UNLESS YOU’RE LUCKY enough to make a living, you may find it difficult to try to fit your workout into your daily life. Balancing work, family, other interests, and necessary free time may leave you with little time to exercise, depending on what your priorities are. So if you want all those great relationships, success at work, some shape and strength, how much time do you need to go to the gym?
Unfortunately, there is no magic hour and a half or other answer, says Mike Nelson, PhD, CSCS, associate professor at the Carrick Institute. Getting results in the gym, on the bike, on the track or anywhere else you sweat isn’t about a set amount of time but about work you can get done, he says.
Shawn Arent, PhD, CSCS, chair of the Department of Exercise Sciences at the University of South Carolina, agrees: “You need to be less caught up in time and more interested in what you’re doing in the meantime,” he says. speak.
The more quality work you can fit into your session, regardless of its length, the better suited you will be. Here’s how you can use the time you have more wisely to achieve more in fewer hours.
How should you actually measure your workouts?
The problem is your set [multiplied by] Your reps instead of minutes spent at the gym, says Arent. That’s what determines adaptation.
He’s talking about your training volume: The total number of pounds you lift across all sets and repetitions for an exercise or body part. Numerous studies have shown that to increase both strength and size, increasing training volume is the key to growth, not increasing duration.
So the answer to how long your workout needs to be depends on how long you’ve been exercising to reach your current lifting volume, according to Arent. To get stronger and bigger, you’ll need to do more training volume, weekly and monthly, a concept called progressive overload.
For example, let’s say you’ve been doing weightlifting on the bench three times per week. During each workout, you do four sets of eight reps with 50-pound dumbbells in each hand. That’s 1,600 pounds of work per session. To increase your strength and size over time, you’ll need to do that much work or more. You can increase the weight you’re lifting or add more reps or sets (and there are many reasons to choose each). But your workout needs to last long enough to increase that volume.
If you just want to maintain what you’ve built now, Arent says, you can do a little less work, about 80% of the weight you’ve lifted so far. In this case, your workout time may be a little shorter.
For beginners, increasing the volume can take very little time, Nelson says. If you’re untrained and just starting out, or if you haven’t worked out in a while, you don’t need much time,” he says. In fact, some beginners do too much, he says. , prolonged exercise makes them too sore to exercise again in the following days.
For these people, short workouts of just 15 minutes like this 15-minute HIIT workout can provide enough volume for progress.
But the more you progress, the more high-quality volume you have to accumulate, he says. And that will probably take longer. There’s no real way around it.
How rest affects your workout time
There’s another factor that can affect how long you spend at the gym: Rest.
When you rest between sets, the muscles you’re working replenish their adenosine triphosphate stores, says Arent. This compound, commonly known as ATP, is the main energy currency your muscles use to contract. Take a break to refill this tank so you can do another set. When it comes to strength training, review studies have shown that to gain strength and size, a little more rest is better: Two to three minutes of rest between sets will bring benefits. slightly more beneficial than 60 seconds of rest per set.
But that doesn’t mean you have to rest that long and double or triple your time in the gym to refuel after each set, says Nelson. In studies, everything needs to be standardized so that it can be tested: People need to rest for 60 seconds, or 120 seconds, for example. But you are not in one study, so your rest period may vary. What determines how long you rest between sets is the quality of work you can do in the next set, he says.
Let’s say you’re doing bench presses. You’re using 90-pound dumbbells and you can do six repetitions, he said. You should rest long enough to get close to six repetitions. If you can only do it 3 times, you probably didn’t rest enough. So now you are influencing the quality and amount of work that you can do.
Practically speaking, he says, this may mean your rest periods will get longer as your workout continues. Between the first and second sets of an exercise, you’re probably still pretty fresh and don’t need the full two to three minutes of rest to do those six repetitions again. But in later training sets, you may need more rest to get the quality volume you need to be effective. Adjusting your rest time this way can save time.
Another rest-related way to save time: Take plenty of rest time for big workouts, he says. While you may need a few minutes of huffing and puffing to recover from a heavy set of deadlifts or squats, you may not need the same amount of time to feel replenished after a set of the move. isolation like triceps pushups.
How long do you need to rest to regain your strength?
