How Long Is Too Long At The Gym For Strength Training

May 5th 2019

Is 1 hour enough time to make gains at the gym? What is considered enough time to make gains? For many newer lifters, this often goes unanswered since strength coaches and experienced lifters just lightly brush over this topic. “It will take as long as it will take” is often the standard response. While it does hold some truth, what if I am seriously on a tight schedule? What if I do not want to strength train for so long?

Is an hour at the gym enough?

For resistance training, your training experience matters when deciding how long to spend at the gym. For beginner lifters, they can get away with only staying an hour or less. As lifters become more experienced, many will find longer rest periods are crucial in order to continue making progress. As a result, it can take much longer than one hour.  

For beginner lifters

For many beginner lifters, they have read about the benefits of strength training. It is something that can improve their quality of life. At the same time, it is a good hobby to start building new habits. At the same time, many novice lifters may get intimidated at first by all the testosterone in the gym. But that is a whole other issue.

Lifters want to stay flexible with their schedule. For some lifters, they want to still gain strength and size but are only willing to dedicate a set amount of time. What does this mean? This is usually 30 minutes to one hour of time that they are willing to spend at the gym.

If you ask me, 1 hour is plenty of time for a strength training workout. Depending on how your programming is structured, it should be more focused on the exercises completed, not the time you spend at the gym. Though there are programs on a time-limit, to each their own.

Mathematical calculations

If you spend 30 seconds of exercise for every 1 minute of rest, this is 40 working sets you can do in one hour. Usually, workouts like this will typically be circuit workouts where you will run through exercises on a time limit. While doing this, you will also limit your rest intervals.

If you spend 30 seconds of exercise for every 5 minutes of rest, that is 10 working sets you can potentially do in one hour. This is very typical for a strength training workout, where rest breaks range from 3-5 minutes.

So, lifters can judge how long a program depending on their working sets. Programs, like Starting Strength and Greyskull LP, usually have between 7-9 working sets. So, as a beginner, you can probably get your entire workout done within the hour.

Intermediate lifters and above

If you are experienced, you may notice that you are taking longer to warm up to exercises. You will also notice that you take a beating from many working sets. While you are strong enough to complete your sets, it can take a while for you to finish. As a result, workouts can extend up to 2-3 hours.

What to do about waiting time?

You are at a busy gym and you need to wait for a squat rack. Or you need to wait for a bench press. Chances are that you will not be able to finish your workout anytime soon. At this point, it is better if you can work in with someone to cut your waiting time in half. In a majority of situations, lifters are accommodating and will let you work in with them. It does become an issue with competitive athletes or gym pricks so you need to be socially calibrated about your gym environment.

The real measure of success is your results

When people ask about how little time they can spend time at the gym, this usually reminds me of either one of three scenarios:

  1. You are sandbagging
  2. You are doing cardio, not strength training
  3. You are extremely busy

For situation 1, you need to cut it out. If not, time will gift you the results. You will never achieve your best potential if you do not struggle at the gym. Imagine your results are the accumulation of all your failures and successes. The more you stack up your lifting experience at the gym, the bigger your potential can be. This is one reason why people can become gym rats but that is another story as well. Pick up heavy weights and put them down. It is as simple as that.

For situation 2, are you getting any results? Most of the gym-goers I noticed at the gym look the same after several months. That is if I ever see them again. I see them do the same cardio routine and treat their resistance training session poorly. They do not have a strict plan and they just go in to move around. I mean, if you want to “stay healthy” (whatever that means), you need to be more goal specific.

If your goal is to not be fat, you are in good company. This can be done through diet alone! Exercise is like icing on top of a cake. You will just look better if you do include exercise. But for the most part, portion control and eating habits directly correlate to your weight. This is the cold hard truth.

Now, if you are looking to not become bulky, this is another misconception. If everybody just steps into the gym and becomes Arnold Schwarzenegger, the world would be too aesthetic! Lifting weights can be tough if you let that mindset sink in. Like all things in life, there are peaks and valleys when you start a new journey. For some, they may fare better on the journey and experience success very early. For others, this can take several months. However, in the end, you know who is most triumphant? The one who still finishes and does not give up.

For situation 3, this can be a bit of a pickle. There are other priorities in your life that need to be addressed first but you are intelligent enough to recognize that lifting weights cannot be neglected. What can you do? One option is that you can lose some sleep early in the morning and get a quick hour workout in. This can be in the form of compound exercises or full body circuits. Whatever you choose to do, you must commit to it with all your effort and try to improve. It can be easy to stay stuck in a routine and just commit a certain amount of time. However, you will not regret trying to push yourself to accomplish more every day.

So, ask yourself - how can I push myself more today? This is for people who do not have a traditional strength training program and are relying on a condensed workout.

Another option is that you can accept that there is a time constraint and you will make the best with what you have. You have chosen a few compound exercises you want to improve on, so you want to do those with priority. With a short amount of time, isolation exercises become ineffective since you can be training so many other body parts. If you are having trouble picking exercises, here are 12 of the best compound exercises.


Make a plan. Stay focused. Get better. Enjoy the results. It is absolutely easy to “think” your way to the gym. But to actually get yourself to the gym and be consistent may take some willpower. If you want to reap the benefits from the gym, you have to be willing to pay the price. The decision is yours. And as always, let us make the world stronger every day.

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