one after another with no rest in between. For example do a set of dumbbell curls and the go straight to triceps, or do chest and back. There are numerous examples.
  • Drop sets
    • Once you are done with your set, immediately lower the weight and do another set. This way you will get in more volume on the same muscle over a shorter period of time.

Both super sets and drop sets can be extended to triple or more sets, meaning that you to three or more sets in a row.

These are just a couple of examples that can help you train twice as fast. You don’t need to do them every day but they are a true time saver when you are on a hurry but you don’t want to skip through your workout.

On a personal note

Right now I have been training for almost 2 years and I feel that my body is doing fine and I am making steady progress with training around 50 – 60 minutes a day, 5 days a week. I like to dedicate a full day to each major body part and I take my time on hitting it well.

This doesn’t include cardio, it’s just lifting weights.

How about you? How much time are you speeding in the gym and what’s your training experience?

What is your opinion on this matter? Let me know in the comments below!