If you want to maximize strength, longer rest periods will yield wins. Maybe you’re using heavier weights or you should be, says Arent. When you lift heavy sets of one, two, or three reps, you need to exert near-maximum strength. These moves use a lot of muscle and a lot of ATP (aka adenosine triphosphate, molecules your body uses for energy). As a result, you’ll need more time to replenish the ATP your muscles need to perform these big movements again. So even though your sets are shorter, Arent says, your workout will probably be a bit longer.
Another reason your workout may last longer with this type of workout, Nelson says: You’ll need more sets to warm up. When training with heavy sets of one or two repetitions, weightlifters don’t just slam all their weight on the bar and tear it. They perform a significant number of warm-up sets. Combined with a longer rest period, this will take longer.
How long do you need to rest for interval training?
When it comes to increasing your fitness, workouts as little as 4 minutes have been shown to improve your VO2 Max, a measure of your cardiovascular fitness. Seven-minute cardio interval workouts (like this one) have been shown to be effective: In a 2013 study, participants experienced increased strength and endurance with a series of back rotations last just seven minutes per session. To get these results, you still need to increase the work you’re doing over time. Even if workouts don’t get longer, they still need to increase in intensity, Arent says.
Even for high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts like this, he says, progressive overload is real. You’ll have to keep challenging the system, whether it’s heavier weights, more repetitions, a combination of the two, or more exercises throughout the week.
Balance time and intensity: If you are doing shorter workouts or shorter intervals, the work you do will be more intense. If you do more or longer intervals, your workout will be longer, so you won’t be able to workout as hard.
4 tips for shorter strength workouts that are still effective
When life gets busy, you can still get stronger. Use these four strategies from Nelson and Arent to add volume to your resistance training minutes.
Superset resistance exercise
Alternating between two exercises that use opposing muscles is a classic way to do more exercises in less time. Doing a set of a pushing exercise, such as a deadlift, followed by a set of pulling exercises, such as a dumbbell row, allows you to work your back while your chest is recovering, and vice versa. This approach is called superset.
That’s because your body’s use of ATP is local, Arent says: The muscles you contract to perform a movement use up the ATP in those specific muscles. So when you squat and use your chest and triceps, for example, the ATP used to contract the muscles in your back and biceps will not be used up. These types of supersets alternate pushups with pullups with pushups, or bicep curls with tricep pushups, or leg extensions with leg curls, for example.
Overdoing it can slightly reduce performance in both exercises compared to complete rest, Nelson says. But setting up your workout this way can reduce overall workout length while still allowing you to add more quality volume to your session time.
Trade isolation movements for big, complex exercises
Saving time is all about prioritizing. If you’re trying to save time, Arent says, focus on the most impactful moves to achieve your goal of getting stronger and more muscular, using more muscles and joints at once. time, while also allowing you to move heavier weights.
That means lots of squats, deadlifts, rows, bench presses, pull ups, pushups and other movements that use at least two joints.
Save accessory movements like bicep curls, overhead presses, and other single-joint movements for the end of your workout. If you have time, you can include them, Arent said.
Work out with slightly fewer repetitions
Long sets take a long time: Many studies, he says, compare longer sets with many repetitions to sets with five to eight repetitions. Even if longer sets yield similar results, they still take longer.
Do the math: If each set of 15 takes 4 seconds, then that set will take one minute. But if you do a set of 8 reps with a slightly heavier weight, those 5-second reps will still only result in a 40-second set.
That’s just 20 seconds of time saved. But if your workout has 30 sets, your workout time will be 10 minutes shorter when you make this change. Focusing on five to 10 repetitions per set can save you time and allow you to build similar volume, he says.
Do some aerobic exercises when you can’t lift
This may sound counterintuitive—aerobic cardio training takes the time you’re trying to save, but by building your aerobics foundation, Nelson says, the exercises Your power runs may be shorter because you won’t need to rest as long between sets to recover.
“If you look at someone with terrible aerobic capacity, they’re limited by how much they can do in the gym because they can’t recover,” he says. Better aerobic fitness means faster recovery, which means more training volume.
Nelson’s suggestion: Try your best to move for an hour a day, five days a week, whether it’s lifting weights or doing cardio. For example, if you lift weights on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, try brisk walking or other cardio for 30 to 60 minutes on Tuesday and Thursday. Over time, this can mean you can get more done and achieve more on your lifting days without increasing your time in the gym.
Greg Presto is a fitness and sports reporter and videographer in Washington, DC.
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