How Long Should Your Training Sessions Be?

A question I get all the time is “how long should I train for?” The answer is it depends on several factors: what your goals are, what are you doing on that specific day, and how much experience you have.  

First up is what is the goal of the day? If the workout calls for interval breathing work, the training session will not be long. One of my favorite interval workouts is 3-4 sets of 30 seconds of work, followed by 30 seconds of rest for six rounds. Rest four minutes between blocks. This translates into 26-36 minutes of work. I might do some structural accessory work following, lasting around 10 minutes. Another workout calls for 30/30 work rest periods and last 28 minutes. These interval days will always be short, because they run at a high intensity level with little rest. (30 minutes to one hour total)

If the day involves heavy lifting or Olympic lifting, the session will be longer. For example, clean and jerk power day:

3x5 at 50% (1 Minute Rest)
3x3 at 60% (2 Minute Rest)
3x3 at 70% (3 Minute Rest)
3x2 at 80% (3 Minute Rest)
6x1 at 90% (4 Minute Rest)

you’re looking at an hour to get through the lifting part of the session. The total session is likely two hours by the time warm up, supplemental, and cooldown are completed.

This brings me to my second point: How experienced is the athlete in training? Let’s take the two scenarios above: for a beginner in the first interval workout, I might only give them two sets of six and one supplemental such as single leg squats. An advanced person would have four blocks of six and several supplementals to complete after the main workout. In the second interval workout, a beginner might only achieve half of the reps in each block an advanced person would. The experience level of the person dictates how much work they receive.

 In the lifting portion, a beginner might have a different workout entirely. Ie. 2x3 of every lift, with nothing at 90%. Their supplementals would include a technique portion and a breathing portion. The total time of the workout might be around an hour, as they have fewer sets. However, for an advanced athlete, the supplementals would include a breathing portion and another strength section. Thus, making the total training session longer than for a beginner.

Lastly: training session length is affected by long term goals.

If the goal is to improve in Olympic or powerlifting, training sessions will be longer than someone looking to get better at power endurance or fat loss. Training session length is independent of quality. Sometimes, the shortest workouts can be the best. Likewise, sometimes other workouts need more time to achieve the full potential. The key to a successful training session is taking the appropriate rest. If the workout calls for short rest intervals, this is done to keep heart rate and breathing elevated, it is designed that way for a reason. Likewise, if a workout calls for four minutes of rest it is designed that way to let the muscle recover. Trust the process and the outcome will take care of itself.

In two weeks I will be answering all questions submitted from now until November 5th.  Submit all your questions for a Q&A article using this link to a form. All questions are anonymous, feel free to ask anything from methods, to equipment, to accessories, to specific lifts. Anything is fair game. Looking forward to reading your questions and answering!

George Cullen