How Long Should Beginner Lifters Stay At The Gym?

November 8th 2019

You’re thinking of starting a new fitness routine. You want to get stronger. You want to push the limits of your body. But you’ve got questions. And let’s be honest some level of anxiety too. Of course, a bit of nervousness is to be expected in any new venture. Use that adrenaline to fuel this change.

Before you even walk into the gym, you’ve spent time online looking for the best training program. You’ve talked with people about their strategies. You’ve gone to a couple of gyms to see if it’s the right fit for you. 

But you still have questions. Let me help you with one - how long should I be in the gym? Basically, you’re asking how you can make this new routine fit into your life.

How long are you at the gym?

As a true beginner lifter, you can finish your workout in 30-45 minutes. As you become more trained, your training sessions could last up to 90 minutes, depending on your workout plan.

Strength Athlete Continuum - Where do you fit?

Like any sport, there is a level of progression of athletes. And all athletes start at the beginning. You don’t throw your first football pass as a player in the NFL. The same is true with strength athletes. You don’t stand on the podium of a powerlifting competition the first time you lift a weight.

But let us distinguish among a beginner, intermediate and advanced lifter:

A beginner lifter is someone who has been training for less than three years and has only competed in a few meets

An intermediate lifter has 3-6 years of competition-level training and competed in about 10 meets.

An advanced lifter has over 7 years of training experience, tons of meet experience and may have broken some world records as well. 

Beginning your strength training journey - the novice strength athlete

Any Google search of powerlifting or strength training will lead you to more articles, videos, and programs than you’ll ever be able to get through. Finding all of this information gives you a little thrill and a blast of motivation. But that’s the kind of motivation that quickly fades. Most athletes new the sport never progress past the beginner training level. We’re going to focus our attention here and give you tips on how to train up to the intermediate level.

One way to do this is by following a beginner general strength program, Starting Strength, where novice athletes will experience the fastest rate of growth in their physical size and strength. To some gurus, this is even faster than advanced athletes on steroids.

Don’t do too much too soon

You’ve certainly heard “No Pain, No Gain.” That’s a short-sighted approach to your strength training program. You might have some soreness after a workout, but not so much that you can’t complete your next workout. Muscle soreness indicates muscle damage. 

Powerlifting requires more thought and attention to planning than a bodybuilding program. But that doesn’t mean you’re doing complex exercises. Start simply. Your goal is to master three basic exercises - the deadlift, squat and bench press. You should focus on your form and adding weight to each rep. A well-designed program consists of three workouts each week, increasing weight in your three basic exercises, similar to what Starting Strength does. Or even Greyskull LP

It is generally recommended that a novice strength athlete to workout three days a week because your body needs rest and recovery time. Starting off, you may be able to finish your workout in 30-45 minutes. This may not seem like much of a workout, but powerlifting requires much more from your body. These three exercises may be simple, but they emphasize big, compound movements. As Rippetoe states, “you don’t get big and strong by lifting weights; you get big and strong by recovering from lifting weights. 

“Most novices can make tremendous progress with 1-1.5 hours of lifting, three movements, three times a week.”

Consistency is key.

Often new people come into the gym expecting miracles after only one session. Let’s think about it, nobody gets flabby overnight either. It takes years of sitting on the couch (not lifting it) to achieve flabby. Of course, the reverse is true as well. 

Consistency really is the key. To progress past the novice level as a strength athlete, you need to maintain a consistent training schedule. Unless you have innate self-motivation, you may consider finding a workout buddy. Together not only will you hold each other accountable, but you can encourage each other’s efforts and successes. Not to mention alternating time on the bench or squat rack.

And you need to maintain a consistent effort. Each time you go to the gym, don’t just “breeze” through the exercises. 

When your clothes start hanging off you and you need to put another notch in your belt, that’s when you know your strength training is starting to pay off.

Progressing to intermediate status

By now you’re a couple of years into your strength training program. You’re entering competitions and learning more every time. Lots of training programs will encourage you to base your training on a percentage of PRs. But the progression of your training should be based on the training itself and not on any specific performance

Though competitions can be a fantastic motivator, you never know how outside factors contribute to your performance.

At the intermediate level, the same philosophy of training is true as it was at the novice level. Your workouts should be progressively and intentionally increase the stress on your muscles AND the recovery from that stress is where you build more strength. In general, intermediate lifters could finish their workout in an hour but some could stay in the gym for up to 2-3 hours.

As an intermediate strength athlete, you’ll likely want to increase the frequency of training to four days a week with only a slight uptick the length of time you’re working out. 

“Intensity is preserved, the progression moves from every 48 hours to weekly and PRs are only a few workouts away.” Mark Rippetoe

Success Takes More than Gym Time

Unfortunately, gains in your strength slow as you get stronger, and sometimes you’ll stagnate. Don’t be discouraged. Continue your program, and look at other places in your life to see where you can improve. Maybe you’re not putting as much time into recovery as you need. Instead of getting a minimum of eight hours of sleep, other things have been interfering with your sleep cycle. Maybe you’re not getting the protein that you need. Take a look at your diet and modify where you need to. 

Getting on the Podium - Advanced and Elite Level

If you are an elite lifter, you will know it. Nobody just stumbles into an elite lifting level status by accident. 

In terms of how long elite lifters stay in the gym, it varies greatly among the few elite lifters. Some could break up their sessions into short sessions, multiple times a day. Some athletes choose to lift for 6 hours a day, a few times a week. Some can go 3-4 hours for 3-5 times a week in the gym. Basically, you have the whole spectrum of least time spent in the gym but going more often to stay in the gym for a long period of time to knock out some killer sets.

Conclusion, Make a Plan for Success

No matter where you are on the strength athlete continuum when you make a plan, live the plan, you’re destined to reach your personal goals.

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