Strength training is vital to a performance-oriented athlete. During a typical strength training session, a trainee has a few objectives to attain and a program format to follow. Over the course of the training, the smart trainer may even have to improvise upon a few things to optimize performance in the given session. Depending upon many factors, the length of training may last more or less than expected.
It’s a common knowledge nowadays to keep your training sessions under 60 minutes. Scientific reasoning behind doing so is to avoid catabolic hormones to start ripping off your hard gained muscle¹. 45 minutes is a sweet spot for many trainees, even a few busy gyms have this rule for the members to not exceed training for more than one hour at a time. Does it start to give you any ideas about the magical 60 minutes limit?
So to keep strength training sessions under 60 minutes is optimal duration for a trainee. Right?
Well, like most things in life the answer is not just simple ‘yes’. Few things that need to be considered before embarking upon an optimal duration of a strength training sessions are:
Training density is the amount of total work (ie. sets × reps) performed in a given amount of time, say 60 minutes. The more volume of sets × reps you perform in a fixed duration, the higher your training density and vice versa. Having a higher training density is useful in most situations. Not only it shortens the time you spent lifting weights but also improves conditioning, performance, and hypertrophy of muscles.
But in some training modalities, higher density is not applicable. It’s even counterproductive. For instance, the max effort training protocol where you use a higher percentage of your training max and perform multiple sets with long rest time in between to attain sufficient neural recovery². Powerlifters and Weightlifters frequently use such training modalities to maximize their skill in order to perform better with heavier weights. Limit strength work is a very important part of their training regimens, but it’s time-consuming for a strong athlete. It requires a greater number of sets to reach a good training weight for a 350 Kg max than a 150 Kg max.
As a matter of fact, it’s common for a top power dog’s max effort workout to last a couple hours or more. Rushing is not tolerated by the power.
On the other spectrum are the athletes like cross fitters, boxers, and wrestlers who need to put strength-endurance work on precedence. They need to devote a significant amount of their training time to improve their conditioning in addition to strength. Honing skills take time and such special requirements also increase the training duration to more than “optimal”.
The more training experience you have, the more you require to accommodate sufficient mobility work in your training regime. Not only mobility work keeps you supple and agile, it helps prevent many training injuries and setbacks. Enough to say that, if you move like shit, you’ll perform like shit.
In sports where one side of the body is stressed over another, like discuss, hammer or javelin throws, bowling in cricket etc, the athletes develop unilateral asymmetries in their bodies. This leads to mobility restrictions in some joints and hyper-mobility in others, bad posture, and muscular imbalances. Such athletes need a dedicated flexibility and mobility program in conjunction with their strength work. Such an elaborated program may often take 30 to 40 minutes to prep up an athlete.
Other sports like Olympic weightlifting where athletes need to perform with high intensity throughout the full range of motion of a joint, the athletes need to dedicate a significant amount of time to mobility work to stay limber.
Most athletes are aware of the importance of replenishing their energy stores with “proper” workout nutrition. But the “proper” style they practice most of the time is not actually proper. By and large, it’s insufficient in terms of nutrition and inappropriate in terms of timing.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen a few athletes who very much take care of what they’re consuming in terms of macronutrients (proteins, carbs & fats). But keep in mind that proper workout nutrition is a whole different animal. It encompasses many things that are out of the realms of a normal proper eating, for example, hydration, electrolyte balance, nutrient timing, macronutrient type and ratio. And No, Gatorade is not the answer.
A sound and proper workout nutrition protocol significantly increase your capacity to tolerate more volume and boosts recovery as well. It keeps the levels of cortisol (catabolic hormone) & muscle protein breakdown under control during training and promotes protein synthesis to a much greater degree³. Hence it enables an athlete to work longer (within reason) without facing the ill effects of over-training.
So what we conclude after discussing all these issues is that 60 minutes limit for a training session is not set in stone. Different athletes have different requirements which necessitate various modifications in the workout structure. You won’t be able to perform optimally if you won’t respect the demands of the sport and intrinsic cues. Focusing on external signals like time limit distract you from the actual purpose of training which is always performance.
- Lanfranco F, Strasburger CJ (eds): Sports Endocrinology. Front Horm Res. Basel, Karger, 2016, vol 47, pp 12-26. Exercise and the HPA axis.
- Freitas de Salles, B., Simão, R., Miranda, F. et al. Sports Med (2009) 39: 765. Rest interval between sets in strength training.
- Liquid CHO/EAA ingestion during a short-term bout of resistance exercise supresses myofibrillar protein degradation. Bird, Stephen P. et al. Metabolism – Clinical and Experimental , Volume 55 , Issue 5 , 570 – 577