Unless you’re lucky Enough to exercise for a living, you may find it difficult to try to fit your training into your daily life. Balancing your job, family, other hobbies, and much-needed downtime can leave little room for exercise, depending on what you prioritize. So, if you want it all—great relationships, success at work, and some size and strength—how much time do you need to schedule your gym appointments?
Unfortunately, there’s no magic “hour and a half” or other answer, says Mike Nelson, Ph.D., CSCS, associate professor at the Carrick Institute. Getting results in the gym, on the bike, on the track, or wherever else you sweat is less about a specific amount of time and more about the work you can get done, he says.
“You should be less preoccupied with the time limit, and more concerned with what you’re doing with that time,” agrees Sean Arndt, PhD, CSCS, chair of the Department of Exercise Science at the University of South Carolina. He says.
The more quality work you can include in your session – regardless of its length – the fitter you will become. Here’s how to use the time you have more wisely to achieve more gains in fewer hours.
How you should actually measure your workouts
“The math problem is your group [multiplied by] “Your reps,” rather than the minutes you spend in the gym, says Arndt. “That dictates adaptation.”
It talks about your training volume: the total amount of pounds you lift across all your sets and reps of an exercise or body part. A mountain of research has shown that for both strength and size gains, increasing the volume of your workouts is the key to growth, not increasing time.
So the answer to how long your workouts should take depends on how long you’ve been exercising to get to the volume you’re lifting now, according to Arent. To get stronger and bigger, you’ll need to increase your workout volume, week after week, month after month — a concept called progressive overload.
For example, let’s say you do the dumbbell bench press three times a week. In each exercise session, you perform four sets of eight reps with a 50-pound dumbbell in each hand. This means 1,600 pounds of work per session. To increase your strength and size over time, you’ll need to do just as much work…or more. You can increase the amount of weight you lift, or add more reps or sets (and there are reasons to choose each). But your exercise must last long enough to increase this volume.
If you’re just looking to maintain what you’ve built for now, you might be able to do a little less, Arnett says — about 80 percent of the volume you’ve raised so far. In this case, the exercise may be a little shorter.
For beginners, getting bigger may take very little time, Nelson says. “If you’re not a trainer and are just starting out, or if you haven’t trained for a while, you don’t need a lot of time,” he says. In fact, some beginners exercise too much, he says, doing long workouts that leave a negative impact. They were too sore to train again in the following days.
For these people, workouts of no more than 15 minutes — such as a 15-minute HIIT workout — can provide enough volume to progress.
“But as you get further, you’re going to have to accumulate more high-quality volume,” he says. This will likely take more time. “There’s no real way around that.”
How does rest affect exercise time?
There’s another variable that can affect how long you spend in the gym: comfort.
When you rest between sets, the muscles you’ve been working replenish their stores of adenosine triphosphate, Arndt says. This compound, known as ATP, is your muscles’ main energy currency which they use to contract. Convenience refills that gas tank so you can do another set. When it comes to strength training, research reviews have shown that for strength and size gains, more rest is better: rest periods of two to three minutes between sets lead to slightly more gains than rest periods of 60 seconds each.
Nelson says that doesn’t mean you have to rest too long — and double or triple your time in the gym — to rejuvenate each set. In research studies, things have to be normalized so they can be tested: everyone needs to rest for 60 seconds, or 120 seconds, for example. but You are on Not in a research study, so your rest periods can vary. He says that what should determine your rest period between sets is the quality of work you can do on the next set.
“Say you’re doing dumbbell bench presses. You’re using a 90-pound dumbbell, and you can do six reps,” he says. “You should rest long enough until you can get close to six reps again. If you can only do three reps, you probably haven’t gotten enough rest. So now you’re compromising on the amount of quality work and volume you can do.
In practice, he says, this could mean that your rest periods get longer as your workout goes on. Between the first and second sets of the exercise, you may still be so refreshed that you don’t need a complete two- to three-minute rest to do those six reps again. But on later sets of your workout, you may need more rest to do the good volume you’ll need to make gains. Adjusting your rest periods in this way can save time.
There’s another rest-related way to save time, he says: Provide big breaks for big workouts. While you may need several minutes of huffing and puffing to recover after a set of deadlifts or squats, you probably don’t need the same amount of time to feel rejuvenated after a set of isolation movements like triceps pushups.
How long will you need to rest for strength?
