Bodybuilding Workout Duration: How Long Should You Train?

Updated June 11, 2020

“How much time should I spend training?” is an eternal question in every discipline based activity, from learning a musical instrument to learning how to sculpt, and especially so in the art of weightlifting. Not many disciplines share the direct correlation between what you put in and what you get out. An artist can paint for years and get nowhere while another can sell his first painting for thousands. The weightlifting greats will always have put in hours of hard work.

These levels of hard work with their three and four hour workouts are simply not conducive to ‘real life’. You try juggling that much time in the gym without staring at the business end of divorce, unemployment and burnout. While it is true that many of the massive names do have monk-like schedules, they do not lead ‘normal lives’. It’s an intense dedication.

On top of that, these massive schedules aren’t always the best kind. Comparatively few people are able to take advantage of these schedules as not only do they need expert planning and consultancy from top level sport scientists, they rely on genetics. You might be able to dedicate four hours a day but can your body take it and benefit from it? Most people can hit their ideal body within a couple of years so keeping up the mammoth training sessions for years on end is pointless.

You should always be aware of what you’re sacrificing to pursue bodybuilding. The man who put the most in loses the most and in terms of financial stability and life upkeep investing a lot of yourself into weightlifting will see you losing out most of the time. It’s best to try and strike a balance.

What you can achieve is limited by your body’s potential. You simply cannot exceed what your body can achieve. You shouldn’t necessarily see this as a bad thing, or even a limitation. You will be at your best when you’ve reached your ideal point and you’re maintaining it and strengthening it. You don’t need to spend every waking moment thinking about bulking up, you can go the gym for a couple of hours a few days a week to blow off steam, socialise and get the endorphins flowing and the rest of your time will be spent free of fatigue and soreness feeling fantastic. The self-satisfaction and the pride. These are the benefits of having a sensible workout routine.

How long constitutes a sensible workout routine? I think that we can reasonably allow three to four periods of up to two hours per week for training hard and still manage to live full, productive lives. I would say that if one is training four times a week then a 90 minute workout is more than enough. Think you can’t fit your training into that amount of time? Perhaps you are overtraining, as many are. Nobody needs two or three exercises per body part for four to six sets each. Sound like too little?

You’ve been swayed by magazines and stories, to practise more would see bodybuilding become an all-consuming lifestyle rather than an activity. It can only practically be a lifestyle for professionals and those with the genetics to be professionals. Instead, it should be a wonderful supplementary component of your life that adds self-discipline, well-being and personal fulfilment in a way that enhances the rest of your life. You’ll get greater benefits from a few hours a week in a busy life than a few hours a day in a less busy life.

An appropriate amount of exercise is a crucial need of people. Studies have repeatedly shown that the good diet and exercise that come with dedicated training increase feelings of general wellbeing, heighten your mood and aid concentration. My most satisfying workouts have been the ones that took a precious two hours in the middle of a full day, as they inspired me to put everything into it and genuinely enjoy myself during the time. Surprisingly, most of the less inspiring workouts were when plenty of time was available to train and I could have spent all evening in the gym. You shouldn’t live in the gym, let it take up a chunk of your time and it will mean so much more.

You might ask what constitutes a good bodybuilding program. One or two favourite “shaping” exercises, done in moderation are no problem but your major effort but go into the core areas of your routine. Presses, curls, squirts, rows, bench presses, dead lifts and ab work. If you do that, your success is assured, and not at the cost of anything else. As for sets, you should only be doing more than three when power training, and two or three are plenty for normal training. This might now be the popular opinion but try it out.

There is no reason why weightlifting should be the exclusive domain of the few naturally gifted supermen who have nothing to do but work out, pose and adore themselves. They’re an essential part of the bodybuilding world but you don’t need to emulate it.

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