“If you’re looking to maximize strength, longer rest periods will win out. You’re probably using a heavier weight, or you should be,” says Arndt. When you’re lifting heavy sets of one, two, or three repetitions, you need To muster near-maximum levels of strength. These movements use a lot of muscle and a lot of ATP (also known as adenosine triphosphate, molecules your body uses for energy). As a result, you will need more time to replenish the ATP your muscles need. to do those big movements again.So, even though your sets are shorter, Arndt says, your workout will likely be a little longer.
There’s another reason your workout might be longer with this type of training, Nelson says: You’ll need more sets to warm up. When they perform heavy sets of one or two repetitions, powerlifters aren’t just putting all the weight on the bar and letting it rip. They do a large amount of warm-up sets. With longer rest periods, this takes longer.
How long will you need to rest for interval training?
When it comes to increasing your fitness, aerobics as short as four minutes have been shown to improve VO2 Max, a measure of cardiovascular exercise. Seven-minute cardio exercises (like this one) have been shown to be effective: In a 2013 study, participants saw gains in strength and endurance through a series of consecutive movements that lasted just seven minutes per session. To get these kind of results, you will still need to increase the work you do over time. Even if workouts don’t last long, they need to increase their intensity, Arndt says.
Even for high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts like this, “progressive overload is a real thing,” he says. “You’ll have to continue to challenge the regimen, whether that’s more weight, more reps, a combination of the two, or more work throughout the week.”
Balance time and intensity: If you are doing a shorter workout or shorter intervals, the work you do should be more intense. If you do more or longer intervals, your workout will be longer, so you won’t be able to go all out.
4 tips for shorter strength training exercises that are still effective
When life gets busy, you can still get stronger. Use these four strategies from Nelson and Arent to squeeze more volume into your resistance training minutes.
Contrasting exercises for the supergroup
Alternating between two exercises that use opposing muscles is a classic way to do more work in less time. Performing a set of pushing exercises, such as a dumbbell bench, and then a set of pulling exercises, such as a dumbbell row, allows you to work your back while your chest recovers, and vice versa. This approach is known as the comprehensive package.
That’s because your body’s use of ATP is local, Arendt says: Muscles that contract to make a movement use ATP in those specific muscles. So, when you sit up and use your chest and triceps, for example, the ATP used for contraction in your back and biceps is not used. These types of supersets alternate between pushing exercises and pulling exercises — pull-ups with push-ups, biceps curls with triceps push-ups, or leg extensions with leg curls, for example.
Hyper-tuning can lead to a slight decrease in performance in both exercises, compared to complete rest, Nelson says. But setting up your training this way can reduce the overall workout length while allowing you to fit more quality volume into your session time.
Trade isolation moves for big, compound exercises
Saving time is about prioritizing. If you’re trying to save time, Arndt says, focus on the most impactful movements to achieve your goals of getting stronger and more muscular—movements that use more muscles and joints at once and allow you to move heavier weights.
This means lots of squats, deadlifts, rows, bench presses, pull-ups, push-ups, and other movements that use at least two joints.
Save accessory movements like bicep curls, skull crushers, and other single-joint movements for the end of your workouts. If there’s time, you can accommodate them, Arendt says.
Do sets with slightly fewer reps
Long sets take too long, Arndt says: Many research studies compare longer sets with lots of reps to sets with five to eight reps, he says. Even when longer sets produce the same results, they take longer.
Let’s do the math: If each rep in a set of 15 takes four seconds, then a set will take one minute. But if you do a set of eight reps with a slightly heavier weight, five-second reps will only result in a 40-second set.
This means saving only 20 seconds of time. But if your workout has 30 sets, your workout will become 10 minutes shorter by making this change. He says focusing on five to 10 repetitions per set can save you time and allow you to build similar volume.
Do some aerobic training when you’re not lifting weights
This may seem counterintuitive — aerobic cardio training takes time, which is what you’re trying to save — but by building your aerobic base, Nelson says, your strength workouts may be shorter… because you won’t need to rest as long between sets to recover. .
“If you look at someone who has terrible aerobic capacity, they’re going to be limited by the amount of volume they can do in the gym because they can’t recover,” he says. Better aerobic fitness means faster recovery, which means more volume.
Nelson’s suggestion: Do your best to move for an hour every day, five days a week, whether it’s lifting weights or cardio. If you lift weights on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, for example, try doing some brisk walking or other cardio for 30 to 60 minutes on Tuesday and Thursday. Over time, this may mean you can do more work — and make more gains — on weightlifting days without increasing the time you spend in the gym.
Greg Bristow is a fitness and sports reporter and videographer in Washington, DC.